Jim Dickson, who orchestrated the formation of the Byrds and then produced and managed them, died April 19 in Costa Mesa, Calif. He was 80 years old.
A jazz fan and passionate sailor, Dickson turned to recording music after spending the second half of the 1940s in the U.S. Army and the 1950s racing sailboats. In the early 1960s he recorded jazz, folk and comedy records, among them albums by Lord Buckley and Hamilton Camp.
Dickson was working as a producer for the Los Angeles jazz label, World Pacific Records, and after one of his productions, “12 String Guitar,” sold enough to save the label from bankruptcy, he was given a key to the studio. He used the free studio time to record folk musicians he found at local coffeehouses, the first being David Crosby.
Their initial solo recordings did not work out, but Crosby returned with two singers to add harmonies, Jim McGuinn, who would later be known as Roger, and Gene Clark. Inspired by the Beatles’ “A Hard Days Night,” they sang with British accents and looked for ways to marry British rock with American folk music.
The nascent Byrds found drummer Michael Clarke and Dickson introduced them to a mandolin player he had worked with, Chris Hillman, who would round out the group on bass.
Dickson struck a business partnership with Crosby, McGuinn and Clark and sold their first two recording to Elektra Records’ Jac Holzman who dubbed them the Beefeaters. The single, released in October 1964, was a flop.
Dickson brought Eddie Tickner into the partnership as an investor and his money was used to purchase clothes and instruments, one of which was wanted a Rickenbacker 12-string that would shape the band’s sound.
In liner notes to a Byrds compilation, Dickson wrote that McGuinn, Clark and Crosby sang “live” with a tape in the home of talent manager Benny Shapiro whose daughter was thrilled by the sound. Shapiro told the story to his client Miles Davis, who called producer Irving Townsend at Columbia Records. Townsend arranged a meeting with Allen Stanton, who set up an option contract and audition.
Using studio musicians at their first session, held in January 1965, the Byrds recorded Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” It became a hit almost over night after a San Francisco DJ played it on a Sunday and by the end of the week, it was being played throughout the West. A week later, it was on the top New York radio station and was breaking in England, too.
Dickson has written that he left the group over disagreements about image and material, though he continued to work with various members of the Byrds, beginning with producing the Flying Burrito Brothers. He also produced albums by Hillman and Clark plus the Dillards.
He retired to Hawaii where he continued to sail and fish.
Dickson is survived by his brother Bob, his sister Martha Church, and his nieces Karen Hodges and Gayle Byrne.