After hearing Jerry Lee Lewis pound the piano and scream the lyrics of "Great Balls of Fire" -- he seemed to nearly jump out of a tiny transistor radio -- for the first time back in elementary school in 1958, I was never quite the same. But I'll have to go forward a few years from that event -- past "Wipe Out" and "Surfin' USA," and even past the first time I heard the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Kinks and the Yardbirds -- to locate the band that really changed the way I listened to music. It happened in June 1965, when I first heard the Byrds sing "Mr. Tambourine Man."
I had already heard Bob Dylan on albums like The Times They Are A-Changin', but Dylan had never been played on amplified instruments -- and accompanied by the chiming sound of a 12-string guitar. And this wasn't one of Dylan's typical social-comment/protest songs of that era, either. The lyrics seemed as if they were made for a rock & roll show rather than for a folk festival, and listening to them sung by the incredible vocal harmonies of Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark and David Crosby made this first Byrds single a totally hypnotic experience.
Up until then, I had put my interest in Dylan and folk music into a very separate musical compartment from my affection for rock & roll. But "Mr. Tambourine Man" changed that. Here was a song that rocked and had lyrics that focused on something beyond unrequited love or breaking up with your steady. Very suddenly, folk and rock became folk-rock. Nothing was the same. The possibilities seemed infinite. And those possibilities soon began hitting the airwaves in countless variations, especially after Dylan himself went electric a couple months later with the single "Like a Rolling Stone." A deluge of folk-rock bands, Love and Buffalo Springfield among them, followed the Byrds, and even established English groups such as the Stones and Beatles began to record songs that moved in new directions nudged there by the Byrds and Dylan.
But the Byrds weren't done influencing me. With the release of Sweetheart of the Rodeo in 1968, the Byrds (with Gram Parsons joining original members Chris Hillman and McGuinn) turned to country music, and I soon found myself steered in a new direction. They opened the doors to another new hybrid called country-rock, and Parsons and Hillman took things even further with the Flying Burrito Brothers and Parsons' brilliant solo albums.
Certainly plenty of other powerful influences have changed my musical point of view over the years, from Miles Davis and Ray Davies to Al Green, Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen. But the Byrds rank at the top in terms of overall impact.