Generations Come Full Circle at Gram Parsons Birthday Bash (With Kai Clark Interview)
Funny how the circle turns around
You think your lost and then you’re found again
Though you always look for what you know
Each time around it’s something new again
— Gene Clark, “Full Circle”
Gene Clark wrote those words forty-five years ago. His son, Kai Clark, proudly follows in his dad’s footsteps, playing a tribute show to his dad in San Francisco, followed a few weeks later (December 3, 2016) by the number one traveling road show dedicated to the legacy of another influential member of The Byrds, Gram Parsons.
Kai is not the only “next gen” artist to play Gram Parsons InterNational (GPI). Natalie Noone, daughter of Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits (yes, these days one could argue that their Brit pop/folk sound could fall under the large umbrella that is Americana), has played both the Nashville and West (SoCal) GPI shows.
And on what would have been Gram’s 70th birthday November 5, the sons of 80s country hitmakers The Bellamy Brothers, Jesse & Noah, played the ninth annual Nashville GPI show.
Also on the bill for Gram’s 70th was Al Perkins’ son, Jess Perkins, on pedal steel, playing his dad’s own purple 1972 ZB Custom SD-11 steel guitar, which Al used on so many recordings and live acts since 1972.
Jess Perkins w/ dad Al
Natalie Noone, Jess Perkins, and Jesse & Noah Bellamy are like every other musician in Nashville with talent, trying the best they can to make it, but on their terms, influenced by folks, living and some long gone, they admire who inform their own creativity. (Natalie, who hails from Santa Monica, couldn’t repeat at the West show as she’s got herself a residency at The 5 Spot in East Nashville, home of two of our GPIs–way to go Natalie!). Yes in the midst of CMA week in Nashville, along with a host of other players in seven bands, these offspring of past musical icons celebrated the birth date of one of their musical heroes, one who died over 40 years ago.
Now about a month later, Gene Clark’s son Kai is following suit and playing Gram Parsons 70th Birthday Bash West. My sincere thanks to Kai Clark for doing this interview with me literally an the eve of the Gene Clark tribute show in San Francisco. Thanks Kai for these trenchant responses.
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WJ: I understand you just received the CDs of the Gene Clark lost Studio sessions released from Sierra records. That sounds exciting. Tell us a little about that.
Some years ago I received a call from John Delgatto, founder of Sierra Records. He had been a close friend of Jim Dickson, who had supported and worked with my father over the span of his career. John had mentioned that Jim had left him quite a collection of recordings of my father’s that were rare and mostly unheard/ unreleased material. Before Jim had passed away he urged John to connect with my brother Kelly and me about releasing these recordings. John approached us with the project with an honesty and sincerity rarely found in this business. His first words were “these belong to you and your brother.” Then he asked if we would be ok with him releasing the material under his label, thereafter we would inherit the masters of the recordings and the rights thereof. Of course, this sparked my interest, and the respectful way he approached us made this offer seem too good to be true. I agreed to meet him at his home to hear the actual recordings and meet him in person. Interestingly, a friend of a friend had asked me to play a Gram Parsons tribute concert in Joshua Tree around the same time. John Delgatto’s house was on the way to the show.
If you ask me, there aren’t any coincidences in this world! Not only were these recordings some of the best I have heard of my father, his voice and penmanship were absolutely Steller! But John proceeded to hand me a pile of quality releases that he had done under his label in the past, which included the amazing Gram Parsons box set and other releases by artists such as Clarence White, Skip Battin, Douglas Dillard, Chris Hillman, Bernie Leadon, Al Perkins, Byron Berline and the list goes on. Most of the artists had worked with my father on projects on many occasions. Needless to say, I really liked John. And after seeing the releases done under his wing, I knew this release would be something special! The finished project is absolutely amazing. If you are a Gene Clark fan or are remotely interested in the man or his music, then you have to get this album. Its very rare! We will have some of the first copies of this CD and hopefully the vinyl addition for sale at the Gram Parsons 70th Birthday Bash at Don The Beachcomber on December 3 in Huntington Beach, where I am honored to be able to play some of both Gram and my father’s songs. Both were amazing songwriters and unique individuals as well. It’s truly an honor to be part of these events!
Note: There is a great picture of Gram and my dad and some interesting writing which includes mentions of Gram in several spots in the liner notes.
WJ: It has to be tough sometimes being the son of a musical icon and trying to make it on your own name. Jesse & Noah (Bellamy, they prefer not to use their last name) who just played our Nashville show I think are feeling a bit of that, the good and the maybe not so good of such connections. I think also Natalie Noone who’s played two of our shows a bit too, although she embraces her dad and does shows with him while writing and playing a very different style of music. Briefly, how do you handle that, getting your own vision out there?
KC: Living up to the legacy of my father can be, and has been, tough at times. I think you must realize that it was a different time for music and consider my father’s upbringing and his drive and passion to succeed. He had an undeniable talent. The urge is to go out and blaze a path on your own. To in some way find your own success. But just like the name of the Byrds followed my father for the rest of his life and career, so will the fact that I am Gene Clark’s son follow me for the rest of my life. I embrace it now with all that I am. I look at it as though he left me this great gift to learn and enjoy. As a younger man, I use to only want to play my own material. Now I am growing and opening new doors by embracing his music and playing it as much as I can.
WJ: Without getting into the whole label thing, in what overall continuum do you find your own creative process and therefore music? For example, I naturally find Bakersfield to be more of an influence out here than say in Nashville. How do you deal with pigeon-holing what you write and play?
KC: I think your environment defiantly influences your music. I also think that it can come from anywhere. I think that where you are or what you surround yourself with is just a medium to what’s already there inside you. I think we are coming to a point where we can play different genres of music within the same circle. The first two CD’S I made were all over the place as far as genres go. I would have a full-on rock song followed by a slow country style ballad. Any label that approached me always asked this question first. “So what are you?” “Country?” “Rock?” “Pop?” “Blues?” “Singer songwriter?” I had a hard time putting my music into one category because I have so many influences and such a diverse background in music. I always despised that about the music industry. I mean I can see for marketing reasons why they must put you in a certain category but I think that sometimes it puts walls up around the artist. That very one thing has probably kept more people like me from getting a record deal than anything else.
Right now, I find inspiration for my writing in my family life. I have three young children and a beautiful loving wife and I can’t tell you how strong my feelings are for them. Music is a great way to express our feelings and emotions without having to directly say them. I don’t just write music for people to listen too but I also write music to express what’s inside me. Playing and writing music is a very healthy thing no matter where or when.
WJ: When in your life did you become aware of Gram Parsons and what effect if any do you feel his music has had on yours? Did you ever meet him?
KC: Sadly, I never got to meet Gram. I was born in 1973 which is of course the year he passed away. Over the years I often heard his name mentioned by my father or his friends. There is a lot of history between my father and Gram. Not just between them but on their own journeys. They both lived short and extremely interesting lives. I think I discovered Gram’s music when I was in my early 20s though I didn’t fully delve into it until after I did my first Gram tribute show in my early 30’s.
I remember my father playing this one song all the time when I was growing up. I can remember him playing it on so many occasions. I just figured it was his song because he never said otherwise. The song I found out later was “Hickory Wind.” He absolutely loved that song! Every time I hear that song now it reminds me of my dad and Gram. I love playing Gram’s songs and they not only influenced me, but I am sure that they influenced my father in some ways long before me.
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Many other bands and artists who grew up influenced by the music of Gene Clark and Gram Parsons are also appearing on two stages (in two rooms) of the famous Huntington Beach tiki bar, Don the Beachcomber, which is becoming the place to go for, well, a certain more “Cosmic American” strain of Americana. Included in the December 3 show are, besides Kai Clark:
Legends: Ronnie Mack (of Barn Dance fame) w/ Jay Dee Maness
Michael Ubaldini & the Starshakers
Brian Whelan Band
Kai Clark Band
Ted Russell Kamp
Gun Hill Royals
The Fallen Stars
Patrick Coleman & the Angels of Death
A one-night two-stage festival devoted to the music of Gram Parsons and his followers? In southern California?
“Hey, you never know who’s going to show up,” says organizer Will James.