A few weeks ago Martin Johnson offered us the Desert Rose Band’s ‘Wheels’ in the Classic Clips slot. That set me thinking about Chris Hillman’s other band. The partial Byrd’s reunion McGuinn Clark And Hillman produced 2 albums and a couple of tours. An appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1979 of the one great song that they produced ’Don’t You Write Her Off’ shows a Gene Clark who is barely connected to his band mates, let alone to the song. He departed the group shortly afterwards.
This performance from the year before on a date in Adelaide is far better. Clark’s singing is not at its best but the harmonies are still golden. One of the highlights of this incarnation of the band was Chris Hillman. For a man who reportedly never wanted to be a bass player he is a particularly good one. It is his bass line that carries the song, rather than McGuinn’s 12 string Rickenbacker, although the guitar solo is a genuine throwback to the glory days of the sixties. Hillman has a unique style of playing bass, using a pick close to the neck where the strings a bit looser, similar to how a mandolin is often played. His left hand is also unusually far up the neck, meaning he is often playing an octave higher than bass players would usually be, more rhythm guitar than bottom end.
John Einarson’s biography of Gene Clark ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’, describes Clark’s sad decline over the seventies and eighties. This clip shows one of the many attempts to restart his career which all ended up stalling predictably. Hillman and McGuinn moved on to a duo once Clark departed and then went their own ways. This video is a tantalising glimpse of what might have been if Clark could have kept it together for long enough for the success of the first McGuinn Clark And Hillman album to take root.