Skip Battin

Bassist and singer in the Byrds' most stable line-up

Saturday 12 July 2003 00:00 BST

Clyde ("Skip") Battin, bass guitarist, singer, songwriter: born Gallipolis, Ohio 18 February 1934; died Silverton, Oregon 6 July 2003.

Even though his tenure with the Byrds only lasted three years, the bassist and singer Skip Battin joined the most stable and most hirsute line-up in the influential American folk-rock group's tumultuous history.

With the founder member and guitarist Roger McGuinn at the helm alongside the drummer Gene Parsons, the guitarist Clarence White and Battin, the Byrds became a fine-tuned live unit between October 1969 and September 1972. They also recorded three albums which extended the band's legacy, and proved more active internationally than any of the previous permutations of musicians, making memorable appearances at the Royal Albert Hall and the Rainbow in London as well as the Bath Festival in 1970 and the Lincoln Folk Festival in 1971, the same year they achieved their last British Top Twenty single with the heady "Chestnut Mare".

An excellent lead and harmony singer and deft instrumentalist, Battin had previously been part of the rock'n'roll duo Skip & Flip and later played with the seminal country-rock outfits New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Flying Burrito Brothers.

He was born Clyde Battin in Gallipolis, Ohio, in 1934, and discovered the electric bass when he was 17. Two years later, he moved to Tucson to attend the University of Arizona. However, after he met his fellow student Gary Paxton, extra-curricular activities became more important than studying to become a Physical Education teacher. Caught up in the rock'n'roll craze, the pair formed a college band called the Pledges and, as Gary and Clyde, recorded "Why Not Confess/ Johnny Risk" for Rev Records, a small local label. In 1959, they went into Desert Palm Studios in Phoenix, the home of the twang guitarist Duane Eddy, and recorded a couple of Paxton compositions in a last-ditch attempt to make it as songwriters.

By the time the entrepreneur Bobby Shand decided to issue the demo of the catchy "It Was I" on his Brent label and to make the act more teen-friendly by nicknaming them Skip & Flip, Battin had lost touch with Paxton, who had moved to the Northwest. When radio stations began playing "It Was I", Battin promoted the single with a different Flip until his friend heard his song on the airwaves and headed back to Arizona. "It Was I" eventually made No 11 in the US and, even though the follow-up, "Fancy Nancy", proved only a minor hit, Skip & Flip charted again with a smooth cover of the Marvin and Johnny ballad "Cherry Pie" in 1960. Co-written by Paxton and Battin, the novelty number "Hully Gully Cha Cha Cha" garnered airplay but didn't chart, and Skip & Flip decided to call it a day.

In 1961, Battin moved to California and parlayed his puppy-eyed looks into bit parts in films and on television. His friend Paxton relocated to Los Angeles and scored a couple of novelty hits ("Alley-Oop" and "Monster Mash") alongside the infamous producer and songwriter Kim Fowley who also began collaborating with Battin. Determined, and egged on by the Svengali-like Fowley, Battin cut solo sides for a variety of labels and in 1966 formed a group called Evergreen Blueshoes. Despite its nudie sleeve, the album didn't sell and the bassist concentrated instead on session work for everyone from Gene Vincent to Warren Zevon.

In a studio, he struck up a conversation with Gene Parsons, and found they had a mutual acquaintance in Clarence White. In 1969, when the bassist John York left the fifth line-up of the Byrds (which Parsons and White had joined the previous year), the group drafted Skip Battin into the ranks.

Though the leader Roger McGuinn ostensibly cracked the whip and put the others on salaries, the four musicians bonded and would huddle in a circle to practise their harmonies before going on stage. In the autumn of 1970, they issued the excellent double album (Untitled) which contained a disc of live renditions of Byrds classics such as "Mr Spaceman" and "Eight Miles High" alongside the fuzz-driven "Lover of the Bayou" and "Chestnut Mare" - and became the group's second biggest-seller in the UK. Battin and Fowley contributed several tracks to the studio album, notably the ecologically conscious "Hungry Planet" and "Well Come Back Home", about the Vietnam War. "I was personally touched by the situation," recalled Battin. "It was probably the most serious song I was ever involved in."

The same team of Battin and Fowley provided material for the 1971 album Byrdmaniax to which the producer Terry Melcher added string arrangements while the group was away on tour. According to Battin, "The tracks 'Tunnel of Love' and 'Citizen Kane' were novelty but 'Absolute Happiness' was about the Buddhist philosophy." The band relocated to London for the Farther Along album issued in 1972, but Battin and Fowley proved unable to raise their songwriting game and "America's Great National Pastime", inexplicably picked as a Byrds single, failed to chart on either side of the Atlantic.

In August 1972, an increasingly dictatorial McGuinn sacked Parsons over a dispute about expenses and Battin was slowly edged out over the following months to make way for a short-lived reunion with the original members, Gene Clark, David Crosby, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke. Undeterred, Battin completed the first of three solo albums and joined the country-rock outfits New Riders of the Purple Sage and then a line-up of the Flying Burrito Brothers, the group originally formed in 1968 by Chris Hillman and the songwriter Gram Parsons.

In the Eighties and early Nineties, Skip Battin participated in several unwise attempts at reforming the Byrds without any founder members and famously lost his temper with Roger McGuinn in London in 1984 when the guitarist failed to pay wages to a line-up ironically called the Peaceseekers.

Pierre Perrone

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