Gene Clark was the second eldest of 13 children raised in a close family in Tipton, Missouri. He learned guitar at age 9, and soon was teaching himself songs by Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, and the Everly Brothers. After high school, he moved to Kan… Read more
Gene Clark was the second eldest of 13 children raised in a close family in Tipton, Missouri. He learned guitar at age 9, and soon was teaching himself songs by Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, and the Everly Brothers. After high school, he moved to Kansas where he sang in a local club act; he was asked to join The New Christy Minstrels in August, 1963. Six months later, while living in Los Angeles, he and Jim (later, renamed Roger) McGuinn (who had also been approached to join The New Christy Minstrels at one point) decided to form a band that would be the American equivalent of The Beatles. Whether their group, which would be named The Byrds (and also include singer/guitarist David Crosby, bassist Chris Hillman, and drummer Michael Clarke) ended up being the US answer to the Fab Four is highly debated, but they did become one of the most popular and influential rock acts of the '60s and early '70s.
With Clark's smooth baritone and McGuinn's Dylanesque vocal style and distinct Rickenbacher electric guitar sound, The Byrds scored a number of massive pop hits (many of them written by folk's biggest star, Bob Dylan), including "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Turn, Turn, Turn," "You Ain't Going Nowhere," "All I Really Want To Do," "So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star," "My Back Pages," and "Eight Miles High."
When worldwide fame descended on the band, problems developed between Clark and the others. Clark had a crippling fear of flying, which he tried to compensate with drug and alcohol use. In the end, that inability to continue touring would force him to leave The Byrds in 1967. McGuinn would then take control of The Byrds, and after the departure of David Crosby in 1968 to form CSN, also send the band in a more country-pop direction. He would keep The Byrds alive until 1972, and then after a sole studio LP reunion of all five original members in 1973, would retire the band name for a solo career.
Clark, after leaving The Byrds in 1967, would next form one of the earliest country rock bands (Dillard & Clark) and then go on to record and release nearly a half-dozen critically acclaimed—but commercially disappointing—solo albums between 1967 and 1977. His solo career would always suffer by his inability to fly and effectively tour. His drug and alcohol use would also increase dramatically, and in May, 1991, he died at age 46. Although his death was ruled due to natural causes, it is widely believed his health had deteriorated due to his substance abuse.