Michael Clarke (musician)

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Michael Clarke
Clarke in 1970
Clarke in 1970
Background information
Birth nameMichael James Dick
Born(1946-06-03)June 3, 1946
Spokane, Washington, U.S.
OriginSan Francisco, California, U.S.
DiedDecember 19, 1993(1993-12-19) (aged 47)
Treasure Island, Florida, U.S.
GenresRock, Folk rock, country rock
Instrument(s)Drums, percussion
Years active1964–1993
Formerly ofThe Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Firefall

Michael Clarke (born Michael James Dick; June 3, 1946 – December 19, 1993) was an American musician, best known as the drummer for the 1960s rock group the Byrds from 1964 to 1967.[1] He died in 1993, at age 47, from liver failure, a direct result of more than three decades of heavy alcohol consumption.


Early years[edit]

Clarke was born in Spokane, Washington. His father was a pipefitter and his mother was an amateur musician. Clarke left home when he was 17 years old and hitchhiked to California to become a musician. In legend, Clarke was said to have been discovered by Byrds' founder David Crosby while playing bongos on a beach. In fact he was discovered by singer-songwriter Ivan Ulz, in North Beach, San Francisco, and was introduced to other group members by Ulz.[citation needed]

The Byrds[edit]

Clarke was not an accomplished musician prior to joining the Byrds but he did have previous experience of drumming in his younger years before joining the group. He had played the drums before but, after joining the Byrds, not having a drum set, practiced on a makeshift kit of cardboard boxes[1] and a tambourine, but he did have real drum sticks.[2] According to lead guitarist Roger McGuinn's web site, Clarke was hired by McGuinn and Gene Clark for his resemblance to Rolling Stones' guitarist Brian Jones. Clarke's strength as a drummer is considered to be illustrated by his jazz-oriented playing on the Byrds' "Eight Miles High",[1] on the Fifth Dimension album.

Though not a prolific songwriter, unlike the other members of the Byrds, Clarke’s compositional contributions with the band encompass co-writing credits for the songs "Captain Soul", an instrumental from the Fifth Dimension album (based on Lee Dorsey's "Get Out Of My Life, Woman"), and "Artificial Energy" from The Notorious Byrd Brothers.[3] He was also given an arrangement co-credit for two traditional songs that appeared on Fifth Dimension: "Wild Mountain Thyme" and "John Riley" (although the latter is credited to Bob Gibson and songwriter/arranger Ricky Neff on the album itself).[3][4]

In August 1967, during the recording sessions for The Notorious Byrd Brothers album, Clarke walked out on the Byrds and was temporarily replaced by session drummers Jim Gordon and Hal Blaine.[5] Clarke had recently become dissatisfied with his role in the band and didn't particularly like the new material that the songwriting members were providing.[3] However, Clarke continued to honor his live concert commitments, appearing at a handful of shows during late August and early September 1967.[5] Clarke returned from his self-imposed exile in time to contribute drums to the song "Artificial Energy" in early December 1967,[6] but was subsequently fired from the band by McGuinn and bass player Chris Hillman once The Notorious Byrd Brothers album was completed.[7]

Hiatus from music, Dillard and Clark and Flying Burrito Brothers[edit]

Flying Burrito Brothers (Amsterdam, 1970). From left to right: Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman, Michael Clarke, Bernie Leadon

After a short stint in Hawaii working in the hotel business and pursuing his interest in painting,[1] Clarke played briefly with Gene Clark in Dillard and Clark, before following Hillman and Gram Parsons to country-rock pioneers The Flying Burrito Brothers, after their first album had been recorded. Clarke served with the Burritos between early 1969 and 1972, appearing with the band at the infamous Altamont Free Concert in California, headlined by The Rolling Stones, in December 1969. During the 1974-1980 period, Clarke was a member of Firefall, followed by a period as the drummer for Jerry Jeff Walker, ending in 1982.

Byrds lawsuit controversy and Hall of Fame induction[edit]

Between 1983 and 1985, Clarke joined former Byrds' singer Gene Clark in The Firebyrds, a touring band which had been put together to promote Gene Clark's 1984 solo album Firebyrd.[8] In 1985, following the breakup of The Firebyrds, Clarke and Clark again joined forces for a series of controversial shows billed as a "20th Anniversary Tribute to The Byrds".[8] Among the other musicians involved in this project were John York, another ex-Byrd from the late 1960s line-up of the group, ex-Burritos and Firefall singer Rick Roberts, ex-member of The Beach Boys early 1970s line-up Blondie Chaplin, and Rick Danko, formerly of The Band.[9] Many nightclubs simply shortened the billing to "The Byrds,"[9] and the pair soon found themselves involved in acrimonious court battles with Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, and Chris Hillman over use of the group's name.

The Byrds set aside their differences long enough to appear together at their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in January 1991, where the original lineup played three songs together: "Mr. Tambourine Man", "Turn! Turn! Turn!" and "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better". Gene Clark died less than five months later, of a heart attack, on May 24, 1991.[10]

From 1987 until his death in 1993, Clarke toured as The Byrds featuring Michael Clarke. Skip Battin and John York, who had played with Roger McGuinn in later versions of the Byrds, also played at various points in The Byrds featuring Michael Clarke. Following the failure of McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman to obtain an injunction against Clarke,[11] it was generally accepted that Clarke's continuing usage of the name was tantamount to ownership, particularly when not used by any other group member and where other group members, particularly Roger McGuinn, had repeatedly denied any interest in performing again under the Byrds name.[11] Roger McGuinn later acknowledged that ownership of the Byrds name had likely passed to Michael Clarke's estate upon Clarke's death, but David Crosby secured the rights to the band's name in 2002.

Declining health and death[edit]

By the late 1980s, Clarke's health had declined from a lifetime of hard drinking, resulting in a number of hospital stays. He died of liver failure at the age of 47 at his Treasure Island, Florida, condominium on December 19, 1993.[12] Billy Moore, who had organized a New Year's Eve concert at a resort where Clarke and his band were scheduled to perform, stated that at the time of his death, Clarke had recently learned that he had become terminally ill due to his liver problems.[12]

During his final days, Clarke had expressed a wish to appear on television in the hope of alerting children to the dangers of alcoholism. Following his wishes, Clarke's girlfriend Susan Paul started a foundation in Clarke's name, called the Campaign for Alcohol-Free Kids.

In 1994, a year after his death, Clarke's paintings were published in Dick Gautier and Jim McMullan's book, Musicians As Artists.


With The Byrds[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

Title Album details Note
Mr. Tambourine Man
  • Released: June 21, 1965
  • Label: Columbia
  • Format: LP
Turn! Turn! Turn!
  • Released: December 6, 1965
  • Label: Columbia
  • Format: LP
Fifth Dimension
  • Released: July 18, 1966
  • Label: Columbia
  • Format: LP
Younger Than Yesterday
  • Released: February 6, 1967
  • Label: Columbia
  • Format: LP
The Notorious Byrd Brothers
  • Released: January 15, 1968
  • Label: Columbia
  • Format: LP, reel-to-reel
Left during production of the album.
  • Released: March 7, 1973
  • Label: Asylum
  • Format: LP, 8-track tape, cassette

Extended plays[edit]

Title Released
The Times They Are a-Changin' February 1966
Eight Miles High October 1966


Title Date
"Please Let Me Love You" /

"Don't Be Long"

October 7, 1964
"Mr. Tambourine Man" /

"I Knew I'd Want You"

April 12, 1965
"All I Really Want to Do" /

"I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better"

June 14, 1965
"Turn! Turn! Turn!" /

"She Don't Care About Time"

October 1, 1965
"Set You Free This Time" January 10, 1966
"It Won't Be Wrong" (B-side)
"Eight Miles High" /


March 14, 1966
"5D (Fifth Dimension)" /

"Captain Soul"

June 13, 1966
"Mr. Spaceman" /

"What's Happening?!?!"

September 6, 1966
"So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star" /

"Everybody's Been Burned"

January 9, 1967
"My Back Pages" /

"Renaissance Fair"

March 13, 1967
"Have You Seen Her Face" /

"Don't Make Waves"

May 22, 1967
"Lady Friend" /

"Old John Robertson"

July 13, 1967
"Goin' Back" /

"Change Is Now"

October 20, 1967
"You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" /

"Artificial Energy"

April 2, 1968
"Full Circle" /

"Long Live the King"

April 11, 1973
"Things Will Be Better" /

"For Free"

April 24, 1973
"Cowgirl in the Sand" /

"Long Live the King"

June 1973

With The Flying Burrito Brothers[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

Title Year
Burrito Deluxe 1970
The Flying Burrito Bros 1971

Live albums[edit]

Year Credited As Title
1972 The Flying Burrito Brothers Last of the Red Hot Burritos


Single Year
"The Train Song" 1969
"If You Gotta Go" 1970

With Roger McGuinn[edit]

With Firefall[edit]

With Chris Hillman[edit]

  • Clear Sailin' (1977) (one track)

With Barry McGuire[edit]

With Gene Clark[edit]

With Terry Melcher[edit]

  • Terry Melcher (1974)

With Jerry Jeff Walker[edit]

Other contributions[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Unterberger, Richie. "Biography of Michael Clarke". Allmusic. Retrieved 2010-11-03.
  2. ^ "Byrds FAQ". Ibiblio.org. Retrieved October 12, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c Rogan, Johnny (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (2nd ed.). Rogan House. p. 521. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X.
  4. ^ Hjort, Christopher. (2008). So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star: The Byrds Day-By-Day (1965-1973). Jawbone Press. p. 95. ISBN 978-1-906002-15-2.
  5. ^ a b Hjort, Christopher. (2008). So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star: The Byrds Day-By-Day (1965-1973). Jawbone Press. pp. 143–146. ISBN 978-1-906002-15-2.
  6. ^ Hjort, Christopher. (2008). So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star: The Byrds Day-By-Day (1965-1973). Jawbone Press. p. 152. ISBN 978-1-906002-15-2.
  7. ^ Rogan, Johnny (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (2nd ed.). Rogan House. p. 237. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X.
  8. ^ a b Einarson, John (2005). Mr. Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of The Byrds' Gene Clark. Backbeat Books. pp. 242–243. ISBN 0-87930-793-5.
  9. ^ a b "Byrds v. Byrds: The 20th Anniversary Tribute To The Byrds 1984 - 1988". ByrdWatcher: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles. Archived from the original on 2010-04-29. Retrieved 2010-11-03.
  10. ^ Byrds v. Byrds: A Byrds Celebration and A "Byrds Celebration" 1991-1997 Archived 2010-10-28 at the Wayback Machine. Byrd Watcher: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles; www.ebni.com.
  11. ^ a b "Byrds v. Byrds: The Battle for The Byrds Name 1989 - 1990". ByrdWatcher: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles. Archived from the original on 2010-10-28. Retrieved 2010-11-03.
  12. ^ a b "Obituaries : Michael Clarke; Drummer With the Byrds Rock Group". Los Angeles Times. December 21, 1993. Retrieved October 12, 2019.

External links[edit]