A STORY FOR THE BYRDS
I recently finished reading Michael Walker’s new book, “Laurel Canyon – The Inside Story of Rock & Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood.” I can personally vouch for a lot of the book’s memories of Laurel Canyon in the 60s. When I was doing the Lloyd Thaxton Show, I was living in Laurel Canyon myself. It was not unusual to go to the Canyon Store just down from my house and see Cass Elliot of the Mamas and Papas buying groceries, or the Byrd’s David Crosby pulling in on his Triumph Bonneville motorcycle with his cape flowing behind, or Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, or the Turtle’s Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman. They were all guests on The Lloyd Thaxton Show.
The turmoil of the late sixties inspired the success of the new sound, “Folk-Rock,” or what I described at one time as “folk singers electrifying their guitars to sell more records.”
One group that always stood out was the “Byrds.“ To me, they were America’s first challenge to the Beatles.
When I had my first TV show, “The Record Shop, “ I featured mostly what was played in the late 50s and early sixties on the “Good Music” radio stations, i.e., Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, etc. When I switched to “The Lloyd Thaxton Show, “I also switched to a combination of “Good Music” and “Top Forty,” which I sometimes referred to as “Good Top Forty.”
I remember going to see this new group, The Byrds, at Ciro’s nightclub, just down the street from Laurel Canyon on Sunset Blvd. As I was mostly accustomed to the way the dancers danced the Frug, Mash Potato and The Slausen on the show, I was stunned to see the dancers out on the floor at Ciros. It was a whole new ball game (a whole new Ball DANCE?). It reminded me of the movie, “The Snake Pit.” The dancers didn’t dance; they jumped – in a constant frenzy – up and down – to the music. I guess when people first saw the Twist, they got the same impression, but the Twist was silly and fun. This had heavy drug use written all over it.
However, I was captured by the Byrd’s sound and invited them to be on my show.
You have to remember that the show’s dress code was jackets and ties for the guys and party dresses for the girls. A “Bee Hive” hairdo was not a requirement, but it was the style at the time.
The Byrds represented the new Hippy generation that actually put down “Good Top Forty” music and all the artists that participated in what many of them considered worthless “pap. “ They even objected to the tight matching suits and skinny ties of the Beatles, but the Byrds recognized the commercial value of the genre and the Beatle haircuts. They also adopted the Fab Four’s “pop band look.” Note in the picture: their outfits matched, but ties were a definite no-no. I had the distinct feeling they considered me a real “square.”
The LT Show was produced LIVE in a rather small studio. We only had room for about 15 couples on the floor and that was it. To make room for guests, we had to crowd the couples off the stage and on to a small bleacher just out of camera range before we could set up for the guest performance. This was particularly difficult for groups like the Byrds that didn’t lip-sync but preferred to perform live. We not only had the problem of setting up drums, speakers, microphones and platforms, we had to do mike checks and all the other requirements for a live performance.
AND, we had to do all this in the 2-minute commercial break just before their performance.
As soon as the commercial break started, the couples were rushed out (We played “Sit-Down Music” to help move them along). Then the TV stage crew rushed in to do their incredible magic.
On this particular set-up we were right on time. As a matter of fact, we were 30 seconds ahead of schedule. However, as we were in the middle of our sound check, the audio man in the booth told me that the speakers were too loud for the sound control panel to handle. The sound was being totally distorted (note the huge speakers in the picture. There were four, all designed to blast out to a hall filled with 5000 screaming fans, or the outdoor stages of Dodger Stadium with 50,000).
I ran in and told the Byrds they would have to turn down the speaker volume controls. I explained that we were not in a stadium; that there are only 15 couples sitting in small bleachers just five feet away. The group looked at me like I really didn’t understand (“The music has to be loud, man!”), but, to their credit, they did turn (Turn, Turn, Turn?) and made the necessary adjustments.
And, it was just in the nick of time; The commercial was over and we were back on the air. I picked up my mike and said, “And here they are, THE BYRDS.”
Then, as if someone gave them a cue from off stage, each member of the group reached down and turned their respective speakers back up to full volume. When the first “HEY” of “HEY, MISTER TAMBORINE MAN” hit our mikes, I looked up at the control room window and saw my audio man being literally blown back in his seat. The needles on his control board were spinning like a racetrack-timing clock. Remember that speaker commercial on TV where the person is sitting in a chair listening to a powerful speaker and his hair is “blowing in the wind?” That was the scene that day in The Lloyd Thaxton Show studio.
But you know what? It was an exciting performance and the kids loved it. I loved it too.
Unfortunately, this was a harbinger of things to come. Rock and Roll, as we knew it at the time, was changing and would soon disappear along with the Lloyd Thaxton Show itself. “Rock & Roll” became “Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll. As the Byrd’s Chris Hillman put it in “Laurel Canyon,” “The climate in the country changed. We were very close to anarchy. Very close. With Vietnam, riots on campus, the assassinations, we were close to collapse.”
As a matter of fact, it wasn’t too long after that when the Byrds did collapse with its members moving on to other groups. But, I will never forget that moment. It was deaf-finitely for the Byrds.