Obituaries : Michael Clarke; Drummer With the Byrds Rock Group

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Michael Clarke, the original drummer for the influential rock band the Byrds, has died from liver failure at his condominium here. He was 49.

Clarke was scheduled to perform on New Year’s Eve at a resort here with his band, Michael Clarke’s Byrds. The concert will now be a tribute to the drummer, said the show’s organizer, Billy Moore.

Moore said the death occurred Sunday and that Clarke had realized recently that his liver problems were terminal.


Clarke was born June 3, 1944, in New York City. He was 19 and a jazz drummer when he met David Crosby while hitchhiking in California. Clarke eventually joined Crosby, lead guitarist Roger McGuinn, bassist Chris Hillman and vocalist Gene Clark in a collaboration that became the Byrds in 1964.

The group coined the British-influenced beat that became known as folk rock and later influenced such modern bands as R.E.M. and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Clarke performed with the band until 1968. The group broke up in 1972 after producing 11 albums and some of the most well-known songs of the ‘60s, including “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Eight Miles High” and “Turn, Turn, Turn”

In 1985, Clarke began to perform again under the Byrds’ name, which led to infighting among the original members. A lawsuit filed in 1989 by Crosby, McGuinn and Hillman claimed that Clarke was using the Byrds’ name illegally. McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman gave a few concerts together as the Byrds in an apparent attempt to bolster the claims in their lawsuit.

The original five members of the group mended their rift in 1991 to appear on stage and perform together when they were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.