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Kansas City Southern: A Tribute to Gene Clark (Saturday, May 21st, 2005, Hexagon, Minneapolis)
The stage at the Hexagon after the Gene Clark tribute looked like a vintage guitar show. Photo by David de Young (click for full size.)

By Cyn Collins

Rich Mattson of Ol’ Yeller hosted and organized the first annual tribute to Gene Clark at the Hexagon on Saturday. Clark was a huge influence on Mattson. A member of the Byrds when they had their biggest hits like “Turn, Turn, Turn,” “Eight Miles High,” “Mr. Tamborine Man,” and “Feel A Whole Lot Better,” Clark also had a long and influential solo career and influenced music from folk rock to psychedelic rock and is considered by many to be the father of country rock. Clark died at the age of 47 in 1991, but not before contributing much during his 3 decades of experimentation with musical genres.

People young and old, with varying degrees of familiarity with Gene Clark enjoyed the close to 30 songs covered by Mattson and friends. The nearly full house was quiet during the songs, applauding wildly at the beginning and end.

It was clear how deeply Clark had influenced the music of Ol’ Yeller, and Mattson’s earlier band the Glenrustles, as well as his solo work and songwriting. If you like Ol’ Yeller, you’ll like Gene Clark and vice versa. It was a great experience getting to hear Ol’ Yeller members and friends performing this tribute, a true labor of love. There was a lot of material to learn and remember, but they did it great justice.

I realized, as so many in the audience did, that I was more familiar with Clark’s music than I originally thought. It was a significant part of the music that I grew up on, and framed what I love deeply in music today: a beauty in honest, bittersweet lyrics sung with a rich voice in various styles. While somehow Clark’s name has not become as familiar over the years as say, Neil Young, Townes van Zandt or Gram Parsons, he was clearly a major contributor to a deep well of songwriting and influential style and rhythms.

Many songs performed Saturday, including “Set You Free,” “Here Without You,” and “Tried so Hard,” were heartbreaking, and nearly brought on tears. Others were more psychedelic such as “Silver Raven,” and "No Other." “Elevator Operator" and numerous others utilized playful harmonies from Kallman, Gauthier and Hunt and broke up the sorrowful moments. It was obvious the band members had fun playing. The depth of dedication and attention to the songs, harmonies and instrumentation made the show phenomenal.

The show’s pacing--slow sad songs to fast, playful, and incorporating every pace and style in between showed Mattson’s finesse for knowing how to capture an audience and move them through emotional states as music is meant to do. The show began and ended with one of the best train songs I’ve heard, “Kansas City Southern.”

This show encouraged me to begin collecting and playing more Gene Clark recordings, and to continue to listen as often as possible to one of my favorite rock bands, Ol’ Yeller with more awareness of the inspiration behind the music.

Cyn Collins is


Members of Ol’ Yeller: Rich Mattson (vocals & guitar), Keely Lane (drums), Dale Kallman (bass)
And guests – David Beckey, Autumn Leaves (vocals and guitar), Bill Quinn (pedal steel guitar), Jeaneen Gauthier, Jan (vocals), Jon Hunt, Landing Gear (vocals, tamborine)