Roger McGuinn - vocals, acoustic guitar, 12-string Rickenbacker; Chris Hillman - vocals, acoustic guitar, mandolin; Gene Clark - vocals, acoustic guitar; guests: Kim O'Kelly - harmony vocals (tracks 1 & 2); David Crosby - vocals (tracks 8 - 16)
One of the most groundbreaking American bands of the 1960s, the Byrds, had been influenced and in turn influenced nearly everyone who came in contact with their music, including Bob Dylan and the Beatles. By 1977, each of the five original members had been pursuing individual projects. Roger McGuinn had been touring with his own group Thunderbyrd; Gene Clark hit the road with his Kansas City Southern Band in support of his solo LP, Two Sides to Every Story; Chris Hillman had formed his own group to support the release of his second solo album, Clear Sailing; drummer Michael Clarke found success in the band Firefall, and of course David Crosby had enjoyed monumental success with Crosby, Stills, Nash and sometimes Young, as well as becoming one of the most in-demand harmony singers in the business. That Spring, a European promoter enticed McGuinn, Clark, and Hillman to tour the continent with each of their respective bands, figuring that many European Byrds fans would support such a tour in hopes of an onstage reunion. This happened during a two-night engagement at London's Hammersmith Odeon, where, following McGuinn's set with Thunderbyrd, Clark and Hillman joined him onstage for several classic Byrds numbers. The results wouldn't see the light of day until 20 years later, when the BBC recordings were issued in part as "Three Byrds Land in London," and, despite the fact that the ambitious tour would be prematurely cancelled due to management/promoter disputes, this short-lived experiment would sow the seeds for the three original Byrds members to begin working together again.
By the end of that year, McGuinn and Clark had abandoned each of their touring bands and teamed back up, touring the American club circuit with only their acoustic guitars for accompaniment, occasionally joined by Hillman. A landmark gig by the three occurred early the following year, when these three original Byrds members hit the stage of San Francisco's intimate Boarding House on February 9, 1978. Recorded for broadcast by KSAN radio and presented here, this performance would rapidly be bootlegged on vinyl as a "Byrds Reunion" under the title, Doin' Alright for Old People, the title a Gene Clark stage banter quote taken from the show itself. Much to the delight of the San Francisco audience, David Crosby, would also turn up, essentially treating the audience to a performance featuring all the singing and composing members of the original band together on the same stage.
The recording begins with Chris Hillman performing a pair of songs, accompanied by singer Kim O'Kelly, then a back-up singer in Hillman's own touring band. Dipping back in his catalogue, Hillman and O'Kelly resurrect two key tracks from Hillman and Stephen Stills 1972-era band Manassas, beginning with an engaging read of the Mike Brewer/Tom Maston song, "Bound To Fall," followed by Hillman/Roberts/Stills classic, "It Doesn't Matter," which, after revising the lyrics, Rick Roberts would take sailing up the charts with his band Firefall. At this point in time, it was unusual to see Hillman performing without a full band, but he and O'Kelly have a natural vocal chemistry that makes booth of these stripped down acoustic readings a delight.
Hillman then introduces Roger McGuinn to the stage, and he plays two numbers of his own, beginning with the song he wrote for the Easy Rider movie soundtrack, "The Ballad of Easy Rider." McGuinn next tackles a traditional number, as he enjoys conveying the scurvy buccaneer in "Jolly Roger." At this point, McGuinn entices Hillman and Gene Clark to join him onstage. Switching to his signature 12-string Rickenbacker and with Clark playing acoustic and Hillman adding beautiful mandolin accompaniment, the trio perform a highly engaging read on McGuinn's "Chestnut Mare." With Hillman and Clark also adding harmony vocals on the choruses, this is undeniably infectious and a hint of things to come later in the performance.
With McGuinn and Hillman remaining onstage, Gene Clark next fronts things beginning with "Crazy Ladies." Clark was arguably blessed with the most penetrating voice in the Byrds, and this performance is lovely and features McGuinn adding some trademark Rickenbacker leads reminiscent of his distinctive stylings on "Eight Miles High." Clark next delivers the longing "Train Leaves Here This Morning," a song written in collaboration with former Flying Burrito Brother (and member of the Eagles) Bernie Leadon. This is another lovely performance, with McGuinn and especially Hillman adding beautiful accompaniment. Following this, McGuinn announces that another friend is in the house and, much to the delight of the audience, invites David Crosby to the stage.
To kick off this reunion of 4/5 of the original Byrds, they go right back to the beginning with Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man." Slowed down and with McGuinn, Hillman and then Clark each taking a verse in turn, this is a remarkable performance featuring Crosby adding to that unique harmonic vocal blend on the choruses. Dylan always figured prominently in the Byrds' repertoire and that is also the case here as these musicians next explore "You Ain't Going Nowhere," a track recorded for their Sweethearts of the Rodeo album. This is another fascinating performance, even more so for having Gene Clark's and David Crosby's vocals, both of whom were gone by the time of the original Byrds recording.
McGuinn's classic Rickenbacker riff next kicks off "Turn, Turn, Turn," another of the Byrds' greatest hits, and although it's unrehearsed, that distinctive Byrds chemistry is still very much intact. This segues directly into another Dylan song, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," with McGuinn and Clark trading verses, and all four harmonizing on the choruses. Instrumentally, it is again Hillman on mandolin that may be the most valuable player. McGuinn next fronts the group on the waltz-paced "Bye Bye Baby," a song penned by McGuinn and collaborator Robert J. Hippard, before they wind things up with a forceful reading of "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star." Short and sweet, this is an exciting performance that has Crosby and McGuinn encouraging the audience to contribute the screaming sections found on the original studio recording quite effectively.
Needless to say, the San Francisco audience demands an encore and these musicians deliver a magnificent one in the form of "Eight Miles High." It is prior to this song, with the audience howling, that Gene Clark says, "You make us feel like we're doin' alright for old people," which became the title on so many subsequent bootlegs. Despite well over a decade passing since "Eight Miles High" was initially unveiled to the world, this highly innovative song has lost none of its potency. In fact, this stripped down reading finds McGuinn, Clark, and Crosby harmonizing beautifully, and McGuinn's Coltanesque Rickenbacker leads are as compelling as ever. Upon the song's conclusion, the Boarding House audience again goes wild and entices these musicians back for a second encore. Crosby informs the audience that they have nothing rehearsed, and they'll be relegated to "winging it" again, just before they kick into another vintage Byrds number from their debut album, "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better." Loose and ragged, but grounded by Gene Clark's penetrating lead vocal, this is a joyous conclusion to a most memorable performance that remains as close as it ever got to the original Byrds members reuniting on stage.