singer/guitarist Chris Hillman
to release his first new solo recording in over seven years
"The Other Side” (Cooking Vinyl) on 3rd June 2005
Irish tour in June with Herb Pedersen
The Chris Hillman Irish Dates are:
Chris Hillman. The name is synonymous with four decades of quality, incomparable music. Arguably the pioneer of the genre known as "Country Rock", Hillman has carved a permanent, positive niche in the history of contemporary American music.
But there is another side to Chris Hillman that many of his fans and admirers don't know about. He has always possessed a pioneer's work ethic when it comes to songwriting, singing and performing. He has a keen interest in things Americana, particularly the history of the United States, and a deep respect for Judeo-Christian ethics. More importantly, this is a man whose heart and soul is dedicated to his family above anything else, even the trappings of major stardom.
A Third-Generation Californian with deep roots in the history of the American West, Hillman was born in Los Angeles on December 4, 1944. The only authentic Cowboy to ever be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Hillman spent his early years on his family's rural ranch home in the rural country of North San Diego County "riding horse, roping, and doing ranch chores". His interests would soon change from spurs and saddles to guitars and mandolins.
Hillman credits his older sister in turning him on to Folk and Country music: "My older sister was in college in the 1950s and she came back home with a bunch of folk albums when I was 14 years old. I was greatly influenced by that, and I started watching those Country music shows on KTLA, Spade Cooley, Cal's Corral, Town Hall Party, The Louisiana Hayride, Cliffie Stone - and soon got hooked on the music".
Sensing that his interest in music was a serious one, Hillman's mother encouraged her son and bought him a $10 dollar guitar in Tijuana. "If you stick with this a year I'll help get you something better", recalled Hillman. He also started listening to Bluegrass, and after hearing the mandolin-flavored sounds of acts like Flatt and Scruggs, Hillman fell in love with the instrument. Learning that the famed Bluegrass group The Kentucky Colonels were based out of Los Angeles, a very determined and barely 15 year-old Hillman convinced his family to let him go and see the group. Not only did Hillman meet and listen to the Colonels but when the group's mandolinist Scott Hambly offered him lessons, Hillman then convinced his family to let him take the train by himself up to Berkeley, where Hambly lived, and took mandolin lessons from him.
Hillman's prowess on guitar and mandolin became well-known in San Diego's Folk Music community. The proprietors of the Blue Guitar shop, Larry Murray and Ed Douglass invited Hillman to join their band, the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers.
The Barkers, which lasted two years and recorded but one album, nonetheless earned a well-deserved legendary reputation thanks to the skills and talents of its members. This was a band from whose ranks spawned one future Byrd, (Hillman) two Hearts and Flowers, (Larry Murray and Bernie Leadon) three Flying Burrito Brothers, (Hillman, Leadon, and Kenny Wertz), one Country Gazette, (Wertz) and one future Eagle (Leadon).
Larry Murray chuckles as he remembered playing alongside the shy teenager: "Even at his age Chris was such a solid musician and a die-hard perfectionist. He was always determined to do things right!"
The Barkers recorded one album, "Bluegrass Favorites", now a sought-after collector's item, the 17 year-old Hillman together with the rest of the band was paid $10 dollars each and got a box of albums for their work - and that was the extent of their royalties!
When the Barkers called it quits at the end of 1963, Hillman's reputation, coupled with connections with other Bluegrass musicians, paid off as he was invited to join the Golden State Boys then regarded as the premier Bluegrass band in Southern California. Featuring future Country music star Vern Gosdin, his brother Rex, and Don Parmley from the Bluegrass Cardinals. The Golden State Boys soon morphed into what became known as "The Hillmen", curiously named after Chris even though he wasn't the leader of the group and only sang one lead vocal on a cover of Bob Dylan's "When The Ship Comes In". Using a fictitious id in the name of "Chris Hardin" (the playing as well as the drinking age in clubs was 21), the 19 year-old Hillman toured with the Hillmen for approximately eight months, when The Hillmen folded. Hillman briefly joined Larry Murray in an otherwise forgetful spinoff of Randy Sparks' New Christy Minstrels known as the Green Grass Revival. Discouraged, Hillman was about to throw in the towel and he considered enrolling at UCLA, but for the interest of The Hillmen's former manager and producer Jim Dickson.
Dickson invited Hillman down to a studio where three guys were singing in a style that was "sort of folkish and sort of Beatlesque". Those three guys were Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, and David Crosby. When Dickson offered Hillman the opportunity to join in, the young mandolin player was not only interested but eager to "plug in".
With drummer Michael Clarke in tow, Hillman was recruited to play electric bass, an instrument that he had no familiarity with. But Hillman was a keen student, and after watching Paul McCartney play on television, and listening to Beatles' recordings, Hillman was able to absorb much of the bass playing process. The Beefeaters as they were then known quickly became the Byrds (a takeoff on the Beatles). They went into the studio in 1965, recorded a Bob Dylan song called "Mr. Tambourine Man", took a combination of Dylan songs and their own compositions and made Rock and Roll History as the group that invented Folk-Rock music.
The history of the Byrds, America's answer to the Beatles, has been covered numerous times, and needs no revisit. But the growth of Hillman from a shy, serious bass player in the background to a major force, influence maker, singer and songwriter in the band is much less known. For the first three albums, Hillman stayed in the shadows, with drummer Michael Clarke providing a strong backbeat to the three-part harmonies of McGuinn, Clark and Crosby, and the jingle-jangle of McGuinn's Rickenbacker.
With the departure of Gene Clark following the recording of "5-D" and the increasing dissatisfaction of David Crosby, McGuinn began to increasingly rely on his dependable bass player and allowed Hillman to stretch out in the vocal, songwriting, and perhaps more importantly the influence department of Byrds music. The result were several brilliant Hillman compositions on the next album, "Younger Than Yesterday" Hillman's favorite Byrds recording. "So You Want to Be A Rock and Roll Star" penned with McGuinn, was satirical rock, a poke at the popular Monkees. "Have You Seen Her Face", Hillman's first lead vocal in the band, could easily stand on its own with songs like "Mr. Tambourine Man", "Turn, Turn, Turn", "Eight Miles High", - and represented a singing Chris Hillman, though still not confident in his singing abilities, nonetheless could hold his own with McGuinn and Crosby.
"Time Between" saw Hillman bring in his old Bluegrass friend Clarence White to play a half-Country, half-Beatlesque solo on what is regarded by many critics and fans to be the first Country Rock song. White also helped on another Country-flavored Hillman composition, "The Girl With No Name". Perhaps not deliberately, these songs were the harbinger of a more countrified Byrds sound that surprised the music world two albums later.
With the departure of Crosby and Michael Clarke by the beginning of 1968, the Byrds were down to just two original members, Hillman and McGuinn. The band recruited Hillman's cousin, Kevin Kelley to replace Michael Clarke, but were still contemplating the replacement of Crosby when Hillman suggested a guy he had heard about but had never met until they bumped into each other at a local Bank of America branch. That guy was Gram Parsons. Together with Hillman he changed the Byrds' musical direction and ushered in a new era of music, that of "Country Rock" or - one where "hippies met truckers".
It sold very few copies in contrast to previous Byrds' recordings and Hillman candidly admits that it wasn't his favorite Byrds record, yet "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" is not only credited as being the first Country Rock album, but its influence can be heard today in the music of Country artists like Travis Tritt, Marty Stuart, Jim Lauderdale and Dwight Yoakam. While a Dylan tune, "You Ain't Going Nowhere" propelled by Lloyd Green's sweet steel guitar kicked off the album, it was the compositions of newcomer Parsons, Woody Guthrie, Merle Haggard, and others, plus the array of great California musicians - Jay Dee Maness, Clarence White, Earl P. Ball, and Nashville vets like Green and John Hartford that brought the Byrds back to full throttle with a sound that mixed pure country with folk-rock, even though it was confusing for the Rickenbacker Rock fans - and equally so for the diehard Country steel guitar folks.
When Parsons left the band shortly thereafter, Hillman brought in his good friend Clarence White to replace him, but the old magic of the Byrds was gone for him, and with an interest in Country music sparked again by the "Sweetheart" experience, Hillman exited the Byrds in September 1968 to join Parsons, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, and Chris Ethridge in what became known as The Flying Burrito Brothers.
While the Flying Burrito Brothers may not have been the first band to combine elements of Country Music and Rock and Roll - after all, the Byrds had being doing that since "Younger Than Yesterday" - the fusion of the two styles coming so soon after "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" in the Burritos' groundbreaking but not exactly top selling (40,000 copies) "The Gilded Palace of Sin" not only created a new musical force to be reckoned with, but even in the way musicians dressed. Rock and Rollers wearing Nudie Cowboy and Western suits!
Led by the visionary Parsons and the steady, inspirational, and inspiring Hillman, the Burritos created the environment for "Outlaw Country", and for much of the success experienced by artists such as the Eagles (who used to frequently watch the Burritos perform, were directly influenced by them, and in the end "stole" their guitarist Bernie Leadon), Emmylou Harris, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, and the Mavericks. Even the "World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band" - the Rolling Stones were briefly influenced by the Burritos, with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards composing "Wild Horses" in honor of their friend Gram Parsons.
One song off that seminal first album - "Sin City" not only aptly described Los Angeles at the end of the 1960s but later became a Smithsonian Institute favorite.
But the Burritos were never really accepted in either musical environments back then. Diehard Country mistrusted them. Rock "underground" radio did not know what to make of them, or where they might fit in a playlist. While Hillman and Parsons spent most of that first year "woodshedding", i.e., writing songs together, tossing ideas back and forth, and being enthusiastic about the possibilities of this new "Cosmic American Musics", by the second year and second album Parsons had not only lost interest in the band, but his personal lifestyle had already begun to take its toll. The rest of the story has been chronicled elsewhere. What does need to be said, however, is how Hillman, not about to give up, did lead the band, with Leadon and Rick Roberts, and later Al Perkins on board, and kept things on a steady keel for over a year after Parsons was let go.
There is but one more story of the Hillman experience with the Burritos. Hillman, near the end of his tenure with the Burritos, was performing with the band in Washington, D.C. when Rick Roberts suggested that he check out this "lovely, long-haired girl singer" playing nearby in a Folk Club. That girl was Emmylou Harris. Both Hillman and Roberts were so enthused with her they considered asking her to join the Burritos, but Hillman had already signed on to Manassas, so they recommended her instead to Gram Parsons. Emmylou Harris has been a major Country star for decades who has never forgotten the debt she owes Hillman, Parsons, and Roberts.
In Manassas, Hillman was once again everybody's favorite "second-in-command", this time to the Stephen Stills whom he helped to discover and cultivate with Stills' Buffalo Springfield. But this time around, Hillman was the student.
"I'd been writing in the Byrds, but with Stephen I went up another level. I learned more about songwriting during my two years as Stephen's second-in-command than at any other time of my life. He taught me how to structure a lyric, how to turn a phase, how to craft a tune", Hillman commented.
The first Manassas album accomplished what Roger McGuinn considered doing before "Sweetheart of the Rodeo", combining major elements of most forms of American contemporary music and fusing them together. There were bits and pieces of Rock, Country, Bluegrass, Salsa, and Blues blended together on that album. In concert, the band could stand heads and shoulders with the best of them. Stills and Hillman also co-wrote a great song that is still part of Hillman's set list to this day - "It Doesn't Matter".
"That band (Manassas) could tackle the entire spectrum of music with awesome musicianship and authenticity. When we were on it was killer", Hillman commented. But the pressures of a record company that demanded a Crosby-Stills-Nash and Young reunion,coupled by the hazards of a hedonisitic lifestyle on the road, eventually took its toll on the band, and Manassas broke up by the fall of 1973. By this time too, Hillman faced two major tragedies in his personal life, the deaths of his close friends Clarence White and Gram Parsons.
"Gram's death upset me a lot, but I was more upset by Clarence's because it was an accident, out of the blue. I was ready for Gram's death, I guess; for months I'd watch him just disintegrate..." In a more recent interview Hillman commented: "He (Parsons) was seduced by the trappings of rock and roll. That was his downfall. But some of the best stuff I've ever been around was in that era when we first got together. That was the good part of Gram, back then, the hungry, inspired kid".
From Manassas, and a short-lived original Byrds reunion, Hillman marched straight into the Souther-Hillman-Furay experience (1973-1975). David Geffen wanted a "new" Crosby, Stills and Nash, and thought the idea of putting together three respected singer-songwriter-players would do the trick. He cajoled Richie Furay to leave Poco, and enlisted John David Souther, who had co-written with Glenn Frey and Don Henley most of the Eagles' repetoire, and brought in Hillman. It looked great on paper, and the first album was chock full of fine Country Rock songs, including Hillman's heartfelt tribute to Gram Parsons, "Heavenly Fire" but the three never jelled together as songwriting partners or as personalities. The band finally went its separate way after a series of internal squabbles and a second album that failed to live up to the promise of the first.
Hillman went back into the studio and released two solo albums. He was also an in-demand studio musician, hired to sing backing vocals and harmonies or provide bass or mandolin on recording sessions for artists like Poco, Dillard and Clark, Rusty Wier, and others. After an early 1977 British tour reunited him with Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark, the trio stayed together for two McGuinn-Clark-Hillman albums and one subsequent McGuinn-Hillman album.
By the beginning of the 1980s, Hillman had settled down to a happy home life, having married his "best friend" Connie, and having done the Rock and Roll bit had now returned to his roots in Bluegrass and Country music. He recorded two critically acclaimed acoustic and steel-flavored recordings, and in doing so was reunited with his longtime Folk and Bluegrass buddy Herb Pedersen, whom he had known since the time the two were barely out of their teens. Chris in the Hillmen and Herb in the Pine Valley Boys.
The genesis of the Desert Rose Band began when both Hillman and Pedersen were asked by fellow Country Rock afficionado and Manassas fan Dan Fogelberg to record with him in the studio and accompany him on his "High Country Snows" tour in 1985. When Hillman and Pedersen returned to Los Angeles, Hillman, ever the talent scout, enlisted Bill Bryson to play bass and multi-instrumentalist John Jorgensen on guitar. Bryson was a veteran of such great bands as The Bluegrass Cardinals and Country Gazette, and Jorgensen had played the same Disneyland Bluegrass circuit as a much younger Hillman had done nearly 25 years earlier. Content as an acoustic band, Hillman and Pedersen discovered how good they sounded "plugged in" and brought on board Steel Guitarist extraordinare Jay Dee Maness, who had played for Buck Owens after his fine work on "Sweetheart of the Rodeo", and former Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band drummer Steve Duncan.
The Desert Rose Band. From the buoyant chords that marked the beginning of "One Step Forward", California Country Rock was back and in business. From 1987 till the end of 1993 the Desert Rose Band recorded seven albums, and scored a string of 16 top Country hits, the majority of them riding high in the Top Ten Country charts. They also garnered a number of Academy of Country Music Awards.
Amidst those strong vocals, fine harmonies, excellent instrumentation were two things that made the Desert Rose Band so special. First, the songs themselves. Well crafted, they weren't your average "poor boy gets drunk, unfaithful lady runs off" sludge that seemed to churn out of Nashville on a endless basis. Songs like "Darkness in the Playground" spoke of the dangers of drug use by children, "Summer Wind" spoke of divorce from the viewpoint of a caring father; while "Homeless" and "Walk On By" came from an encounter Hillman had with a woman on the streets of a Southern California city. An average lady who didn't do drugs or anything wrong but had simply lost everything. "Our Songs" also came from the personal experiences of Hillman and Pedersen, musicians who knew the importance and the power of music but were dismayed to see it abused by the current entertainment industry emphasis on the "flavor of the month". On record oe Live in Concert, Desert Rose gave their audiences their full money's worth of quality music.
Secondly, not only were the songs written by Hillman and Hill chock full of honesty, integrity, and sometimes wit, they were also sung by a confident singer who not only had found his voice after so many bands, but who sang with power and conviction in what he had written.
The Desert Rose Band had a great run, but as the saying goes, "All good things must come to an end". By the beginning of 1994, saddened by the passing of his Byrd mates Gene Clark and Michael Clarke, and wishing to spend more time with his family and watching his children grow, Hillman decided to call it a day for the Desert Rose Band.
"We definitely quit while we were ahead", he commented. But that didn't mean that Chris Hillman was going to stop making good music. Far from it.
Since 1995, Hillman has kept busy having recorded six albums, and is close to finishing work on a seventh. In "Bakersfield Bound" (1995, Sugar Hill) Hillman and Herb Pedersen revisited their classic California Country roots. They then teamed up with their old Bluegrass friends Larry and Tony Rice to record three albums on Rounder Records ("Out of the Woodwork" (1997), "Rice, Rice, Hillman and Pedersen" (1999), "Running Wild" (2001). He also recorded a solo recording "Like A Hurricane" (1998, Sugar Hill). In 2002, Hillman and Pedersen again revisited California Country in the wonderful "Way Out West" (Back Porch)., an album that had the flavor of old California music halls coupled with the voices and chords that were there with the "Tambourine Man", dancing with the "Sweetheart of the Rodeo", flying high with the Burritos, going down the road in Manassas, and singing that good old mountain music in the Dillards - creating a new genre of music - California Country Rock.
"We always considered ourselves to be the next generation of musicians following in the footsteps of (Merle) Haggard, (Buck) Owens, and Wynne Stewart", Hillman recently remarked.
2005 will see a new Hillman solo recording, "The Other Side" (Sovereign Artists) - which besides some stunning new Hillman-Hill compositions also features new recordings of "Eight Miles High", "It Doesn't Matter", and two Desert Rose Band songs "Missing You" and "True Love".
At 60, Chris Hillman continues to record quality music (after all, this is a man who has never released a bad record, as a number of critics have pointed out in the past), and perform occasionally with Pedersen and Bill Bryson. Honoring his California and Cowboy roots, Hillman recently gave his original Burrito's Nudie suit to the Gene Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles. He is also active in his community, eschewing the big "mega-benefit" concerts in favor of community concerns, as well as the causes he passionately believes in - including artists' recording rights and traditional family values.
"Traditional family values (have) worked for thousands of years, and I think a lot of people my age are embracing a more conservative outlook on things. Once they've actually been married and have (had) children, they say, 'Wait a minute, Mom and Dad were right!'" Hillman recently commented in an interview with Charles Levin.
Close friend and Appellate Court Justice Steve Perrin said it best when he commented: "He (Hillman) has a wonderful social conscience...(whose) passion for good family and upbringing is unbounded. I have never seen a better father more dedicated to raising his children".
A family's love can help you move along...These days Chris Hillman can stop and smell the (Desert) Roses.
"I'm as happy and fulfilled as I've ever been. I am truly blessed to have such a great family and friends to share my life with. This is the best of times."
...and there are a lot of friends and fans out there that love Chris Hillman, the man and the musician.
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