Kevin Cody

The day The Byrds landed at Palos Verdes High

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The Byrds Palos Verdes High poster courtesy of Brian and Dale Cox.

by Toulouse Engelhardt

On the Friday before Halloween in 1965, the rumor spread quickly across the campus at Palos Verdes High School, ricocheting from locker to locker, down the halls across the senior park and off campus to the entire South Bay. Could it be true? The Byrds, the third most popular rock and roll band in the world, behind only the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, were going to perform at our high school?

Somehow, Mr. James Kinney, the iconic activities director at Palos Verdes High School since opening day back in 1961 had worked out a deal with the Byrds management’s  Eddie Tickner and Jim Dickson to get the Byrds to come to Palos Verdes High School and perform a 45 minute set for the sum of just $300. Proceeds from the concert were to go to the construction of a swimming pool on campus.

I remember seeing small football pep rally cards pinned to the shirts and blouses of the students going down to the gym for the weekly football rally that said in the bright school colors with red, black and white lettering, ”Turn,Turn, Turn the Falcons,” referring to our football rivals from Aviation High School and the arrival of the Byrds.

The night of the gig, at around 6 p.m., a helicopter landed on the edge of the football field on the west side of the campus with all five of the original members of the group: Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman and Michael Clark. Greeting the band was none other than, who else, activities director James Kinney. Mr. Kinney and a volunteer student staff escorted the band to the “green room,” which turned out to be the girl’s dance recital room at the rear of the gymnasium. On the large wooden wall of the gym, behind the stage where the roadies were setting up the drum kit and amplifiers, students from the school’s art department had hung large colorful murals of each of the band members.

The Byrds performing at Palos Verdes High in 1965. The Byrds. Photos courtesy of the PVHS Triton Annual Supplement

Shortly before 8 p.m., over 1,500 excited students and faculty packed into the gymnasium. It was warm and humid inside the gym simply because of the huge crowd, even though the Palos Verdes Estates Fire Department had set strict limits on the number of people allowed in the gym. The doors were shut tight when the crowd reached the allowable occupancy. Bouncers at the door had their work cut out for them too, holding back crowds of outsiders hoping to crash  the concert. 

When the lights suddenly went out and the Byrds entered from stage left, the crowd went wild. 

The Byrds performance that evening lived up to everyone’s expectations with their newly invented “folk rock” twang, beautifully interwoven vocal harmonies and intricate interpretations of classic Dylan and Pete Seeger songs. Their set included their two number one hits; “Mr. Tambourine Man”  and “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and Gene Clark’s classic “Feel A Whole Lot Better,” . 

To get the dance crowd “stomping” they surprised everyone in attendance with an extended version of Chuck Berry’s classic “Roll Over Beethoven.”  “Turn, Turn, Turn”  came at the end of their set. After strumming the final chords, the band unplugged their guitars and quickly left the stage. They had been on stage for just 35 minutes. 

As they headed down the hall to the exit, they were intercepted by a very angry activities director. Mr. James Kinney dangled his ring of keys in their faces like they were just another bunch of high school delinquents. He pointed his finger right in Roger McGuinn’s face and ordered, “You boys turn right around and march yourselves back on stage. You owe us another couple of songs! We have a contract with you, remember?” 

The band quickly turned around and went right back out to rousing applause. They ended their encore with a shimmering performance of Bob Dylan’s classic ”Chimes of Freedom.”.

Earlier that night I made it a point to work my way through the crowd all the way up to the front of the stage. I stood as close to McGuinn as I could, so close I could see the reflections coming off the Ben Franklin glasses that had become one of his trademarks. I was mesmerized by the “twang” of his Rickenbacker 12 string guitar blasting through his Black Fender Bandmaster amp. I was especially impressed with his intricate fingerstyle arrangement of the instrumental bridge in  “Turn, Turn Turn,” just as I had been earlier listening to  “Bells of Rhymney” from their first Columbia release.

I sensed the unlimited possibilities of the 12 string guitar and more importantly the potential for limitless lyrical expression using all of your fingers to pluck multiple melodic lines in synchronicity, not just a single line with a flat pick. It was a pivotal moment in my musical career. As I continued to watch the band perform, in a moment of serendipity, I Thought to myself, I need to explore the 12 string guitar for its expressive power, tonal range and shimmering chorus of sounds and that’s exactly what I did. 

Little did I know at the time that almost eight years to that day, I would join the Byrds on their final American tour through the Rockies and across the plains of America as the band’s support act. That dream didn’t last long. Before I knew it the band was off to the East Coast and I had to pack up my Martin D-12-28  guitar and return home here to a life of normalcy in the South Bay and to ponder my next career move. 

Reflecting back now, If it wasn’t for the tour exposure that I received those weeks and the encouragement I received from the band, especially from the Byrds’ brilliant guitarist Clarence White, where would I be? I had no idea then how much his words would help advance my career. The press covering the tour asked Clarence to comment about my performance and he was quoted as saying in his quiet, soft mild mannered way; “I’m becoming a big fan of this young fingerstyle guitarist”. Without that acknowledgement, I probably would have never gotten the attention of Chris Darrow of Kaleidoscope and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band fame, who went on to mentor me through my first record contract and introduce me to Denny Bruce the co-owner of Takoma Records and the personal manager of  fingerstyle guitar greats John Fahey and Leo Kottke. That turned out to be my first big break in as a solo instrumental guitarist. 

I still have the guitar pick Clarence White gave me when we said goodbye in the winter of 1973 I keep it as a good luck charm whenever I go. In the mid ‘90s, Hollywood Records released Roger McGuinn’s “Live from Mars,” a series of live recordings and cool folk stories from his solo performances in the post-Byrd years while, at that same time, the same record label re-released my first album, “TouIlusions,” with its iconic “Sailkat” cover design by another  Palos Verdes High School  alumnus the legendary artist Rick Griffin.

Looking back, 55 years later, I will always remember that concert at Palos Verdes High School with great fondness. Now I know why I keep hearing the words of James M. Barrie, who created “Peter Pan”, dancing in my head. “ God gave us memory that we might have roses in December.” 

To hear an audio clip from this concert go to byrdsflyght.blogspot.com For the record; This is the only known “live” recording of the Byrds in existence  with all  five of the original members. 

For more about guitar music, visit Toulouse-Music.com. ER

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