John York was born John York Foley on the 3rd of August, 1946 in White Plains, NY. Until the age of 18, he lived in the middle class community of Hicksville, NY. John was born into a musical family. Both his mother and grandmother were church pianists. His mother was a choir director and John spent many hours listening to choir practice before he began singing the alto parts at the age of six... His youth was filled with J.S.Bach and the music of the Lutheran Hymnal.
Beginnings: In his first schoolyear, things began to change when John heard "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?" by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. He became increasingly fascinated with singing groups like Dion and The Belmonts and studied the classic styles of Duane Eddy, Buddy Holly and Chet Atkins' records and bought every Ray Charles album he could find. His first band was called The Tradewinds. He was 14 when they played at the New York World's Fair as The Night Riders. This band, after John had left, went on to become The Brooklyn Bridge - making it big in 1968 with Jimmy Webb's song "Worst That Could Happen". As a teenager John developed a fascination for the theater, entering Hofstra University as a Theatre Arts major. After just one year he left for the promised land of Hollywood,CA. Los Angeles had won over London's Royal Acadamy because a friend had offered a ride and claimed to have the all-important "connections in the movies"...
Early West Coast years: Soon after arriving in L.A. in 1965, John was offered the job of playing bass in The Bees. He had never played the bass before, but found he had a natural ability for the instrument. From there, he was asked to join The Sir Douglas Quintet ("She's About A Mover”/"Mendocino"). Months of rigorous touring the U.S. taught the young New Yorker the hard facts of life on the road. He also started doing studio work at this time, playing bass for The Leaves ("Hey Joe”) but introduced as "Jim Pons” because the band feared they would not get paid because John was filling in for their ailing bass player... He formed The Tender Trap with Terry Hand and ex-Beach Boy David Marks. In 1967, John became a member of The Mamas And The Papas touring band playing bass along John Phillips (electric 12 string guitar), Eric "Doc” Hord (guitar) and Eddie Hoh (drums). Other bands followed: The Lamp Of Childhood, the folk-duo Farina Omaline and The Sounds Of Piccardy. John's studio work contained dates for Dorsey Burnette, Steppenwolf, Malvina Reynolds, The Mamas And The Papas and others. When the classic line-up of the latter group broke up after their farewell concert at the Hollywood Bowl, John was offered a job playing bass in the Johnny Rivers Band. With them he toured South America, Mexico and the United States. Another turn of fate found John playing with the late Byrds vocalist Gene Clark at The Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood together with Eddie Hoh and Clarence White. This connection led up to John replacing Chris Hillman as bass player in The Byrds in the summer of 1968. The group at this point consisted of Roger McGuinn, Clarence White, Gene Parsons and John York. During this time, The Byrds recorded the albums DR. BYRDS AND MR. HYDE and THE BALLAD OF EASY RIDER. They composed and recorded original music for the movie CANDY and recorded the song "The Ballad Of Easy Rider" for the classic EASY RIDER. John is also featured on the renowned "Live At The Boston Tea Party", and "The Byrds At The Avalon Ballroom" bootleg recordings. During this time of great activity, John worked with producers Bob Johnston, Terry Melcher and Dave Grusin. He put in time in the recording studio for Gib Guilbeau/Clarence White/Gene Parsons when not busy with The Byrds. By the end of 1969, though, another chapter of the band's legend was finished and John York had left, taking a deep breath and moving up to San Francisco. There he studied the piano, played with various underground rock bands and developed an interest in instrument building and collecting. For most rock historians, however, John was considered to have "disappeared into thin air” as "Pete Frame's Rock Family Tree" put it.
New York Interlude: In the early 1970's John became fascinated with Middle Eastern Music. He studied the Arabic oud almost exclusively for two years. An unexpected move back to New York and a strange twist of fate meeting with an eccentric family of pipe organ builders also brought him into the world of pipe organs. He spent two years as an apprentice at the famous Odell Organ Company, America's oldest family of pipe organ builders. John lived in Greenwich Village and played the local cafes and clubs such as Gerde's Folk City and Kenny's Castaways, performing with Willy Nile and Steve Forbert. He is featured in the German documentary "American Street Musicians" by filmmaker Gordon Brown. Shortly before moving back to Los Angeles, John formed John York & The Innocent Bystanders which featured New York wunderkind piano player/producer Joel Diamond.
Back in Southern California: The fall of 1977 found John playing the L.A. club circuit again with The Innocent Bystanders. The band soon changed its name to Nu York and featured David Getz, former drummer for Janis Joplin/Big Brother & The Holding Company. After Nu York was disbanded, John continued to play solo gigs and sometimes appeared in a duet with a classical viola player or as a member of the house orchestra at the famous Middle Eastern nightclub The Fez. Around this time, John began to experiment with using the oud and various elements of Middle Eastern music in rock and roll. In 1981, John teamed up with ex-Sir Douglas Quintet drummer John Perez to form a loose band/workshop project which included at various times diverse players such as Mark Benno, Spooner Oldham, Phil Seymour, Chris Etheridge, Gordon DeWitty (of Little Feat fame), and the late Rockin' Robin. Now and then John also turned to the theater again, working as an actor and writing music for a number of live theater productions. At the same time he played guitar and bass for the "Two Short For Prime Time Players", a musical which ran for two years at The Roxy on the Sunset Strip. More projects followed: in 1984 John toured with the Claudia Nygard Band, also forming The Hindu Masters with Billy Darnell, Dave Crocket and Brian Dougherty on the side. In early 1985, John re-met Gene Clark and Michael Clarke of The Byrds at The Palomino. This led to a "20th Anniversary Tribute To The Byrds" tour which also featured Rick Danko and the late Richard Manuel from The Band, Blondie Chaplin (Beach Boys), Rick Roberts (Firefall), and Carlos Bernal (Spanky and Our Gang). John was featured on electric 12 string and vocals. He continued working with Rick Danko and Gene Clark; also appearing as an occasional member of the Flying Burrito Brothers with Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Skip Battin, Michael Clarke, Rick Roberts and Blondie Chaplin.
More live music projects followed for most of 1986/87: tours with a stranger incarnation of The Byrds (Gene Clark, Billy Darnell, Carlos Bernal and the legendary Nicky Hopkins), for example. When not on the road, John was busy with Pink Slip, a band which also featured Billy Darnell, Randy Meisner (Buffalo Springfield/Poco/Eagles) and Dewey Martin (Buffalo Springfield). In 1987, the band Cry was born with John York, Gene Clark and Patrick Robinson and keyboard master Nicky Hopkins briefly joining forces again. In the winter of 1988, John toured Italy with fellow-former-Byrd Skip Battin in a great Italo-American collaboration that featured excellent Italian guitarist Ricky Mantoan and drummer Beppe D'Angelo. The recordings of this band were later referred to by Byrds historians as "The Vigliano Tapes". Then, soon after the birth of his second child, John stopped touring to spend some much-needed time with his family. He moved out of Los Angeles and, for the first time in years began to concentrate on composing. Many years of playing music on the road had ended, John York was heading for Claremont, the artistic capital of Southern California's Inland Empire region.
The Claremont years: In 1990, John composed, recorded and produced "Sacred Path Songs". An artistic milestone and turning point in his life. This project was a totally unique blend of John's musical genius and Native American music and a musical companion to the best-selling book "Sacred Path Cards" by Jamie Sams. In early 1992 John was the first artist to be featured in a new concert series entitled "Art Is Music" in the Inland Empire. He produced and recorded "Clan Mothers Music" with Jamie Sams again, continuing to share his respect and admiration for Native American music. He formed his own music and music publishing companies. With one of his songs ("Mary Sue”) being recorded by co-writer Gene Clark (CD: "So Rebellious A Lover” - Gene Clark & Carla Olson), it was time to bring more original songs into shape.
More performances and recordings: over the next couple of years, John appeared at The Claremont Folk Festival as a guest solo artist, with Patrick Brayer, and with roots music superstar Ben Harper. He was a member of The Californios, a Middle Eastern Flamenco Blues group consisting of John York (oud, 12-string guitars, upright bass, Native American and Chinese flutes), Chris Darrow (violin, accordion and electric WMI) and Ian Beardsley (flamenco guitar). Recordings of this incredible band can be heard on Chris Darrow's "Coyote/Straight From The Heart" double CD on Taxim. With his own band featuring Patrick Brayer, Chad Watson and Roy Swedeen, John performed at the Children Of The Night Benefit at The Troubadour in Los Angeles. One of the first concerts to be on the World Wide Web, this performance was witnessed by more than 50,000 people via the internet! John worked for producers Denny Bruce, Kim Fowley, Chris Darrow and Robbie Parrish. A list of recordings includes "Peter Lewis", "Everybody Slides Vol. 2", "Tumbleweed Circuit" (Mojave), "The Next Time" (Katie Tricket), "Sour Dough Cowboy" (Don Sanders), "Songs Of The Colorado River" (World Nation), "Creation Flight" (Anita Kruze), "Harem Girl" (Chris Darrow and Max Buda) and more. Many producers have drawn on his talent as a multi-instrumentalist over the years. His natural understanding of American music traditions as well as his unique ability to play many instruments from other cultures make him a highly valued studio musician. Aside from playing all conventional kinds of bass/12 & 6 string guitars or keyboards, John plays the Arabic oud, the Chinese pipa, gu zheng, sheng and er hu. He plays the Irish harp and a wide variety of Chinese, Irish, Native American and Middle Eastern flutes. Add to this list ethnic percussion instruments, WMI tenor guitar, mandolin, utfy, Suzuki melodian and harmonica. As his interest in the music of the world continues to grow, so does his collection of musical instruments and his ability to play them!
The Claremont Dragon: In 1995, due in part to his work and friendship with Chris Darrow, John met Taxim's Hans-Hermann Pohle. This was the beginning of the artist/executive producer relationship that resulted in the production of John's first solo CD, "CLAREMONT DRAGON". For the first time, John was able to interpret his own music in his own way for a recording project. The result is a unique musical landscape, featuring intense vocals and vocal harmonies, an armada of 12 string guitars, and the countless special touches of dozens of ethnic instruments... This new musical territory is still connected to John's work with the Byrds, however. The man's "McGuinnesque" vocals and 12-string guitar work are eerily reminiscent of rock's great past when the intelligence of contemporary folk was fused with the desire for musical innovation. Here we get 13 original songs composed and performed by John York with guest artists Gordon Waller, Chris Darrow, Patrick Brayer, and many more. John's children, Ruby and Zane, are singing on "Half-Breeds Are The Hope Of The World".
On a local level, John York today still puts in many performances in Claremont at local universities. He maintains a small group of music students and gives lectures and music presentations at local schools. He is affiliated with The Claremont Community School Of Music and a teacher at the Academy Of T'ai Chi Ch'uan in Pasadena, California. The man has been around, as they say, and is finally sharing his songs with the world. His credo is a profound one: he regards his new songs to be poetic mirrors of the possibilities available to man. In a spirit of open communication with those who appreciate his music, John offers http://home.earthlink.net/~yorksong.
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