Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer Chris Hillman covered a wide range of subjects in two February 2021 interviews with this writer for a feature spotlighting the singer, songwriter, and musician’s celebrated autobiography, “Time Between: My Life as a Byrd, Burrito Brother and Beyond.”
BMG Books published the much-anticipated memoir by the four-time Grammy nominee, three-time Academy of Country Music award-winner, and three-time Country Music Association award nominee on November 17, 2020 (his former Byrds bandmate Gene Clark was born that date in 1944).
The first edition earned kudos from critics and fans alike and quickly sold out, prompting BMG to publish a second edition on February 23, 2021. Autographed copies are available at chrishillman.com.
Part 1 of the feature (published April 26) includes an introduction, an extensive biographical profile, and a transcript of our first conversation about the book, conducted via Zoom that February day.
Hillman, 76, provided more detail about how jazz legend Miles Davis helped The Byrds land their first record deal with his label, Columbia, in fall 1964; how he overcame his early shyness on stage; the first Manassas sessions with producers Ron & Howie Albert at Criteria Studios in Miami in late 1971, including the outtake “Panhandle Rag” with former Burrito bandmates Byron Berline and Al Perkins, and Berline’s special nickname for Chris; Stephen Stills’ gift of a rare 1924 Gibson Lloyd Loar F5 mandolin, and invitation to co-found the band (Hillman also co-produced the “Manassas” double album and the follow-up “Down the Road” with Stills and drummer Dallas Taylor); the guitar-playing and songwriting tips he learned from Stills; working with the Alberts again on the second Manassas studio album, “Down the Road,” then Hillman’s first solo album “Slippin’ Away” (1974, after he fired original producer Bob Johnston), and the “McGuinn, Clark & Hillman” album (1979); and Hillman’s overview of his West Coast country-bluegrass influences, including a special encounter he and Desert Rose Band colleague-duo partner-producer Herb Pedersen shared with Buck Owens, one of their musical heroes.
Hillman and this writer have crossed paths professionally a few times in the past (as noted in Part 1), and the time flew as our scheduled 10-minute interview ran longer than 20 minutes. He graciously offered to set up an encore video chat, and we spoke again two days later, on February 25.
Here, in Part 2, Hillman talks about his surprise at how quickly the first edition of “Time Between” sold out; which Byrds album is his favorite, and why; what his and his Byrds bandmates’ intent was for their pioneering country-rock album “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” in 1968; why the Desert Rose Band was the favorite of all his bands; why he’s not crazy about being referred to as an architect of country-rock, and what he says to those who credit Gram Parsons with inventing the hybrid genre; his later bluegrass albums with longtime friends Larry and Tony Rice and Pedersen; why he and Pedersen have been pals and musical partners since the early 1960s; how Pedersen was the link to Tom Petty producing Hillman’s acclaimed “Bidin’ My Time” album in 2017; how Petty demanded Chris record “Walk Right Back” (the 1961 hit by The Everly Brothers penned by Cricket Sonny Curtis); former Souther-Hillman-Furay bandmate J.D. Souther and the Heathen Defense League, and Hillman’s embrace of Christianity; and how marrying one Connie Pappas in 1979 changed his life for the better, then and since (she’s seen at the very beginning of the Part 1 video).
Finally, in a brief coda, Hillman talks about possibly making another record and working in a children’s book, and displays the 1924 Gibson F-5 Lloyd Loar mandolin Stephen Stills gave to him at the start of the Manassas sessions in late 1971.
The video and transcript of our second interview follow.
Hillman: Good morning, young fella.
Peeples: Good morning, young fella; how are you?
Hillman: So far so good, actually. So far so good.
Peeples: Wonderful, wonderful. Well, let me get cookin’ here, and we’ll do a lightning round. I’ve got 10 minutes, right?
Hillman: [chuckles] I’ll give you 12.
Peeples: Awesome. Thanks again for the encore. We’ll try to make the most of it here.
Peeples: Now, I wanna jump right in. The book sold out, the first edition sold out, and fast. What do you think about that? That was really cool.
Hillman: I was overwhelmed. I did not expect that. I used to make a joke before it was out, when I was writing it, I said, “I don’t know if the world needs another aging rock star’s biography.” Oh, no, no, Stephen — there was a great line from David Byrne, Talking Heads, and he said, “Any more rock autobiographies make for a crowded bookshelf.” I can’t remember, that’s not exactly how he said it, but it was very funny. But, no, I was overwhelmed. I didn’t expect that to happen, and it’s still going really well.
Peeples: Well, congratulations on that.
Hillman: Thank you so much.
Hillman’s Favorite Byrds Album
Peeples: Now, you’ve said numerous times in interviews with me and also in the book that “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” was not your favorite Byrds album, but you don’t say what was. So what was and why?
Hillman: OK, I loved the first one because some of the songs just really grabbed me, some of Gene’s songs. I love the first album, OK, that was “Mr. Tambourine Man.” I liked all of them, and that’s a terrible answer to your question. I probably really lean toward “Younger Than Yesterday” just because that’s when I started to come out of my shell, so to speak. But I thought the album in itself, the stuff — not just me, but what David was writing, “Renaissance Fair” and “Everybody’s Been Burned” and things like that — I thought we were really going in an interesting direction. So “Younger Than Yesterday” might be my favorite. I think it is. I will say that’s my favorite album, and not because I’m writing some stuff, but because of the stuff David and Roger were writing was really cohesive.
Peeples: Well, that’s my favorite album also, and for the same reasons and a lot more. You guys were just…it all came together nicely there and it was definitely your coming-out party, if you will.
Hillman: It was. It was a great year. I love that year, ’67. And remember I said the other day to you, I said, “You know, we went from covering Bob Dylan in a matter of a year and then we were playing songs like ‘Eight Miles High’ and we turned into a really good band.”
We were a little, clumsily started out because as we say, we came out of folk music, but it wasn’t a big stretch to plug in in that sense. We stayed within that premise.
And the other thing about “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”: I always try to make a point that we weren’t necessarily crossing over and “Let’s become a country act.” You know what I’m saying? So, we were The Byrds doing a country album and we were gonna remain The Byrds beyond that, so it was just a side journey there.
Peeples: Well, it’s definitely the West Coast/Nashville identity, you know?
Hillman: Connection. Yeah.
Hillman: I have much more appreciation for it now, and I don’t know if it’s because people really got into it years later, but when we did that [2018 “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” 50th anniversary] tour with Marty Stuart and Roger McGuinn, we didn’t change anything; we did the same songs off the album, but we played them better and we sang them better, I thought. And Marty’s band, I mean, my God, they’re good. They are so good.
Peeples: Aptly named, for sure.
Hillman: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
His Favorite Band
Peeples: And you’ve also said the Desert Rose band was the most professional of all of the bands that you’d worked with after all of the shenanigans of your ‘60s and ‘70s bands.
Hillman: Yeah. Really, there was no baggage in Desert Rose Band. Obviously not literal, I mean figuratively, there was no baggage. Everybody was a pro and from the vocals to the instrumentation.
We were always in that 90th percentile live; it was wonderful because everybody took their jobs seriously, but not to the point of sacrificing quality. It wasn’t like we were going, “Oh, let’s make it real slick.” We played from our hearts, and it was just a great band.
And like I said, the one band that we parted company, really, I actually did say, Stephen, I said, “I think it’s time for us to take a break. We’re not getting on the radio as quickly as we were,” and it happens. Finally, I said, “Our shelf life is expiring.”
But we stayed, we worked together beyond that actual time when we retired. I still work with John Jorgenson and Herb Pedersen and Jay Dee Maness. Steve [Duncan, DRB drummer] lives across the country, but we all work together when possible; not necessarily as the Desert Rose Band, but as musicians.
Country Rock and Gram Parsons
Peeples: I’m gonna jump back a little bit. The phrase “country-rock.” You mentioned in the book that you weren’t really crazy with being kind of referred to as the architect or one of the architects of country-rock.
Peeples: But then, you know, later on, what do you say to people who say Gram Parsons [who Hillman recruited for The Byrds in April 1968 before both co-founded the Flying Burrito Brothers that December] invented country-rock?
Hillman: Oh, I just sort of remind people that a) I came out of a real traditional place of bluegrass. And the other thing is that The Byrds were really doing — I believe I discussed that with you. We cut Porter Wagoner’s “Satisfied Mind,” big hit for him in the late ‘50s, and we cut it on the second album in 1965. “Turn! Turn! Turn!” was the title of the album. We did “Satisfied Mind” ‘cause it was just a great song. And we’d always sort of dabble in country stuff.
I could safely get up on a pedestal and say, “Well, ‘Time Between,’ the song I wrote on “Younger Than Yesterday” is the first country-rock song,” but I don’t dare do that.
Gram really was a folk singer, too. It’s ironic: Poor Gram, his folks bought him a club to work in when he was in high school, did you know that? I’m sure you did.
Hillman: He had too much going against him to really become successful, and I’ll just say this — and this is from my dear friend Dwight Yoakam, who said to me one day, he says, “You know, you can’t be a country singer with a trust fund,” and I said, “Wow. That’s for sure.”
Well, that was holding him back, Stephen. Gram was pullin’ in 55 grand every January. That was in 1968, ’69, a lot of money. A lot of money now. But that part of his life where he didn’t really struggle; everybody that gets into music or acting or writing or whatever, radio, you struggle. You struggle at the beginning. That’s how you learn how to do your job. And I think that really held Gram back.
But, hey, whoever wants to be king of country-rock, fine. I tell Dwight I’m the king of country-rock, but I’m glad to hand over the title, and I’m joking, of course, I want everybody to know that. Because, first, we do Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” — the Byrds, folk-rock. And then we did something else and it was jazz-rock, “Eight Miles High.”
Raga rock was interesting — loved that one. Raga rock, I don’t know where that was coming from. I think it was lazy journalism. So what came along, of course, 30 years later was Americana. So we’re all under that big umbrella, which basically implies roots-oriented music, and that’s fine.
Peeples: And that goes all the way back to [the Scottsville] Squirrel Barkers. So there you go.
Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen: Friends & Collaborators
Peeples: Now, your post-DRB solo albums, the “Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen” albums, the three albums that you did: They’re not, like, really well known. A lot of people don’t really know a lot about those. And then your 1980s acoustic quartet with Perkins and Bernie and Jerry Scheff.
Hillman: Mm-hm. It’s great stuff. I loved all that. I gotta tell you, you’re right: The “Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen,” for lack of a better name, the albums are pretty good. I mean, they were pretty good albums. We didn’t tour but maybe five or six times. It was not really a band in that sense. Tony and Larry, I mean, I knew them when they lived in L.A. In the timeline of the Golden State Boys, I took Herb Rice’s job. He was the mandolin player.
The Golden State Boys’ lineup was Hal and Leon Poindexter, Don Parmley, Herb Rice, and Harry Kniss in 1962 when they recorded “Always Dreaming” b/w “Wicked Woman” for the Shamrock label.
And then Vern Gosdin took Herb’s job, he went to guitar, and they hired me. I knew Tony when he was 12 and Larry was 14.
Tony was already being tutored heavily by Clarence White, and you can tell. Tony was a fantastic guitarist, as we know. But yeah, I loved those albums, I thought they were pretty good, really. The first one especially but hey, whatever.
Peeples: And then three more with Herb: “Bakersfield Bound,” “Way Out West,” and “Edward’s Barn.” What is it about you guys that’s so simpatico? How is it that you blend so well musically and as people?
Hillman: Well, we’re both extremely sarcastic wiseguys, California wiseguys; he’s a Northern Californian and I’m a Southern. But we always just hit it off and he has a great sense of humor. He’s a very funny man and he’s ever so talented.
He plays the best rhythm guitar ever. So when we’d be out on a gig, the two of us, if I took a cab ride on a solo, he’d always be there on the downbeat. I’m goin’, “Uh-oh,” and I hit some note and he’s right there for me.
But the vocals, he just has that beautiful tenor. He’s got the best sense of how to sing harmony with somebody. I think I mentioned that he always assumed the personality and everything about the person he was singing with.
That’s why I say: Emmylou Harris’s first big breakout hit was “If I Could Only Win Your Love.” If you hear Herb and her singing that, my God, he’s good on that. He’s so tight with her that it makes her sound a lot better. He makes us all sound good. But, long relationship, we met each other when we were 18. It’s been a fun time. He’s a good guy.
Bidin’ His Time with Herb and Tom Petty
Peeples: And then Herb engineered or made the connection with Tom Petty for “Bidin’ My Time” [Petty produced and Pedersen was executive producer of the 2017 album]…
Hillman: Herb was doing background vocals, Tom hired him to do background vocals, and they went out on a tour with Mudcrutch, which was Tom’s first band, and I think Tom had done a Mudcrutch album. While they’re out there on the road, they start bringing me up and that’s where Herb gets off the road and says, “Call Tom, call Tom.”
And it turned out Herb really ran the musical part of the studio, and organizing the guys. But Tom was the producer. Tom was the idea man, and classic, of course, as I write in the book, Herb and I are goofin’ around with The Everly Brothers song which I can’t remember right now ‘cause my brain isn’t working, but we’re out there singing this song…
Peeples: “Walk Right Back.”
Hillman: Thank you, God bless you, “Walk Right Back.” We’re singin’ it out in the studio between takes and setting up and Tom runs out, “We gotta cut that right now.” I went, “What?” He says, “You’ve got to do this right now; it’s fresh in you.” And that’s where Tom was at as a producer; he was catching that emotion, he could see that. And we went out and we did it in about 30 minutes, meaning, fully, with solo. John Jorgenson played a fantastic solo on that song.
Peeples: Yes, he did.
Hillman: And, I remember Tom sitting, telling John, he says, “Hey, go for the solo.” John was so used to overdubbing, and Tom says, “No, no, no, just play the solo. Just play it. Go. Go, go, go, come on. Everybody play.” It worked out great.
Peeples: It sure did, it sure did.
Hillman: That’s how good of a producer Tom Petty was. The best. He was one of the best I worked with.
The Heathen Defense League
Peeples: Well, I know we gotta wrap it up, but I wanted to cover your exit from the Heathen Defense League [which also included J.D. Souther] and how you finally exited that, what role faith and family played in that.….
Hillman: [laughs his loudest] Oh, gosh, J.D. Souther also one of the funniest people on the planet. Very, very funny man. While we were up at Jim Guercio’s Caribou Ranch recording and he had started the Heathen Defense League because Al [Perkins] and Richie [Furay] were over in the corner. I was not embracing Jesus Christ at that moment [as were Perkins and Furay], but that was such a funny line, but yes I, a few years later, did embrace Christ in my life and never looked back, but I can still laugh at that. I think that’s one of the best lines, or what was the other line? He had “Sons of Pagan.” Something like that, I don’t know. Of course, he doesn’t mean it. He was brought up with some semblance of a church upbringing, but he is a very funny man. Very funny.
Connie Pappas-Hillman: It’s a Family Affair
Peeples: You know, the connection with Connie has been your stability. She’s been your rock, basically, for the last 40-something years.
Hillman: Yes, she has. She has, Stephen. She really has been. I sometimes think she was divinely put in my life. We dated for a couple of years, I proposed, and we were married and it’s going on 42 years.
I got the most interesting phone call yesterday. I’m driving with my wife and [it was] Wynonna Judd. I sent them a book, ‘cause I’m very close with her husband Cactus. And she calls me up out of the blue and she says, “I gotta tell you that this line, ‘I’ll love you till time passes me by,’” which I wrote to Connie in the beginning of the book…and she almost started crying. It was so sweet of her to do that.
And I said, “You know what, that’s a song I wrote [with Steve Hill] and it’s on one of the Desert Rose Band albums, but I couldn’t tell you which one it is right now.” [Third album, “Pages of Life,” 1990.] It’s just really sweet that she picked up on that. And I meant that, every word of it. Connie’s been just terrific in my life. And the greatest manager and the best manager in the world! The best manager I’ve ever had.
Peeples: She’s a pretty good publicist, too.
Hillman: Oh, yeah! Well, you know, she works quite well with [book publicist] Cary Baker, I must say. But she works well with everyone. She’s just very, very efficient and put in a lot of time over half her life working for Elton John and learned a heck of a lot. Boy, did she learn a lot of stuff.
More on Ron & Howie Albert
Peeples: Yeah, I mean that was definitely school. Well, I know we gotta wrap it up. I talked to [producers] Ron and Howard [Albert] a couple of days ago and I said, “When are you guys gonna write your book?” They said, “We’re waiting for you!”
Peeples: They want me to write their book?!
Hillman: Well, do it!
Peeples: Well, I’m gonna!
Hillman: Good, good.
Peeples: So hook me up with Scott at BMG when we’re rollin’ on that.
Hillman: When you get a manuscript, absolutely, but you know, there’s a great story there. Now, do you know that Howard was in Vietnam?
Peeples: No…oh, yes, yes, yes. He came back and joined [his brother]…
Hillman: Howard was a medic. In combat, and I think he got some shrapnel in his leg. He doesn’t limp or anything, but I was very impressed with that, that he had been over there in the midst of it all and came out quite well. He’s very levelheaded and they’re both just wonderful guys. Their dad was great, too. Their dad, like, retired in his early 30s, he was so successful. But, both of those guys, they’re terrific producers, they’re sweet guys, yeah.
Peeples: So, what’s next for you, to wrap it up? What’s next for you? What’s on your agenda coming up?
Hillman: Oh, you know, I’m sort of thinkin’ of maybe I’ll do a record down the road, I’m not sure, and I was thinkin’ of writing a sort of a children’s book but based on a song my daughter and I wrote years ago. She was 12, now she’s 36. Long time ago. We wrote this song called “Lullaby Time in the Desert,” and it was on an album on Sugar Hill; it was “Daddies Sing Good Night” or something, and there was Jerry Douglas on it and Ricky Skaggs, all these people. And I said, “You know, maybe we should look at a little children’s book about that.” We’ll see, we’ll see what happens.
Peeples: That would be great.
Hillman: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it’d be fun.
Peeples: Chris, thanks again. I hope we can talk again soon; we’re only, you know, half an hour away.
Hillman: That’s true. Where are you, Stephen?
Peeples: We’re in Santa Clarita, just due east on the 126. In fact, Nadine and I just drove out to the beach on Tuesday after we talked to you last.
Hillman: Gotcha, buddy.
Peeples: One last thing: Can you please do me a favor? You said you had it by your feet: Whip out the mando that Stephen [Stills] gave you.
Hillman: Sure! [goes to take out the mandolin] Excuse my back and all that, but can you see this? This is a 1924 Gibson F-5.
Hillman: A Lloyd Loar Gibson F-5. In fact, it was shaped, too. I don’t know if we’re in tune. [plays it] Nope! … Was I playing mandolin in McGuinn, Clark & Hillman? No, OK. [continues playing] Sounds good, doesn’t it? [continues] It’s out of tune, though. [A little more] Anyway, that’s it.
Peeples: Thank you, man. It’s a beautiful instrument, and I really appreciate your time.
Hillman: You’re welcome, Stephen, always a pleasure, and I wish you the best of luck, and let me know what happens on that Howard and Ronnie deal. I think that’d be great. Fantastic. I’d love to see that.
Peeples: OK, sounds good. Thanks, man. Love to you and the family.
Hillman: Thanks, Stephen. Thanks again. We’ll see you soon, I think. Absolutely.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
For more information about Chris Hillman, and to order an autographed copy of “Time Between,” visit chrishillman.com.
Catch Hillman’s virtual interview with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame about “Time Between,” streaming on the Hall’s YouTube and Facebook channels on Wednesday, May 26, starting at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT. A chat with Marty Stuart is scheduled to follow.
Santa Clarita journalist and Grammy nominee Stephen K. Peeples was raised by career newspaper journalists and music-lovers in Miami and Los Angeles. His Grammy nomination was for co-producing the “Monterey International Pop Festival” box set with Geoff Gans and exec producer Lou Adler (Rhino/MIPF, 1992). • Peeples was the original, award-winning producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for Westwood One from 1988-1990, and writer/producer of hundreds of WW1 programs in the preceding five years. • His first music industry gig was as an Associate Editor at Cash Box magazine in Hollywood in 1975. He went on to be a Media Relations-PR executive for Capitol Records (1977-1980), Elektra/Asylum Records (1980-1983), and Rhino Entertainment (1992-1998). • Moving online early, he was Rhino’s first web editor (1996-1998), then elevated to content editor of Warner Music Group websites (1998-2001). • Based in the Santa Clarita Valley just north of L.A., Peeples was the award-winning Online Editor for The Signal newspaper’s website from 2007-2011. He wrote-hosted-co-produced SCVTV’s WAVE-nominated “House Blend” local music TV show from 2010-2015 (viewable on-demand online and still airing in reruns). Peeples was also SVP/New Media for Rare Cool Stuff Unltd. from 2010-2018 and a News Editor at SCVTV’s SCVNews.com from 2017-2021. He is developing a biography of notorious Texas Artlaw Boyd Elder, collaborating with Home at Last founders Cindy Johnson and Jeri Jenkins on their Miami memoirs, and co-writing a series of books with legendary multi-disciplinary artist John Van Hamersveld. • Subscribe to Peeples’ YouTube channel for more exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews.
Article: Chris Hillman ‘Time Between’ Autobiography Q&A, Part 2
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Category: News and Reviews
Article Source: StephenKPeeples.com