Byrds of a Feather Flock for Trademark Gig
This week’s Byrds reunion featuring Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Chris Hillman brings back an important ‘60s rock legacy of chiming guitars, swelling harmonies and some landmark songs such as “Eight Miles High” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
But there is an unusual subtext for this first official flocking under the Byrds banner since 1973--one that calls to mind a less sacrosanct ‘60s song title: “The Name Game.”
McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman have decided to take the Byrds name in hand to block other former members from using it in the rock bush leagues. The three club dates they have booked this week are part of a legal process by which McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman aim to trademark the Byrds name for their sole use.
The dates don’t signal any ongoing re-formation of the Byrds, says McGuinn, the mainstay of the band from its inception in 1964 to its demise, after many lineup changes, in 1973. The purpose of the hastily arranged reunion is to have fun with the old songs, he said in a phone interview from his home in Florida--and to do a bit of business as the Byrds in order to meet legal requirements for registering the band’s name. McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman will appear as the Byrds tonight at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, Thursday at the Bacchanal in San Diego and Friday at the Ventura Theatre.
McGuinn, 46, said the impetus for the club dates arrived last week, when Crosby heard that a promoter in Florida was booking a tour for “The Byrds” that included only one original member, drummer Michael Clarke. Over the last few years, there have been different “Byrds” tours involving Clarke and/or singer Gene Clark, the fifth original Byrd (Crosby’s manager, Bill Siddons, said that Clark has since agreed not to use the Byrds name).
“Anybody who wanted to could go out there and operate under the name Byrds, and that would be a travesty,” the soft-spoken McGuinn said. “So we want to nail it down.”
Performing as a Byrd is an about-face for McGuinn. He had been firmly against taking part in any reunions under the Byrds name, which he abandoned after the original lineup re-formed for a one-shot album in 1973.
“There was a time when I strictly wanted to have the Byrds in the past,” he said. But now McGuinn is softening that stance. In June, he performed with Crosby and Hillman at a benefit and tribute for the Ash Grove, the seminal Los Angeles music club. Then, they were billed individually, rather than as the Byrds. McGuinn said all three former Byrds enjoyed the reunion and told each other they ought to do it again sometime.
The upcoming Byrds shows are “not a trial run” for a more permanent arrangement or a formal reunion project, McGuinn said. “I think it’d be fun to pursue it further, but I’m not sure on what level, or when.” If the time comes, he said, he would be open to having the two other original Byrds be part of the reunion.
McGuinn’s recording career has been on hold through most of the ‘80s, but he continues to tour as a solo act. During the past year he has cut back on his touring regimen to devote time to another project: an autobiography that he said is scheduled to be published later this year by E. P. Dutton.
With a story that begins in the folk boom of the early ‘60s, proceeds through the dawning of folk-rock and takes detours for a role in Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue and a couple of religious conversions (the first of which led to a name change from Jim to Roger), McGuinn should have plenty to recount.
And who knows--with the unexpected resurrection and prospective legal registration of one of rock’s most honored band names, perhaps there will be other Byrds chapters to write.