Drummer with the legendary West Coast country-rock band The Byrds at the very height of their success, Michael Clarke remained in the seat throughout the group’s best years. Having met singer/guitarist Roger (then Jim) McGuinn and early member David Crosby while playing the bars and coffee houses of San Francisco, Clarke wasin situ for The Byrds’ breakthrough cover of Dylan’s "Mr Tambourine Man" (1965) (but was not to hear his work on the charttopping version, session men having been brought in to rerecord pretty much the whole song, bar McGuinn’s trademark playing).
For the next year or so, The Byrds – Clarke, Crosby, McGuinn, singer/writer Gene Clark and bassist Chris Hillman – were the top rock ac across the USA, but the spectre of the session drummer was to return to haunt Clarke. After a flurry of excellent albums, the percussionist became disillusioned with a band that – unsurprisingly, given the wealth of talent therein – was pulling in different directions. He quit during the recording sessions for the 1967 album The Notorious Byrd Brothers (for which he co-wrote "Artificial Energy"), much of his work rerecorded before the album’s issue.
After a spell with Hillman in The Flying Burrito Brothers, Clarke founded soft-rockers Firefall with fellow Burrito, vocalist Rick Roberts. This mellow band – who scored a number of US hits starting with "You are the Woman" (1976) – were ideally suited to the soft-rock excesses of the decade, and Clarke enjoyed a lifestyle of some wealth and hedonism. Although publicly anti-drugs, he was an infamous drinker.
Reforming The Byrds during the eighties, Clarke won a court battle with Crosby, Hillman and McGuinn, and joined Gene Clark on tour until the latter’s death ( May 1991). Working until his own death from liver failure two years later, Clarke cut a sorry figure, years of alcohol abuse leaving him an emaciated shadow of his former self.
He died at home in Treasure Island, Florida.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars - Jeremy Simmonds, 2nd Edition, Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, 2012, page - 263
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