JOHN YORK: RARE LIVE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA APPEARANCE
John York: This Byrd has Flown
By Terry Roland
As we travel on the musical landscape we call Americana music, there is that mainstream road where we find the well-known artists like Alison Krauss, Drive By Truckers, Emmylou Harris. But, if you take a side trip off the beaten path, especially at the exit sign which reads, The Byrds, you may find John York. His voice has the familiar sound of the harmonic Byrds choruses with a hint of McGuinn, but it is distinct and he sings with the resonance of a well-lived musical soul. His musical associations read like an all-star rock and roll band. If you sit with him for a while, he’ll tell you about being on the road with The Mamas and The Papas, The Sir Douglas Quintet, his history with The Byrds, writing songs with Gene Clark, and standing on the same stage as Rick Danko and Richard Manual of The Band.He’s been around long enough to be called a veteran, but he remains vital and open to new musical directions. With every turn there have been moments of discovery, renewal and revelation, all captured in song.
John joined The Byrds, replacing Chris Hillman on bass, in 1968 when the band was made up of legendary guitarist, Clarence White, Gene Parson on drums and the ever-Byrd presence, Roger McGuinn and his 12-String electric guitar. This Byrd line-up, oft overlooked, may have been the busiest and most productive formation of the band. In a fourteen month period, John York played over 250 shows on a seemingly never-ending tour and still managed to record three albums including Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde, The Ballad of Easy Rider and Live at the Fillmore.
In the 90’s the road took its toll and John settled in Southern California’s Claremont, home to David Lindley, Chris Darrow and Ben Harper. Ironically, he finally began to focus on his own music. Over the last 20 years he has released two fine solo albums, Claremont Dragon and Arigatou Baby.
With a myriad of world instruments on the intricately produced, Claremont Dragon, John steps beyond the Byrds realm without losing the influence and sensibility of the band. He leads us on a journey through the heart-longings, the sometimes overwhelming grief and the joys of life. Had the song, “On Whose Door Does the Moonlight Not Shine,” been recorded in ’65, it would be a Byrds classic with lyrics that rival Dylan and music that steps up jingle-jangle Byrds of that year a notch or two. With supporting players like Patrick Brayer and Chris Darrow, the album shines through the cracks of Americana history and demands to be heard.
Arigatou Baby is a loose, acoustically based collection of songs, equal to the quality of Claremont Dragon, but with a stripped down production which focuses on the lyric-driven songs. Highlight songs include “Jealous Gun”, “Roadside Cross” and the Band/Danko influenced “Tuesday’s Train”, a touching Holocaust story of loss and sorrow.
John’s concerts are acoustically based covering originals, covers from his Byrds days along with classics of the era. His interpretations weave his vocal phrasing with lead guitar riffs on songs like “Paint It Black,” “This Wheels on Fire,” and even a brilliant interpretation of “The Wind Cries Mary.” Especially moving is his interpretation of the Sarah McLaughlin song, “The Arms of An Angel”
John York is evidence that the road less taken is the one well-worth taking. He’s proof that off the beaten and well-worn path you might just find some undiscovered Americana gems.
John York will be appearing at The Coffee Gallery Backstage tonight, Thursday-August 5 at 8:00 PM. Address is 2029 Lake Ave. Altadena. Reservation line is 626-794-2424.