Tambourine Man: Gene Clark – Part 12

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photograph by Ted Barron

A true Operatic, Gene Clark could have sung stage, and his natural style was that of the Elizabethan ballad, songs that he had traded verses with his father since a bare lad. He learned to keep perfect natural time with his foot and add orchestra with his harmonica. Though again with the harmonica, he was at best indifferent and never went beyond the early Dylan honking style. If he had a band, he preferred to strum along with his guitar, but often it was not even plugged in. He never took a lead. But he could get that Western swing thumb strum sound in a treehouse.

His classic songs started with Clark playing a chord, often a minor one and the band would join in once he established a key by singing a few notes.

He was hardly a front man in the style of Daltrey, Plant or Jagger anyway, it was his voice and the incongruent elegant words projected from his humble homespun demeanor that arrested the audience’s attention. While he was capable of singular performances, he was just as often way too drunk to perform. Then he was hit and miss, ranging from the sublime to the sub-professional. His shaky approach to performance that I and others witnessed on the ill-fated No Other tour was the rule throughout his career.

Most agree that this along with his overwhelming singular style killed any chance of commercial success. He refused to tour or play the radio station publicity game; he only did it when cornered and had no other choice. Even at showcase premiers at the Troubadour, he was often too drunk to perform creditably. Whether with Dule or earlier with Doug Dilliard he would show up so wasted for the showcase that any plans for a full-fledged tour were quickly scrapped by wary PR flacks.

Tambourine Man: Gene Clark is co-published with the East of Bowery blog.


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