The Gene Clark Group of 1966: Chip, Bill, Joel & Gene
OUT FRONT of Hollywood's Whisky A-Go-Go
club the newly formed Gene Clark Group lined up for a series of Henry Diltz
photos. It's June '66, a northern
summer and a 21-year-old Gene is surrounded by three Clark clones. They look
great together. The line-up consists of ex-Modern Folk Quartet bassist Chip
Douglas, ex-Leaves guitarist Bill Rinehart and ex-Grass Roots drummer Joel
Larson. It's a LA supergroup of sorts - one that, in theory, had a lot of
If there is one period of time Gene fans dream was better documented it was the Gene Clark Group of '66. Gene had just left the Byrds and was, arguably, at the peak of commercial viability. His managers were thinking they had a cross between Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley on their hands. But, despite the potential, the Group didn't last long. A handful of shows, some aborted recording sessions and an appearance on TV's 'The Dating Game'. A series of sackings followed and Rinehart was the sole member included in the recording of Clark's debut solo album in late '66. (Rinehart and Larson later joined Emitt Rhodes in the Merry-Go-Round while Douglas went onto to play with the Turtles and produce the Monkees' Headquarters & Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. lp's).
Keen to find out more, I tracked Chip Douglas down, living in Hawaii, and asked if he could shed some light on happenings 38 years ago. He did so, with good humour...
Keen to find out more, I tracked Chip Douglas down, living in Hawaii, and asked if he could shed some light on happenings 38 years ago. He did so, with good humour...
approached you to join the Gene Clark Group?
I had a roommate named Joel Larson at the time, who was the drummer with the Grassroots, and he was the one who had been approached by Gene. Gene was leaving the Byrds and he grabbed Joel Larson so there I was in the right spot. So it was Joel who approached me and said, 'we might want a bass player'. I'd known Gene Clark from before (the Byrds) so I said 'sure'. We were all musicians and knew each other, kinda hanging out so we got together, began to rehearse things up and become a band.
How did you know Gene from before
the Byrds got together?
Our group the Modern Folk Quartet was known by all the musicians and quite revered because of our four part harmony and all that stuff. So, all these guys knew of us and slowly but surely they began to get famous in different groups and take off and we were still struggling away to get a hit or be a rock n roll group or whatever. But they knew of us so we'd cross paths every now and then with David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Gene Clark and Roger McGuinn. McGuinn was one of the first people I met when I went to Los Angeles in December of '62. He was a folk singer around town. So it was just a clique of musicians that all knew each other. There wasn't a whole lot of them but they were always at the Troubadour and that's where we got to know each other in the Troubadour bar. Like I say one by one they began to get with happening groups and then disappear on the road but that was the gathering place, the Troubadour bar on Monday nights which was a hoot night and all these different people would perform. I watched Crosby, McGuinn and Gene Clark get it together to be the Byrds. They had formed a trio and were singing Beatle songs and stuff in the Troubadour bar on a Monday night. They'd have a few beers, grab a guitar and be sitting around in a corner there working on songs. Most notable I can remember was a thing called 'You Showed Me', which I later recorded with the Turtles. They used to that with a three part harmony and it never made it to the first album ('Mr. Tambourine Man'). That's how I got to know that song from listening to it at the Troubadour and I always liked it.
Was the Modern Folk Quartet still
together when you were asked to join the Gene Clark Group?
No, we had broken up and I didn't know what I was going to do exactly. I suppose I was about 24 at the time. It was a matter of a couple of weeks and Gene Clark left the Byrds and Joel Larson came by and asked me. We lived on Wonderland Park. We'd see Sal Mineo drive by everyday on his motorcycle about 4 or 5 o'clock he'd come cruising by on his big Harley. He lived some ways up the road from us. That's where all that stuff began for me was in that place on Wonderland Park.
How did Bill Rinehart come to
join the Group?
He was Joel's friend but I knew him too around that time. He was just on the scene there all the time at the Whisky. He was guitar player in the Leaves. We all got to know each other just from hanging out at the Whisky. That's where I was every weekend watching whatever group was on. We all played there at one point or another and our group the Modern Folk Quartet, or the MFQ as we were then, played once or twice at the Whisky. But mostly we were known for playing at a place called The Trip which was further on down Sunset Boulevard. It used to be Ciros in the old days of Hollywood and that was a big hang out for everybody. We played as the opening act for a number of different people - the Four Tops, the Velvet Underground, and a couple other notables.
What did you make of the Velvet
I didn't really pay too much attention - I was downstairs getting ready to go on ourselves. I thought they were kinda bizarre.
Joel Larson sounds like he was a
mover and shaker in the scene.
Yeah, he's a real friendly guy with a big smile and knew everybody. He was a well-known, familiar figure around the Whisky and so forth.
So what happened from
there...after you were asked to join the Gene Clark Group?
Well, a lot of rehearsing up at Gene's house all the time, learning bunches of tunes that he had. We'd rehearse for a while in the afternoon then jump in the cars and go down to the 'Beef 'n' Beer' on Sunset and have something to eat. Or the 'Hamburger Hamlet' which was also in that area. We had a fun time. We were banding together and bonding and doing these songs which we were getting pretty excited about. We all thought his stuff was great 'cos Gene had this aura of fame about him, money and a Ferrari and a bunch of songs and none of us had written quite that prolifically.
Did you take control of the vocal
Not really with the Gene Clark Group. That was more with the Turtles that I began to do that stuff because there were some real singers in the Turtles. It was a little frustrating in the Gene Clark Group. Bill Rinehart would sing a little bit of a high harmony to Gene and he wasn't that strong a singer so it was mostly Gene. I might have chimed in a third part here and there but the songs weren't conducive to my harmony parts. I just found it difficult to phrase with him so I was concentrating on my bass work. It was working with the Turtles that I really began to get into that. There were four guys who could sing four part harmony and so we worked out some background parts and I arranged them. That was what I was good at, writing parts out and having guys learn note for note but that was impossible with the Gene Clark Group because Joel Larson wasn't that much of a singer, neither was Bill Rinehart. He sang but he wasn't a like a David Crosby kind of a singer. It was just a little occasional harmony part there that I sang with the Gene Clark Group.
hear you had a few hair raising trips in Gene's Ferrari?
Oh, God, yeah. After every practice session we'd go down to Sunset and Gene would drive in that Ferrari. Often I was with him and he'd scream around those turns of Sunset Plaza. I was always scared to death that a car would be coming around the turn in the other direction and we'd have a head on. But, somehow, we made it. That's how he got all his anger and aggression out, I guess, because he would tear down that road as fast as he could. It was like we were in a Le Mans 500. Going back up the hill too, he'd be screaming those tyres around those turns all the way. He almost went nuts behind the wheel driving that thing up the Plaza. It was the same every time. He never took a mellow trip down. It was always at high speed. He had a lot of something in him that he was trying to get out. Songs and aggression and God knows what all, you know. I was scared for my life every time.
Gene got a reputation as a hard
living guy? How was he in the Gene Clark Group?
I think we all smoked a little pot around that time but that was about it that I ever saw. And drinking beer down at the bar. Gene might've been drinking hard liquor at the time I suppose but it was mostly beer and little marijuana and that was about it. We'd sit down, pass the joint around and practice a little and that was extent of it. Jump in the Ferrari and go nuts on the road.
The scandal of the time was that
Gene was seeing Michelle Phillips...
She was around. One day we were practising and she turned up and Gene was like, 'oh, yeah, we've got this thing going' and we were like 'really?' It was not public news exactly 'cos she was still in the Mamas and Papas, I guess. So we'd be practising and Michelle would turn up and Gene would be like 'oh, well, practice is over for today, fellas, see you next time.' We'd go off to the 'Beef n Beer', just the three of us, and leave him back home with Michelle. I hardly talked to her or hardly knew her but she was definitely in the picture during that whole time.
People often associate every song
that Gene wrote around that time to be about Michelle Phillips...
That could very well be. Which songs he had written earlier and which songs he had written at the time I have no knowledge of. But, he would've definitely been writing songs about her, of course.
The Gene Clark Group featured on
'The Dating Game' TV show at the time...
I don't know if that tape exists. We just went and did the 'Dating Game'. Somebody set it up, I think the Byrds managers. Three of us went on, I think it was me and Gene and Joel, I believe. I don't think Bill Rinehart was there. Anyway, you know how the 'Dating Game' is we got asked questions and tried to come up clever answers which I'm not good at at the best of times. I have to think about what I want to say and, I believe, Joel Larson won and wound up going on the date.
Can you tell us about the shows you did at
the Whisky Au-Go-Go. There must've been a lot of anticipation at the time.
We played the Whisky after we'd worked up a bunch of songs. There was a lot of people there, a bunch of fans gathered up close around the stage looking at Gene and sometimes the rest of us. We got out and did our bit and 45 minutes, an hour later we stepped off. I just only remember one show. Nobody really went nuts. I mean they were gathered up tight on stage, nobody was dancing or any of that. It was a looking and listening type thing. How well the show went over was hard to say. We were medium received. It wasn't like everybody was screaming and we drove the place nuts like the Turtles use to. They'd get up there and really put on a show. I just remember getting up, being nervous and playing our songs and that was that. Gene was pretty nervous having his own group for the first time. He'd always been a part of other groups. He was in the New Christy Minstrels and from that he was in the Byrds where he was the front man but the others had their spotlight moments too but the whole show here was the Gene Clark Group and he was pretty nervous. We all were when we did that. We weren't that confident of the material and just hadn't performed that much. It came off alright but it was rough.
Did you play any Byrds songs?
I don't think we did. Maybe 'Feel a Whole Lot Better' perhaps.
The Gene Clark Group has been described as
being like 'young Doc Hollidays wearing Bolo ties playing poppy C&W'...how does
that description fit?
There was a couple of teenage magazines that had pictures of us and I was in the string tie. I wore those in the Turtles as well. Gene always had a turtleneck and a blazer that was his uniform. Bill Rinehart was more or less along the same lines. But I was the only one wearing the string ties I think.
Can you tell us about the
recordings you did with Jim Dickson?
We recorded at World Pacific Recorders. The same place I did my first Modern Folk Quartet album. We also did that with Jim Dickson - he produced it. That's how I knew him. I can remember the session being a little tense and it not sounding as good as everybody thought it was. Everyone was trying to suggest ways for it to relax and feel better but there was just no helping the situation. It was weird. What happened to that tape I don't know. I actually spoke to Jim Dickson about it in Maui not too long ago. He said 'when I moved to Hawaii or from here to there it disappeared along the way.' Too bad cos no-one knows where that tape is. It got tossed out somewhere along the line and probably just as well. We listened back and it was a big disappointment because it didn't sound like the Byrds, it didn't sound like the Beatles. It sounded like whatever we were doing which was pretty good but shaky I guess you could say. That was where the disappointment came in after we listened to the recording. Those sessions were a little tense, and things weren't exactly right.
Why was the session tense?
Gene was uptight, he wasn't happy with what it was sounding like. We tried a few takes and it wasn't quite the same as doing them in practice. It was just not happening I guess you could say.
Do you remember some of the songs
you did at that session?
There was a lot of them that I remember rehearsing. But the only one that really stuck with me that I can remember liking a lot every time we played it was 'Needing Someone'. Another was 'Keep on Pushin'. I would remember the songs if I saw a tape and heard it, 'oh, that one'. There was a song called 'Madeline' that we were starting to work up but that never got finished. It was interesting, kinda Beatle-like. We were always comparing things to the Beatles. It'd be like 'oh boy, this sounds like a Beatle song' and we'd get all excited. Then there was the thing I did on the tape with Larry McGrath 'If I Hang Around'. That wasn't part of our repertoire. I don't remember anything on that tape being part of the stuff we were working up. We had one song that Joel Larson came up with and I chimed in a little something too called 'Elevator Operator'. Gene liked it and smiled every time Joel would talk about it or sing it. Gene later took over that song and credited himself but that was really Joel Larson's idea up at my house. He kept singing, 'she was an elevator operator, she had her ups and downs'. I played it with him a few times and chimed in a line or two. That was one of the songs that was always on the sideline and was going to get done one day. I think it ended up on the 'Gosdin Bros.' LP which I heard a long time ago but I didn't listen very long and hard to it. I probably wasn't as excited about it as the group that we had been in. I thought it sounded too country. With Gene I remember we were approaching the Beatles style a little bit and we had a group of four guys and the drummer, singers and I thought 'gee, this could really make it'. So, whatever else he did after our group I was kinda disappointed in. Listening now I'm sure I'd love it now that I whole deal is over with.
Gene had quite a distinctive
songwriting style - Jim Dickson has mentioned it was hard to make head nor tail
of some of the songs - did you find that?
He had a lot of songs that he was working up and obviously he was doing what he wanted to do which was record all his songs. I think in the Byrds they didn't go for some of them. I'm a big Gene Clark fan but some of his songs were a bit deep for my tastes. They were full of lots of words and lacking the kind of pop hooks you might need to have a good sound. I was thought he was something like Lennon and McCartney but not quite the inspired geniuses that they were or something. I liked his songs a lot, they all sounded right for us and we were getting excited about them. But I can see, in hindsight, how the Byrds would not have gone for some of them and I guess that got frustrating for him and he bailed out. Jim Dickson once told me 'David Crosby made him go crazy.' Crosby was a high strung guy and very talkative whereas Gene didn't have the gift of the gab that Crosby did. Knowing Crosby in those days he was quite verbal and a smart guy and could argue his point very well. Gene, being more of a laidback country guy, was not quite up to dealing with him all the time.
Gene was infamously told by
Crosby he wasn't good enough to play guitar in the Byrds. How did you find him
as a player?
He was mostly a rhythm guitar player. He wasn't much of a lead player but he could accompany himself and play all the chords on his tunes.
Were you writing songs
at the time?
A couple of them. I had a few things that I was messing with. In fact, I had a lot of different things - bits and pieces of songs. Some would be better than others but they didn't come into play in the Gene Clark Group. We were just dealing with his songs, basically.
Did you take anything from Gene's
Perhaps, not really. I had my own ideas going and they were, at the time, a little more Motown orientated, a little more RnB. I wrote songs in that style. On the Monkees album 'Headquarters' there was a song called 'Forget That Girl', that didn't end up sounding anything like I wanted it too, but it was probably the first song I ever wrote and it had a Motown like bass riff but the Monkees couldn't pick up on that. It was a kind of strange timing and they couldn't find the one. So the riff got turned around by Peter Tork, he said how about this riff and he simplified the riff so that they could play it and it got completely changed from the way I had intended which was more of a Fontella Bass, Motown-like bass line to kick the thing off but it ended up being more a bubblegum, 'Sugar, Sugar' approach to it. I was very disappointed when that was recorded. I thought, 'Oh, no, this is not the way I wanted it to sound'. Little realising, at the time, that it would make a lot of money anyway.
Did you ever record it the way
you wanted to?
No, I never have - you just keep moving on with things and I oughta do that one day, put the bass line on that I intended and somebody to sing it. I don't think I could sing it now in the original key I wrote it in. My voice is a lot deeper.
How did you feel about the whole
prospect of being in the Gene Clark Group? Finally it looked like it was your
turn for the limelight after watching you peers succeed in one way or another.
Things were beginning to happen a little bit differently and I was out of the folk music scene and into a group that looked like it had possibilities. I mean I always thought everything we were doing was great, and sounding great and the songs I liked a lot. I was quite enamoured of them and I thought there was a good possibility that it would work. But it didn't last long - three or four months maybe. Then he dissolved the group which is my other famous story that I always tell - we were out front of my garage in Wonderland Park Avenue, just sitting around, talking and I remember we were all hunkered down in front of my garage. Gene said 'I'm dissolving the Group but if these other two guys, Bill and Joel, want to continue playing with them that'll be fine'. I was like, 'OK, in other words I'm getting kicked out of the Group.'
How did you feel about that?
Oh, I felt rejected and weird and I thought 'the nerve of the guy'. I thought we were doing fine. But, apparently, I wasn't the right vibe for him and he went onto to do other things. They continued for a little while but that fell apart after a while.
A wasted opportunity?
Well, yes, I thought 'gee, of all the luck, I really thought this was maybe going to work and maybe go someplace'.
Were you still living with Joel
Larson at the time? How did that go down between you two?
Yeah, I was. There was no problem really. Joel was just a friendly guy and he'd keep me abreast of what they were doing which wasn't too much. They practised for a while without a bass player and that didn't go very far. It kinda fell apart. Right after the Gene Clark Group broke up, it wasn't but a week or two later that Mark Volman from the Turtles walked up to my house and said, 'hey, we fired our bass player and we'd like you to come play with us'. They were impressed because I was in the Gene Clark Group. Soon after we got a big hit with 'Happy Together' and then Michael Nesmith came along and snatched me away to do the Monkees.
Did Gene ever come up to you and
say he regretted firing you?
Well, we didn't speak too much after that. When you have a falling out with somebody, we'd see each other and it'd be 'hey, man…' and that was it. There wasn't much to talk about anymore. No relationships going on of any kind. I didn't see him too much after that for a whole, rest of the time I was in Hollywood. And he was doing things with other people and I always felt a little weird and rejected.
Did you still have a bit of
feeling about how it all ended?
No, it's a very laughable story now. I'm grateful that it did happen because I went onto bigger and better things. Way bigger and way better as it turns out. It still supports me to this day. That little series of steps - from the MFQ to the Gene Clark Group to the Turtles, getting a big hit record for the first time in my life and then onto the Monkees. So, looking back I'm tickled pink that he broke the group up. Nothing would've happened the same. So I'm grateful he disbanded us in the way that he did.
What did you make of the Gene
Clark with the Gosdin Brothers LP?
They sound good. He was approaching the Byrds again with those guys. He was trying to sound like the Byrds. It's probably why he got with those guys because they could sing and they could play and he was trying to get that same sound that they had going in the Byrds. But, the only thing that's missing is Roger McGuinn and that 12-string. The Gosdins are similar to David Crosby in the voices, very similar vocal sound, but it doesn't have that great David Crosby detuned rhythm and the Roger McGuinn 12-string. Otherwise it would sound practically indistinguishable from the Byrds.
You went onto to work with the
Turtles and, at one point, you requested a tape of Gene Clark demos to use with
the Turtles. Considering your relationship with Gene at the time - having been
ousted from the Gene Clark Group - it seems a very magnanimous thing for you to
Well, I guess so. I contacted Eddie Tickner, who was Gene's manager at the time, and asked him if there were demos of Gene in the office. I'd had sort of lost touch with Gene, he was doing other things and we didn't hang out anymore. I got that tape because I was with the Turtles at the time and I wanted to see if I could use a couple of songs that I liked when I was in the Gene Clark Group. I was looking for a song in particular called 'Madeleine' but it wasn't on the tape.
But 'You Showed Me' (a song written by Gene
and Jim/Roger McGuinn) was and you did a version - the definitive version. Doing
that song, again, appears to be a very magnanimous gesture on your part.
I always liked that song since I first heard it in the Troubadour bar when Gene, David Crosby and Roger McGuinn were working as a trio and getting the Byrds together. It never made it to a Byrds album but I knew that it could be made into a cool song. I got the demo tape so I could learn all the words for that song.
'You Showed Me' has proved to be
one of Gene Clark's most enduring works - it's been both covered and sampled by
an array of artists over the years.
I'm quite proud of that. I always liked the string arrangement on it. Just the way it all came out. I played Hammond B3 and we just tried to perfect all the drums part in there. It was a flawed thing but I was proud of that. It was one of the better things I ever did and I wish I could've done a lot more things like that. I had great hopes to keep working with the Turtles but they had other plans. We had a little falling out and that was that. A whole other story.
On that demo were a few other
tracks that you added your bass and harmony vocal too recently - one was 'If I
Hang Around' which recently came out on the Raven Records Byrd Part 2
release. How did you feel going back and doing that?
That was an idea of Larry McGrath's. I didn't want to be bothered to tell you the truth. The last thing I wanted to do was go back to an old Gene Clark song. I felt a little peculiar about doing that because he's gone. But that's show business. Anyway, I had no desire to do that but I felt I owed Larry a little something, he'd flown me all the way down to Australia (to produce a band called the Deep End), worked on an album and it didn't go right so he wound up spending a lot of money. I never really enjoy things at first but after the second draft it began to get better. Then I began to think this has promise and possibilities but at first I put one harmony part on there and I thought, 'oh, boy...' Then I doubled that harmony and dumped some more echo on it and began to sound better and changed this and that and put a new bass part on. It finally began to shape up after about the third occasional six month hounding from Larry McGrath. Now that it's done I love to listen to it but when I'm faced with something I really don't want to do it's always a chore. It was kind of a chore but it turned out to be a good thing and I'm glad I did it.
Are there any other songs that
you're planning to give a similar treatment to?
Well, I have no plans to do any of them at the moment. But, you never know. I don't know what I could do with the others, I'm not sure. We did another one with the Deep End ('That's What You Want'). I was happy with that.
Does Larry McGrath have to twist
your arm again?
(Laughing) Hopefully not.
Are you still in contact with
I was in contact with him not too long ago. He works with the Teamsters working on movie set and he drives forklifts and things around all day and makes a lot of money. He's doing pretty well, I guess.
What about Bill Rinehart?
I asked Joel about him and I just don't know what's happened to him. He's around but I don't know where. I tried to get his number but with not much luck.
the Sand Pebbles' fanzine
'another ghost transmission...'
©2004 Christopher Hollow