David LaFlamme, who infused the psychedelic rock of the 1960s with the plaintive sounds of an electric violin as a founder of It’s a Beautiful Day, the ethereal San Francisco band whose breakout hit, “White Bird,” encapsulated the hippie-era longing for freedom, died on Aug. 6 in Santa Rosa, Calif. He was 82.
His daughter Kira LaFlamme said the cause of his death, at a health care facility, was complications of Parkinson’s disease.
Mr. LaFlamme had seemed an unlikely fit for the role of flower-power troubadour. He was a classically trained violinist who had performed with the Utah Symphony Orchestra. He was an Army veteran. “When I was a young man, I carried my M-1 very proudly and was ready to do my duty to defend my country,” he said in a 2007 video interview.
But the times were the times, and in 1967, the year of the Summer of Love, he and his wife, Linda, a keyboardist, formed It’s a Beautiful Day. The band bubbled up from the acid-rock cauldron of the Haight-Ashbury district, which also produced the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and other groups.
The band never found the commercial success of its hallowed San Francisco contemporaries. Its debut album, called simply “It’s a Beautiful Day” and released in 1969, climbed to No. 47 on the Billboard chart. “White Bird,” sung by Mr. LaFlamme and Pattie Santos, did not manage to crack the Hot 100 singles chart, perhaps in part because of its running time: more than six minutes, twice the length of most AM radio hits.
Even so, the song became an FM radio staple, and an artifact of its cultural moment.
The LaFlammes wrote the song in 1967, when they were living in the attic of a Victorian house during a brief relocation to Seattle. The lyrics took shape on a drizzly winter day as they peered out a window at leaves blowing on the street below.
In a golden cage
On a winter’s day
In the rain
“We were like caged birds in that attic,” Mr. LaFlamme recalled. “We had no money, no transportation, the weather was miserable.”
He later said the song, with its references to darkened skies and rage, was about the struggle between freedom and conformity. In an email, Linda LaFlamme said that she considered it a song of hope, and that the only rage they had felt was about the Seattle weather.
Still, the song, with its pleading chorus, “White bird must fly, or she will die,” seemed to echo the mounting disillusionment of 1969, as marmalade skies turned into storm clouds with the realities of drug addiction and social turmoil, as epitomized by the bloodshed at the Altamont rock festival that year.
“It was a very solemn period of music on that first album,” Mr. LaFlamme said in a 2003 interview published on the music website Exposé.
“If I would have kept going that way,” he added, “I would have ended up like Jim Morrison, getting more and more into that personal torture trip.”
David Gordon LaFlamme was born on May 4, 1941, in New Britain, Conn., the first of six children of Adelard and Norma (Winther) LaFlamme. He spent his early years in Los Angeles, where his father was a Hollywood stunt double, before settling in Salt Lake City, where his father became a copper miner.
David was about 5 when he got his first violin, a hand-me-down from an aunt.
“I began fooling around with it on my own and taught myself to play ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,’” he said in a 1998 interview. Formal training followed.
After joining the Army — he was stationed at Fort Ord, near Monterey, Calif. — he suffered hearing damage from the firing of deafening ordnance. He ended up in a military hospital in San Francisco, then put down roots in the city after his discharge in 1962.
He found lodging in the same house as his future wife, Linda Rudman. “By the second day that I was there, she and I had already written a song together,” he said.
In 1967, Mr. LaFlamme formed a band called Electric Chamber Orkustra, also known as the Orkustra, with Bobby Beausoleil, a young musician who played bouzouki and would later be convicted of murder as a follower of Charles Manson. A run with Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks followed before the LaFlammes formed It’s a Beautiful Day.
The band got its break in October 1968, when the promoter Bill Graham had it open for Cream in Oakland. It’s a Beautiful Day signed with Columbia Records soon after.
The band’s second album, “Marrying Maiden,” rose to No. 28 on the album charts. But by then the LaFlammes had split up and his wife had left the band. (They divorced in 1969.)
It’s a Beautiful Day carried on with varying lineups and released three more albums, including “At Carnegie Hall” in 1972, before disbanding a year later.
In addition to his daughter Kira, from his first marriage, Mr. LaFlamme is survived by his third wife, Linda (Baker) LaFlamme, whom he married in 1982; his sisters, Gloria LaFlamme, Michelle Haag and Diane Petersen; his brothers, Lon and Dorian; another daughter, Alisha LaFlamme, from his marriage to Sharon Wilson, which ended in divorce in 1973; and six grandchildren.
Mr. LaFlamme released several albums over the years, including a solo album in the mid-1970s called “White Bird,” which included a disco-ready version of the original single. It actually outperformed the original, peaking at No. 89 on the Billboard Hot 100.
But, he said in 1998, “It was a very difficult period musically, because during that period disco music ruled the earth.”
“It was really the day the music died,” he said.
POST AUTHOR: Alex Williams