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Gene Clark, Byrds co-founder, will be saluted at KC events

Gene Clark first picked up the guitar in Kansas City. His talent led him to co-found The Byrds.
Gene Clark first picked up the guitar in Kansas City. His talent led him to co-found The Byrds.

The international community of Gene Clark fans convenes in Kansas City next week.

The legacy of the former area resident who in 1963 left for California, became a co-founder of the Byrds and then emerged as a pioneer of country rock will be saluted with several events celebrating the 70th anniversary of his birth.

First, a tribute concert has been scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 17, at Knuckleheads, 2715 Rochester St. Scheduled to perform is Rick Clark, Gene’s brother. Also expected to perform are Michael Brewer and Tom Shipley, as well as Bob Walkenhorst and Jeff Porter of the Kansas City rock band the Rainmakers.

Second, a symposium has been scheduled Nov. 20-23 at the Hotel Phillips, 106 W. 12th St. At these sessions, fans will hear presentations on Clark and listen to several of his unreleased recordings.

Third, organizers are planning a day trip to Tipton, the mid-Missouri community where Clark was born on Nov. 17, 1944, and where he was buried following his May 24, 1991, death.

Clark collectors and fans from across the country as well as Europe are expected, said Dan Torchia, a local Clark scholar who will detail Clark’s youth in Raytown and Bonner Springs and the spectacular success that he enjoyed not long after he left the area.

While Clark can be seen in many vintage videos from the Byrds’ earliest days — banging a tambourine and singing with Byrds co-founders Roger McGuinn and David Crosby — he soon left the band to pursue a solo career. Many of the Byrds hits that he wrote or co-wrote, such as “Eight Miles High” or “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” are considered rock standards, but Clark never experienced the commercial success that other individual singer/songwriters of his time enjoyed.

That’s despite the fact that some of his solo albums — especially “No Other,” released in 1974 — since have been declared some of the best records of the 1970s. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss included two Clark songs — “Polly” and “Through the Morning, Through the Night,” on their 2007 album, “Raising Sand.”

Although Clark died at age 46 of a heart attack in 1991, about four months after being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Byrds, he still commands the interest of a network of devotees who respond to his songs as well as his personal story.

“Certainly there is a little bit of a tragic element to it,” Torchia said. “He died young and somewhat obscure. But to fans of the Byrds as well as to many musicians, it’s all about how his work has endured through the years.”

Next week’s gathering marks the second time Clark’s fans have convened formally in the Kansas City area. This time, as was true during the group’s Overland Park gathering three years ago, fans will be invited to listen to Clark recordings that never have been officially released but still circulate among collectors. Those attending these sessions will be asked to not bring any recording equipment.

“Three years ago we put everybody’s cellphones into a basket,” Torchia said. “We want to respect those people who might hold copyright on something.”

For more information about the gathering, go to GeneClarkSymposium.com or send an email to whineryop@hotmail.com.

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