Gene Clark is best remembered for being the main songwriter in The Byrds between 1964 and 1966. He created a large catalogue of music in several genres but failed to achieve solo commercial success. Clark was one of the earliest exponents of psychedelic rock, baroque pop, newgrass, country rock and alternative country.
A brilliant and accomplished songwriter, Gene Clark wrote many of The Byrds' best-known originals, including: "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better", "Set You Free This Time", "Here Without You", "If You're Gone", "The World Turns All Around Her", "She Don't Care About Time" and "Eight Miles High". He played harmonica for the band, too (notably on "Set You Free This Time"). Bassist Chris Hillman noted years later in various interviews remembering Gene: "People don't give enough credit to Gene Clark. He came up with the most incredible lyrics. I don't think I appreciated Gene Clark as a songwriter until the last two years. He was awesome! He was heads above us! Roger wrote some great songs then, but Gene was coming up with lyrics that were way beyond what he was. He wasn't a well-read man in that sense, but he would come up with these beautiful phrases. A very poetic man--very, very productive. He would write two or three great songs a week". "He was the songwriter. He had the "gift" that none of the rest of us had developed yet.... What deep inner part of his soul conjured up songs like "Set You Free," "Feel A Whole Lot Better," "I'm Feelin' Higher," "Eight Miles High"? So many great songs! We learned a lot of songwriting from him and in the process learned a little bit about ourselves. At one time, he was the power in the Byrds, not McGuinn, not Crosby -- it was Gene who would burst through the stage curtain banging on a tambourine, coming on like a young Prince Valiant. A hero, our savior. Few in the audience could take their eyes off this presence."
A management decision delivered the lead vocal duties to McGuinn for their major singles and Dylan covers. This disappointment, combined with Clark's dislike of traveling (including a chronic fear of flying) and resentment by other band members about the extra income he derived from his songwriting, led to internal squabbling and he left the group in early 1966. He briefly returned to Kansas City before moving back to Los Angeles to form Gene Clark & the Group with Chip Douglas, Joel Larson, and Bill Rhinehart.
In 1968, Clark signed with the artist-friendly A&M Records and began a collaboration with Laramy Smith and formed the group Phoenix with Aron Vanderwort on bass and Wayne Bruns on drums. Phoenix recorded 8 songs including "Los Angeles". Smith, Purdy & Clark later featured on the 'Flying High" double cd released on A&M in 1998. Phoenix disbanded when Clark and Smith could not agree on a common style. Following the break up, Clark formed Dillard & Clark with banjo player Doug Dillard. With guitarist Bernie Leadon (later with The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Eagles), they produced two country rock and bluegrass-flavored albums: The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark and Through the Morning Through the Night, both of which fared poorly on the charts but were praised by critics. In 1969 a single was released, "Lyin Down The Middle", which reached number three on the California Country charts. Clark's reluctance to tour limited promotion of the material and thus hindered sales. Dillard & Clark also experienced misfortune when Lalo Schifrin was replaced by John Williams as music conductor of the movie "The Reivers" because Schifrin had planned their inclusion on the soundtrack with a subsequent single release. Through the Morning Through the Night was more bluegrass in character than its predecessor, used electric instrumentation and included Donna Washburn (Dillard's girlfriend) as a backing vocalist, all of which contributed to the departure of Bernie Leadon. The loss of Leadon as a co-writer meant that the album featured more covers than originals and the change of musical direction caused Clark to lose faith in the group, from which he departed in late 1969. In hindsight, Dillard & Clark, together with The Flying Burrito Brothers, Buffalo Springfield, Poco and The Byrds can be credited as prime influences on later soft Country rock performers such as The Eagles, Pure Prairie League,Firefall and Laramy Smith.
In 1970, Clark began work on a new single, recording two tracks with the original members of the Byrds (each recording his part separately). The resulting songs, "She's The Kind Of Girl" and "One in a Hundred", were not released at the time due to legal problems and were included later on Roadmaster. Frustrated with the music industry, Clark bought a home at Albion near Mendocino, disavowed alcohol, married, and fathered two children while living off his still substantial Byrds royalties.
In 1970 and 1971, Clark contributed vocals and two compositions ("Tried So Hard" and "Here Tonight") to albums by the Flying Burrito Brothers. It has been rumored that Clark was invited to replace Gram Parsons and/or Leadon as frontman of the group; however John Einarson's biography of Clark, Mr Tambourine Man, has put paid to this myth. The Burritos never considered enlisting Clark because of his aversion to travel, however Sneaky Pete did try to induct Laramy Smith Laramy declined because he wanted to stay in the south of France.
In the spring of 1971, Clark was commissioned by Dennis Hopper to contribute the tracks "American Dreamer" and "Outlaw Song" to Hopper's film project, "American Dreamer".
A re-recorded, longer version of the song "American Dreamer" was later used in the 1977 film "The Farmer", along with an instrumental version of the same song plus "Outside the Law (The Outlaw)" (a re-recording of "Outlaw Song").
In 1972, Clark assembled a backing group consisting of highly accomplished country rock musicians to accompany him on a further album with A&M. Progress was slow and expensive and the project was terminated before completion by A&M. The resulting eight tracks, together with those recorded with The Byrds in 1970/71 and another with The Flying Burrito Brothers ("Here Tonight"), were belatedly released as Roadmaster in the Netherlands only where it became a best seller.
In 1973, the Dillard & Clark song "Through The Morning Through The Night" was used in Quincy Jones's soundtrack of the Sam Peckinpah movie The Getaway. The song was also recorded by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant for their Raising Sand album in 2007.
On the basis of the quality of Clark's Byrds contributions, David Geffen signed him to Asylum Records in early 1974. Asylum was the home of the most prominent exponents of the singer-songwriter movement of the era and carried the kind of hip cachet that Clark hadn't experienced since his days with The Byrds. He retired to Mendocino and spent long periods at the picture window of his friend (and future co-writer and drummer) Andy Kandanes' cliff-top home with a notebook and acoustic guitar in hand, staring at the Pacific Ocean. Deeply affected by his visions, he composed numerous songs which would serve as the basis for his only Asylum LP, the aptly titled No Other. Produced by Thomas Jefferson Kaye with a vast array of session musicians and backing singers, the album was an amalgam of country rock, folk, gospel, soul and choral music with poetic, mystical lyrics but it was not well received by many contemporary critics who called it an overproduced indulgence. The fact that No Other wasn't a conventional pop/rock opus meant that its chances of success were greatly minimised by Clark's relative obscurity. Furthermore, its production costs of $100,000 which yielded only eight tracks prompted Geffen to berate Clark and Kaye. Shortly after, Clark assailed Geffen in public and the label refused further promotion of the album which then stalled in the charts at #144. On a more personal note, the singer's return to Los Angeles and his reversion to a hedonistic lifestyle resulted in the disintegration of his marriage. In spite of these setbacks, he mounted his first solo tour (by road) in an attempt to salvage No Other, playing colleges and clubs with backing group, the Silverados.
In 1977, Clark released his RSO Records debut entitled Two Sides to Every Story. Once again produced by Thomas Jefferson Kaye but with a much more understated hand, the record was another characteristic offering of his style of sensitive country-rock balladry but failed to achieve US chart success. In a belated attempt to find an appreciative public, he temporarily overcame his fear of flying and launched an international promotional tour. For his British dates, Clark found himself booked with ex-Byrds Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, the success of which led the three to sign with Capitol Records which released their self-titled debut in 1979.
McGuinn, Clark and Hillman was a rebirth in both performing and songwriting for Clark. The media loved the band and they performed on many TV rock shows, including repeated performances on The Midnight Special, where they played both new material and Byrds hits. "Don't You Write Her Off" reached #33 in April 1979. Many felt that the album's slick production and disco rhythms didn't flatter the group, and the album had mixed success both critically and commercially, but it sold enough to generate a follow up. McGuinn, Clark and Hillman's second release was to have been a full group effort entitled City, but a combination of Clark's unreliability and his dissatisfaction with their musical direction (mostly regarding Ron and Howard Albert's production) resulted in the billing change on City to "Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, featuring Gene Clark". Despite the turmoil, Clark penned a classic love song, "Won't Let You Down", rumoured to have been offered as an olive branch to the other former Byrds. By 1981, Clark had left, and the group briefly continued as "McGuinn/Hillman".
So Rebellious a Lover was highly praised and became a modest commercial success (it was the biggest selling album of Clark's solo career), but Clark began to develop serious health problems; he had ulcers, aggravated by years of heavy drinking (often used to alleviate his chronic travel anxiety, most likely caused by undiagnosed Bipolar disorder), and in 1988 he underwent surgery, during which much of his stomach and intestines had to be removed. A period of abstinence and recovery followed until Tom Petty's cover of "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better," on his 1989 album Full Moon Fever, yielded a huge amount of royalty money to Clark who quickly reverted to massive drug and alcohol abuse. His health began to deteriorate and, at the same time, he also lost a certain amount of goodwill among longtime Byrds fans due to his collaboration with drummer Michael Clarke in a series of shows billed "A 20th Anniversary Celebration of The Byrds." Many clubs simply shortened the billing to "The Byrds" and the pair soon found themselves in an ugly legal battle with Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, and Chris Hillman over usage of the group's name. The Byrds set aside their differences long enough to appear together at their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in January of 1991, where the original lineup played a few songs together, including Clark's "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better." However, Clark's health continued to decline as his drinking accelerated and on May 24, 1991, not long after he had begun work on a second album with Carla Olson, Gene Clark died at the age of 46, the coroner declaring that he succumbed as a result of "natural causes" brought on by a bleeding ulcer. He was buried in Tipton under a simple headstone inscribed "Harold Eugene Clark - No Other."