The Byrds are a band who never quite received the same level of adoration from the masses in comparison to some of their contemporaries. However, this didn’t stop the group from being able to count the likes of Bob Dylan as supporting fans and, during their reunion at a Roy Orbison tribute show in 1990, he even gave them a helping hand.
At the time of the planned concert, there was a bitter legal dispute that had been settled which resulted in the three members of The Byrds—who were touring at the time—having to be renamed the Original Byrds. It came after drummer Michael Clarke won the rights to the band name. Despite the legal issues, that didn’t deter Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and David Crosby from reuniting with a special extra member.
The result of this dispute truly angered Crosby. “First Gene [Clark] went around with a very, very bad band, calling it the Byrds,” he told Spin in 1991. “Well, okay. Gene was one of the original writer-singer guys. But when it gets to be Michael Clarke the drummer — who never wrote anything or sang anything — going out there with an even worse band, and claiming to be the Byrds… and they can’t play the stuff. It was dragging the name in the dirt.” Things had become unmanageable.
The bad blood didn’t manage to put a dampener on their appearance at the 1990 Roy Orbison Tribute in Los Angeles, however, an event in which they still managed to steal the show. By doing so, they proved that it’s only the music that matters rather than the superficial stuff that comes part and parcel with becoming a brand rather than a band.
On a bill that was shared with the likes of Iggy Pop, B.B. King and Johnny Lee Hooker, the band knew that they had to deliver a show-stopping performance—and that is exactly what they did. The Californian outfit only performed a four-song set, one which was kickstarted with a cover of Pete Seeger’s ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’, a number which The Byrds had originally covered in 1965 before a rendition of ‘Eight Miles High’.
However, the second half of their set was even more spectacular when McGuinn told the audience at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles: “Well, this song was, um, our first single,” before they broke into ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’.
During the second verse, the freehweelin’ Bob Dylan dramatically entered the stage to provide assistance on his iconic song that helped birth The Byrds’ career all those decades before.
Dylan then stuck around for the final song of the set which was another cover of his material, a barnstorming take on his track ‘He Was A Friend Of Mine’ which went down a delight with the crowd. Although his appearance with the group wasn’t the most choreographed collaboration of all time, there is something about the seemingly spontaneous nature of it all that makes it so impressive.
Watch footage of their performance of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’, below.