Chris Hillman - Time Between: An Evening of Stories and Songs featuring Herb Pederson & John Jorgenson
Oh! The stories he’ll tell! Chris Hillman has been described as the only one in the room who doesn’t think he’s a legend. The co-founder of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Band, the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas and the Desert Rose Band, Hillman is considered an architect of country rock. It took a kid from Southern California who had a love for old-time music and bluegrass to set American music on a different track.
Hillman grew up in California in the 1950s. His sister, who he has described as “the bohemian in the family,” came home from college with recordings by Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and others. At 15, Hillman fell in love with folk music. When he heard old-time music and bluegrass, his world changed and so, later, did ours.
Hillman was at U.C.L.A when he got an invitation to join Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Gene Clark and Michael Clarke in a new band, the Byrds. Hillman was recruited to play bass guitar, an instrument he’d never played before. The group’s first single, “Mr. Tambourine Man” was an international hit and one of the first folk rock tunes. With songs like “Turn! Turn! Turn!” “Eight Miles High” and “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” the Byrds were among the most popular groups of the 1960s and Hillman developed as a songwriter, bringing out his bluegrass and country roots. They are on Rolling Stone’s list of “100 Greatest Artists;” their entry was written by Tom Petty, who has acknowledged a debt to the seminal band.
When infighting left only Hillman and McGuinn and Hillman’s cousin, Kevin Kelley in the band, they hired Gram Parsons to replace Crosby. With the album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Hillman and Parsons changed the group’s direction to country rock. Later, Hillman teamed with Parsons again to form the Flying Burrito Brothers, continuing the move toward a country rock sound with albums like The Gilded Palace of Sin and Burrito Deluxe. Before the band broke up, Hillman joined Stephen Still’s band, Manassas, where he stayed for several years.
By the 1980s, Hillman had returned to his bluegrass and country roots, recording two albums with singer/guitarist, banjo player Herb Pedersen, a former member of The Dillards. Hillman and Pedersen formed the Desert Rose Band and their self-titled album produced two Top Ten country hits: “Love United” and “One Step Forward” and the number one single, “He’s Back and I’m Blue.” The band recorded from 1987-1993 and had 17 country music hits and won several Academy of Country Music Awards before they disbanded in 1994. The band, which also included JayDee Maness, John Jorgenson, Bill Bryson and Steve Duncan, had a reunion concert in 2008.
Hillman’s 2017 album, Bidin’ My Time, was produced by Tom Petty, with Herb Pedersen as executive producer. A masterwork of folk, rock and roll, bluegrass, and the country-rock Hillman helped to bring to life came together seamlessly, whether the song was written 60 years ago or in the last few years. The album features appearances by Petty, Crosby, McGuinn, Jorgenson, Pedersen, Jay Dee Maness, Mark Fain and others. While the album pays homage to the past, with songs like “Here She Comes,” a song co-written by Hillman and McGuinn and only recorded on a live album in Australia, and the Everly Brothers’ “Walk Right Back,” it also reminds his audience of what a great songwriter Hillman still is.
The album was a true labor of love from a man who is happy with his life and happy to be doing what he loves with his friends. Others have praised the album, but Hillman is, as ever, more modest. “I did my very best,” he said. “That’s all any of us can do. There’s nothing I want. I’ve had a great life and it’s not over - we’re not done.”