Chris Hillman ‘Time Between’ Autobiography Q&A, Pt. 1

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Screencap from Chris Hillman's "Time Between" interview with Stephen K. Peeples, February 2021.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer Chris Hillman spoke about his celebrated autobiography, “Time Between: My Life as a Byrd, Burrito Brother and Beyond,” with this reporter on February 23 and 25, 2021, and Part 1 of our conversation is featured later in this story.

It’s no overstatement to say Hillman – also a four-time Grammy nominee, three-time Academy of Country Music award-winner, and three-time Country Music Association award nominee – is a central and highly influential figure in American popular music.

As a co-founder of The Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Desert Rose Band, and more, he helped pioneer folk-rock, country-rock, West Coast country, “newgrass” or progressive bluegrass, and Americana in the 20th century. At age 76, he’s an enduring contemporary bluegrass legend well into this century.

time between by chris hillmanHillman’s 238-page memoir has earned mostly positive reviews since BMG Books published the first edition on November 17, 2020, and after that run sold out, a second edition the following February 23. Author-signed copies are available at Hillman’s website.

He looks back on not only his musical escapades but also his family relationships and his faith, and how they all shaped and continue to affect his personal life and 60-plus-year career.

On the family front, Hillman recounts how his older sister turned him on to bluegrass and folk when he was in his early teens, setting him on the musical path he’s been traveling since.

He reveals how his father, a devoted family man, a successful businessman, and Jewish (his mother was Presbyterian), was subjected to anti-Semitic discrimination after a family near-disaster.

Chris was just 16 when family financial troubles led to his father’s death by suicide, contributing to the young man’s growing and long-term anger-management problem (he wouldn’t just get angry about something, he’d get “Hillman mad”), which resulted in more than a few heated incidents with bandmates along the trail.

He writes about the renewed strength he found after meeting Connie Pappas, also a music industry veteran but behind the scenes, who has been his rock since they married in 1979. They’d met more than a decade earlier, at the Troubadour, no less, where each had gone to see a Joni Mitchell show (and The Byrds had debuted as a band there five years before). Longtime residents of Ventura, California, on the coast north of Los Angeles, the Hillmans have two children together.

Both Chris and Connie share a deep belief in and commitment to the Christian faith, which the longtime evangelical Christian credits with helping guide him through some dark times.

Among the later-in-life trials Hillman details in “Time Between” was his near-fatal battle with Hepatitis C in 1998, a year after he joined Connie as a member of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Hillman touched on family and faith among other things during a live-streamed book-signing and interview event hosted by Danny Valdez on November 17, while fielding questions, telling stories, and pickin’ a few favorite bluegrass tunes live with former Desert Rose Band partners and longtime pals Herb Pedersen and John Jorgenson.

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Herb Pedersen, Chris Hillman, and John Jorgenson swap songs and stories on Nov. 17, 2020, the day the first edition of Hillman’s “Time Between: My Life as a Byrd, Burrito and Beyond” was published by BMG Books.

“I really believe that my parents were good parents in the way they brought us up,” Hillman said.

“Not necessarily heavily into a religious faith, Jewish or Christian, but we were brought up to respect one another, to be honest, to work for things, all those things that it takes to make good people,” he said. “So my parents really raised us well, my brother and my two sisters.

“Yes, I was around some interesting things in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, and I did get into a little mischief, but never to the point of detrimental to my career,” Hillman said. “I did know a lot of people that almost traded their career for more of a hedonistic pursuit, but yeah, I stayed sane.

“I think it’s my parents that helped me to maintain a balance in my life,” he said. “And it’s been God and a wonderful wife of 41 years. All those elements helped me immensely.

“Let me put it this way: I was very blessed,” Hillman said. “I was not the greatest player in the world, and there certainly were a lot of people out there that were really fantastic. Herb and I were discussing that sometimes, being in the right place at the right time is a very valid thing. With me, I was very blessed I got to do all these things.”

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

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Chris Hillman, not quite 5 years old, on a trail ride near his home in Rancho Santa Fe in northern San Diego County, 1949. Photo: Courtesy Chris Hillman.

A (Very Brief) Hillman Biography

Christopher Hillman was born in Los Angeles on December 4, 1944, the third of four children born to David Hillman, who ran a successful ad agency for many years, and David’s wife Betty Ann Charlton.

As he details far more extensively in “Time Between,” Chris enjoyed a mostly idyllic but not untroubled childhood on the family ranch in semi-rural Rancho Santa Fe and later in coastal Del Mar in San Diego County as the ’40s rolled into the ’50s, riding horses, doing chores, surfing, and sharing adventures with his friends.

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The Scottsville Squirrel Barkers’ “Bluegrass Favorites” album, 1961: Chris Hillman, mandolin; Kenny Wertz, banjo; Larry Murray, guitar; Gary Carr, guitar; and Ed Douglas, bass (Bernie Leadon joined the group after these sessions).

He was still a youngster when he was introduced to western music on TV by Spade Cooley and his Saturday night show on L.A.’s KTLA, as well as other popular shows like “Town Hall Party” with singing cowboy Tex Ritter, Cliffie Stone’s “Hometown Jamboree,” and “Cal’s Corral” hosted by car dealer Cal Worthington. On a family trip to Tijuana, Chris’s mother paid $10 to buy his first guitar.

Chris credits his older sister with introducing him to folk, country, and bluegrass. He was inspired to pick up the mandolin at 15. On a visit to Hollywood, he caught a show by The Kentucky Colonels at the Ash Grove, then featuring Scott Hambly on mandolin, who gave Hillman his first mandolin lessons.

The youngster’s earliest inspirations as a mandolin player also included Mike Seeger (New Lost City Ramblers), Lester Flatt (Flatt & Scruggs), John Duffey (the Country Gentlemen), Daryl “Pee-Wee” Lambert (the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys), and of course, Bill Monroe.

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Chris Hillman (second from left) takes a mandolin solo onstage with his early bluegrass band, the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers, in 1962. Photo courtesy Chris Hillman.

After a budding career playing bluegrass-folk-county with friends in the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers (which also included future Dillard & Clark adventurer/Eagles co-founder Bernie Leadon), and then the Golden State Boys (which became The Hillmen, with Vern Gosdin, his brother Rex, and Don Parmley), working with producer Jim Dickson in both groups, Hillman got a call from Dickson in October 1964, inviting him to join another group he was working with.

If Hillman was willing to hang up his mandolin and pick up a bass, that is.

Get Set for the Jet Set: Joining a Flock of Byrds

Still calling themselves The Jet Set, the lineup at the time was Jim (later Roger) McGuinn (vocals, lead guitar), Gene Clark (vocals, tambourine), David Crosby (vocals, bass), and Michael Clarke (drums). Crosby wanted to switch to guitar, and Clarke needed a partner in the rhythm section.

“Roger McGuinn and Gene started out initially, singing together at the Troubadour, which was in L.A., a folk club,” Hillman said during the November 17 book-signing session. “Then David [Crosby] used to be in there, playing on Hootenanny Night, or Hoot Night, Open-Mic Night, and David got to know them, and they clicked with their singing. David, to this day, is still a fantastic singer.

“The three of them singing together – when I first heard them, I knew they were going to do something really good,” he said. “And they had the songs – Gene was writing most of the songs. So when I got a phone call asking me if I could play the bass, I jumped on it, ‘cause I heard what they could be.”

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Pre-flyte Byrds promo photo, late 1964: Chris Hillman, Gene Clark, Jim (Roger) McGuinn, Michael Clarke, and David Crosby. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Still primarily acoustic, the pre-flyte Jet Set had already recorded some tracks with Dickson at World Pacific Studios, and a single for Elektra (“Please Let Me Love You” b/w “Don’t Be Long”) that never got off the ground, notwithstanding label chief Jac Holzman’s renaming the group The Beefeaters attempting to cap on the British Invasion launched earlier in the year by The Beatles.

chris hillmanIn “Time Between” Hillman recounts how deeply he was affected by seeing The Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on February 9, 1964, and, after joining Dickson’s developing group that fall, how attending a screening of the Fab Four’s first movie “A Hard Day’s Night” with his new bandmates convinced them to get serious about plugging in, and how they arrived at The Byrds as their name.

Hillman also details how Dickson and his business partner Eddie Tickner and a benefactor arranged the purchase of new electric instruments (including the 12-string Rickenbacker that became McGuinn’s signature) and matching suits and Beatle boots for the band.

Fittingly, they’d play their first gig as The Byrds at the Troubadour, performing three songs on a Hoot Night, but Hillman recalls the debut was “clumsy” and a “debacle.”

‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ in the Jingle-Jangle Mornin’

By the time Dickson called Hillman, the group had been working on a new Beatles-inspired folk ‘n’ roll arrangement of a new and as-yet-unrecorded Bob Dylan song titled “Mr. Tambourine Man.”

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Bob Dylan and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott check out a couple of new albums, including one by The Rolling Stones, 1964. Photo: Douglas R Gilbert, via ramblinjackelliott.com.

Dickson had a demo sung by Dylan and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, given to him by Bob’s manager Albert Grossman. Dylan and Jack sang four verses; Dickson wanted to keep it short for radio play, so for their demo, The Byrds went with just the second verse and a repeat of the chorus.

As Hillman details in “Time Between” (and in our interview that follows below), that early Byrds demo, plus a little help from a club owner and his teenage daughter, and a phone call from a jazz icon landed The Byrds a singles deal with Columbia Records, which the band signed on November 10, 1964.

But by January ’65, Columbia producer Terry Melcher still didn’t think The Byrds were tight enough as a band to record.

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Suited and booted: The Byrds in Columbia Records promo photo, late 1964: Chris Hillman, Gene Clark, Jim (Roger) McGuinn, Michael Clarke, and David Crosby.

So Melcher took McGuinn, Clark, Crosby, and first-call L.A. session guys (later known as members of the Wrecking Crew) Leon Russell (piano), Larry Knechtel (bass), Jerry Cole (rhythm guitar), and Hal Blaine (drums) into Columbia Studios in Hollywood on January 20.

They recorded The Byrds’ abridged version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” with McGuinn’s jangling Rickenbacker 12-string the only instrument played by a band member on the track, which Melcher brought in at a Top 40-perfect 2:29.

Dylan recorded his acoustic version of all four verses on January 15; clocking in at 5:32, it opened Side 2 of his “Bringing it All Back Home” LP, out on Columbia in March ’65.

By then, the five-member band was capably finishing up their own tracks with Melcher for the rest of the songs included on their debut album, and drawing attention on the Hollywood club scene.

chris hillmanAfter Dylan sat in with them at Ciro’s on March 26 during their weeklong gig at the famed nightclub, and their single hit the airwaves April 12, The Byrds were launched on a near-vertical trajectory.

Dickson and Tickner hired Derek Taylor for PR; he’d recently quit as The Beatles’ press agent and set up shop in Hollywood. Hillman writes the band loved Taylor because he provided a direct link to The Beatles and all the British Invasion groups The Byrds were so enamored with.

By June 26, two eventful months after its release, “Mr. Tambourine Man” was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and stayed there another week; the single also topped the U.K. charts. Titled after the single, The Byrds’ debut album took off on June 21, and peaked at No. 6 on Billboard’s Top LP’s chart and No. 7 in the U.K. by mid-October.

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The Byrds at a recording session at Columbia Studios in Hollywood, January 28, 1965. From left: Jim McGuinn (later known as Roger McGuinn), Chris Hillman, Gene Clark, David Crosby, and Michael Clarke on drums. Photo: CBS via Getty Images, courtesy Chris Hillman.

Folk-Rock to Psychedelic Rock to Country-Rock – in 5 Years

As a Byrd over the next five years, Chris Hillman helped define and refine folk-rock on the first two albums in 1965, then psychedelic rock (greatly influenced by jazz), on “Fifth Dimension” released in July 1966), then helped pioneer country-rock on the fourth Byrds album, “Younger Than Yesterday,” out February 6, 1967.

“Younger Than Yesterday” marked a creative coming-out party for the once-shy Hillman, who’d been promoted to the band’s front line as co-lead vocalist with McGuinn after Gene Clark’s exit in February ’66.

Hillman tapped into his West Coast country and bluegrass roots with new original songs like “Time Between,” “The Girl With No Name,” and “Have You Seen Her Face.”

All three songs were recorded in late 1966 with producer Gary Usher (L.A. hot rod and surf music legend and Beach Boys hit songwriter), for The Byrds’ fourth album, “Younger Than Yesterday,” out February 6, 1967. The first two tunes featured twangin’ lead guitar by Clarence White (ex-Kentucky Colonels and a future Byrd).

Hillman also contributed the psychedelic “Thoughts and Words” (with backward guitar effects a la George Harrison’s on The Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping” earlier in ’66) and co-wrote the playful album-opener “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” with McGuinn after the band’s first tour of the U.K. (Hillman admits he had The Monkees in mind, as the TV group was breaking big that fall).

In his memoir, Hillman recalls how recording sessions as a sideman with South African artists including jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela around that time inspired his writing and playing on “YTY.”

He also tells the story behind Masekela’s appearance on “So You Wanna Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” (which picks up where the previous album, “Fifth Dimension,” left off, with the “Lear Jet” song) and with The Byrds on June 10, 1967, at the Magic Mountain Music Fair at Mt. Tamalpais (the first true U.S. rock festival) and at the Monterey International Pop Festival a week later.

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The Byrds with guest Hugh Masekela on trumpet perform at the KFRC Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival on June 10, 1967, sharing a bill with The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band. Photo: Henry Diltz, courtesy Henry Diltz Photography and Chris Hillman.

Hillman recounts the circumstances leading to Michael Clarke’s exit, Crosby’s firing, and Clark’s temporary joining the band during the “Notorious Byrd Brothers” sessions with Gary Usher, which stretched through the end of the year.

That left The Byrds lineup at just McGuinn and Hillman when, after Chris’s chance meeting with singer-writer-piano-player-guitarist Gram Parsons (ex-International Submarine Band) in line at a Beverly Hills bank, and an auspicious audition, the two of them invited Parsons to join The Byrds in spring 1968.

chris hillmanHillman ably abetted Parsons in steering the band away from McGuinn’s original idea of recording a collection of songs tracing the history of American music, and toward cutting an album of country songs.

After sessions in Nashville (augmented again by Clarence White), and during which the band appeared on the Grand Ole Opry on March 15, to a decidedly mixed reception) and back in L.A., Parsons quit the band that summer, for reasons Hillman details in “Time Between.” In his memoir, Hillman provides further insight into why he and Parsons hit it off as friends and musical collaborators, and why it ultimately didn’t last as Byrds.

When “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” rode into stores at the end of August 1968, many original Byrds fans were confused; Top 40 and most of the emerging album-oriented rock stations on FM thought the record was too country.

And it damn sure wasn’t country enough for Nashville-centric county radio DJ’s; they were in no hurry to play a Dylan song like “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” or even the traditional “I Am a Pilgrim” as performed by that wild bunch of long-haired drug-taking hippies from the Left Coast.

Flying Burrito Brothers Take Off

Hillman details in his memoir why Parsons exited The Byrds just before the album’s release at the end of August ’68, how Clarence White joined the lineup in November, just before Hillman split to reconnect with Parsons as co-founders of the high-Flying Burrito Brothers.

The original four-man Burritos lineup that signed with A&M Records also featured “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow (who’d played pedal steel with the “Sweetheart…”-era  Byrds) and Chris Ethridge (bass).

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Nudie-suited Flying Burritos Brothers Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons, and Chris Ethridge are pictured with friends during the session with photographer Barry Feinstein for the cover of the Burritos’ debut album, “The Gilded Palace of Sin,” in 1969. 

They recorded their auspicious debut album, “The Gilded Palace of Sin,” in 1969, with hired guns on drums (Jon Corneal played on five of the album’s 11 tracks; Eddie Hoh, Sam Goldstein, and Popeye Phillips played drums on the other six).

Noted engineer Henry Lewy (The Association, The Monkees, Procol Harum, Joni Mitchell, Joe Cocker) was behind the board (only his third album as a producer-engineer). Ex-Byrds drummer Michael Clarke joined soon after the sessions.

Hillman recorded three more groundbreaking country-rock-bluegrass albums as a Burrito: “Burrito Deluxe” (1970, Parsons’ last LP with the band; he would OD in September 1973 at age 26); “The Flying Burrito Brothers” (1971, with singer-songwriter-guitarist Rick Roberts joining the band); and “Last of the Red Hot Burritos” (1972, with singer-guitarist Kenny Wertz, bassist Roger Bush, and fiddle player Byron Berline added to the lineup).

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A closer look at Chris Hillman’s Flying Burrito Brothers Nudie suit. Photos: Autry Library, Autry National Center.

As the “Last…” LP proved, the Burritos could be smokin’ hot onstage. But as with “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” Burritos records got little to no Top 40, progressive FM, or country airplay.

There were at least a few hard-core country fans who thought the Burritos were mocking country music artists by wearing the same kind of flashy “Nudie suits,” custom-made by Nudie (Cohn), the Rodeo Tailor in North Hollywood (just down Lankershim Boulevard from the world-famous Palomino honky-tonk nightclub), especially Parsons’ getup, with its embroidered pot leaves and pills.

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Nudie-suit-less Flying Burrito Brothers Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman open for The Rolling Stones as mayhem mounts at Altamont Raceway Park east of San Francisco on December 6, 1969. Photo: Getty Images, courtesy Chris Hillman.

The Burritos’ appearance at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival on December 6, 1969 – opening for Parsons’ pals The Rolling Stones and sharing a bill with Santana, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and Jefferson Airplane (and the Grateful Dead, who didn’t play), and with members of the local Hell’s Angels chapters working security paid with free beer – was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

How Hillman and his bandmates (Parsons, Kleinow, Clarke, and new guy Bernie Leadon) made it out alive is among the more dramatic passages in “Time Between.”

1970s: Manassas, the Alberts, Byrds Reunion, Solo LP’s, MCH

In the wake of his Burritos experience, Hillman was invited by longtime friend Stephen Stills to co-found Manassas in 1972.

Chris’ former Burrito Brother Al chris hillmanPerkins also joined the group, the lineup rounded out by Paul Harris (keyboards), Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels (bass), Dallas Taylor (drums), and Joe Lala (percussion).

Ex-Burrito fiddler Byron Berline and Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman were among the guest players on Manassas’ epic eponymous double-album debut, acclaimed at the time and long since considered a classic.

Stills, Hillman, and Taylor produced the late 1971 sessions, working with producer-engineers Ron and Howie Albert (Derek & The Dominos, Allman Brothers Band) at Criteria Studios in North Miami, Florida, nicknamed “Atlantic South” because so many Atlantic Records artists cut tracks there. Stills finished final recording, editing, and mixing at his home studio in London (where Wyman co-wrote and played bass on “The Love Gangster”).

In March ’72, Manassas launched a full-tilt tour of the U.S. and Europe to back the album, which went gold a month after its release in April.

The band recorded the not-so-epic follow-up album “Down the Road” at Criteria in ’73 (both LP’s for Atlantic), which also included guest appearances by Bobby Whitlock (Derek & The Dominos) and Joe Walsh (James Gang, Barnstorm).

Manassas continued to tour until Stills pulled the plug that fall, with 1974’s CSNY reunion looming on the horizon.

Hillman reunited with the other four original Byrds for an unsuccessful album simply titled “Byrds” (Asylum, 1973, their first sessions together since Gene Clark bailed the first time in 1966), then teamed with singer-songwriter J.D. Souther and Buffalo Springfield-Poco alum Richie Furay in the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band for a pair of albums (“Souther-Hillman-Furay” in 1974 and “Trouble in Paradise” in 1975, both for Asylum).

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Just about done with the band experience, Hillman recorded his first two solo albums, “Slippin’ Away” (1976, an all-star set produced by the Alberts) and “Clear Sailin'” (1977, a more band-oriented album with Poco-Firefall producer Jim Mascon), also for Asylum.

A couple of years later, Hillman’s former Byrds bandmates McGuinn and Clark were in talks with A&R reps at Capitol Records for a label deal. The duo’s manager, Ron Rainey, convinced Hillman – again initially reluctant to get into another band situation – to make it a trio.

McGuinn, Clark & Hillman recorded their eponymous debut album in 1978, once again teaming with Ron and Howie Albert. The MCH sessions took place mostly at Criteria in North Miami.

time between(This writer, who coincidentally attended the same junior high school and high school as the Alberts, was a decade later coincidentally working in Capitol’s Press Department in Hollywood when MCH was signed and invited to pen the liner notes that appeared on the “MCH” album’s front cover.)

Clark exited MCH soon after the album’s release; he was drinking heavily and never had been a big fan of flying from gig to gig. McGuinn and Hillman still assembled a backing unit and toured to support the LP, as the single “Don’t You Write Her Off” edged into the American Top 40.

A couple more albums for Capitol later (“City” and “McGuinn-Hillman,” both 1980), the duo split up on less-than-friendly terms, as Hillman recounts from his point of view in “Time Between.”

1980s: Down Home Praise, Desert Rose Band

In 1982, Hillman released the solo album “Morning Sky” on Sugar Hill, then teamed the following year with the group Down Home Praise to record an eponymous album for the Christian label Maranatha!

Hillman recorded another solo album, “Desert Rose,” for Sugar Hill, in 1984, then joined Al Perkins (former Burritos and Manassas bandmate), Bernie Leadon (an ex-Squirrel Barker and Burrito), David Mansfield (ex-Alpha Band), and Jerry Scheff (ex-Elvis, Doors), in the group Ever Call Ready for an eponymous album, released by Maranatha! in 1985.

The same year, Hillman, Perkins, and Berkeley, California-born singer-guitarist-banjo player Herb Pedersen (they’d met as 18-year-olds in 1963 at a bluegrass festival at the Icehouse in Pasadena, Herb with the Pine Valley Boys and Chris with the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers), played on sessions for Dan Fogelberg’s newgrass album “High Country Snows.”

Centerspread of Dan Fogelberg’s “High Country Snows” album, 1985. Herb Pedersen and Chris Hillman are pictured in the bottom row, with Doc Watson between them.

By that time, Pederson had recorded/and or toured with The Dillards, Earl Scruggs, Gram Parsons, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Rita Coolidge, and the Laurel Canyon Ramblers. He’d also played on scores of other sessions, and released three solo albums: “Southwest” and “Sandman” in 1976 and ’77 (both on Epic Records) and “Lonesome Feeling” in 1984 (for Sugar Hill).

As Hillman recollects, after the “High Country Snows” sessions, Fogelberg asked him to put together a band for a tour to back the album. Hillman immediately thought of Pedersen and Bill Bryson, a favorite country-rock and bluegrass bass player and songwriter from Southern California.

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Desert Rose band co-founders Herb Pedersen, Chris Hillman, and John Jorgenson in an early promo photo.

Bryson told Pedersen and Hillman about a red-hot 21-year-old guitarist he’d seen named John Jorgenson, from Redlands, California. After meeting Jorgenson, they found he not only shared their passion for bluegrass but also was a seasoned performer. He could sing everything from country to jazz (a specialty being Django Reinhart-inspired Gypsy jazz), and play piano and just about anything with strings, reeds, or a mouthpiece.

By the end of the Fogelberg tour, Jorgenson was urging the other three guys to expand the lineup and get serious about forming a group, making a record, and touring. Once again, Hillman was reluctant at first to get into yet another crazy band scenario (a la Byrds-Burritos-Manassas-SHF-MCH), but Jorgenson’s enthusiasm won out.

The four of them founded the Desert Rose Band, and to complete the lineup they rounded up JayDee Maness on pedal steel (he’d played with Gram Parsons pre-Byrds in the International Submarine Band and guested on the “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” sessions) and Steve Duncan on drums (ex-Stone Canyon Band with Rick Nelson, and the Academy of Country Music’s “Drummer of the Year” in 1989).

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The Desert Rose Band unloads for a late-’80s gig at the world-famous Palomino nightclub in North Hollywood, California. From left: JayDee Maness; Herb Pedersen; Chris Hillman; John Jorgenson; Bill Bryson; and Steve Duncan.

With the bandmembers’ originals and choice covers augmented by a couple of dozen collaborations with songwriter Steve Hill, DRB recorded five country-rock albums for Curb – “The Desert Rose Band” (1987), “Running” (1988), “Pages of Life” (1990), “True Love” (1991), and “Life Goes On” (1993) – and sent nine singles into the Top 10 on Billboard’s country chart. Along the trail, they played on stages around the world.

Hillman in his memoir fondly refers to the Desert Rose Band as the most professional, longest-lived, least dramatic, and most successful group he’s ever been a member of. He views DRB as his career pinnacle, musically – stellar songs, musicianship, harmonies, camaraderie – as well as commercially.

All those things were in play and on full display when DRB performed on “Austin City Limits” (Season 13, Episode 7, first aired on February 27, 1988).

1990s-Now: Chris & Herb; Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen; ‘Bidin’ My Time’

In the years since the Desert Rose Band rode off into the sunset in 1994, Hillman’s toured and recorded mostly bluegrass in an acclaimed acoustic duo with Pedersen (“Bakersfield Bound,” Sugar Hill, 1996; “Way Out West,” Back Porch, 2003; and “Live at Edwards Barn,” Rounder, 2010).

Hillman plugged back in for “Like A Hurricane,” his third solo album for Sugar Hill, in 1998, co-produced by Pedersen, Jorgenson, and Richie Podolor (Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night, Souther-Hillman-Furay Band), who also played keyboards and percussion on a couple of tracks.

Steve Duncan and Jerry Sheff played drums and bass on most of the album, as did keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon and guitarist Jim Monahan. JayDee Maness played pedal steel on a few tracks, L.A. session aces Lee Sklar (bass) and Hal Blaine (drums, percussion) played on a couple, David Crosby sang harmony on one, and David Lindley played slide guitar on another.

Chris and Herb have also recorded three albums for Rounder with Tony Rice and Larry Rice (“Out of the Woodwork,” 1997; “Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen,” 1999; and “Running Wild,” 2001).

Hillman had met the Rice brothers and their dad around the same time he met Pedersen, as he noted in a Facebook tribute on December 28, 2020, after Tony’s death.

“I met Tony Rice and his brother Larry in 1963 in Los Angeles,” Hillman wrote. “Tony was 12, Larry was 14, as I recall. They were in a bluegrass band called the Haphazards. Their Dad, Herb Rice, was the mandolin player in the Golden State Boys. When Herb decided to leave the band, Vern Gosdin stepped in as the mandolin player. When Vern became the guitar player, I got the call to take over on mandolin.”

In 2005, Pedersen produced Hillman’s “The Other Side” solo album, a collection of bluegrass-gospel songs and ballads, most co-written with Steve Hill, a favorite Hillman songwriting partner.

Among their appearances as an acoustic duo on record and onstage, Hillman and Pedersen guested on numerous TV shows, including this writer’s “House Blend with Stephen K. Peeples” series on SCVTV in Santa Clarita, California, taped on May 21, 2011.

During the music-and-interview show – later nominated for a WAVE award, equivalent to an Emmy in community television – Chris and Herb recounted key moments in their decades-long friendship and performed unplugged bluegrass arrangements of four songs from “Live at Edwards Barn.”

Among them was “Wheels,” the mournful Hillman-Gram Parsons tune first recorded by the Burritos in 1969 for “The Gilded Palace of Sin.”

Hillman, Pedersen, and Jorgensen have also gigged as a trio; among the most memorable shows was a one-night-only performance at the Troubadour on October 23, 2017, celebrating the release of Hillman’s “Bidin’ My Time” album for Rounder, his first solo album in a dozen years.

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John Jorgenson, Chris Hillman, and Herb Pedersen with bassist Mark Fain, bidin’ their time with a special performance at the Troubadour in West Hollywood on October 23, 2017. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

In “Time Between,” Hillman figuratively and visually takes the reader into the studio for an inside view of the sessions.

chris hillmanProduced by first-generation Byrds fan and Heartbreakers leader Tom Petty, “Bidin’ My Time” covered a wide musical range, mirroring Hillman’s 50-plus-year career.

Pedersen, who had toured with Petty’s reconstituted early Florida band Mudcrutch in 2016, helped TP and Chris connect, and served as executive producer of “Bidin’ My Time,” with Jorgenson guiding the musical arrangements during the 2017 sessions in L.A. and Malibu.

Steve Ferrone and Mark Fain (who also plays bass in the John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band, aka J2B2) were the rhythm section on most tracks, and Herb and John contributed vocals and guitars.

Special guests included McGuinn, Crosby, Maness, fiddle ace Gabe Witcher (a bandmate of Pedersen’s in the Laurel Canyon Ramblers), and Heartbreakers Petty, Benmont Tench (keyboards), and Mike Campbell (guitar).

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Herb Pedersen, Tom Petty, David Crosby, and Chris Hillman in the studio during the “Bidin’ My Time” sessions, 2017, with Croz’ coffee cup sitting precariously on the head of a conga drum given to TP by Ringo Starr. Photo by Josh Jove, courtesy of Chris Hillman.

Not just an album release party, the Troubadour show was also a special tribute to Petty, who had died suddenly three weeks earlier on October 2, just days after wrapping his latest tour with the Heartbreakers at the Hollywood Bowl.

Hillman had closed his album with an acoustic bluegrass version of Petty’s “Wildflowers” as an homage. No one had a clue “Bidin’ My Time” would be the last album TP would produce.

‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ 50th-Anniversary Tour

In 2018 Hillman joined McGuinn and Marty Stuart and Stuart’s Fabulous Superlatives for the much-acclaimed “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” 50th-anniversary tour.

Chris and Roger’s carefully constructed setlist and scripted yet extemporaneous-sounding between-songs stories traced The Byrds’ country roots and country-rock songs back to the second Byrds album, out in December ’65. The band’s version of “A Satisfied Mind” (a No. 1 hit for country superstar Porter Wagoner in 1955, penned by Red Hayes and Jack Rhodes) appeared on “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

Hillman’s “Have You Seen Her Face,” “Time Between,” and “The Girl with No Name” from “Younger Than Yesterday” are all country-rooted and of course also predate “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” which he and McGuinn and the Superlatives performed in its entirety.

Stuart and his aptly named sidekicks superbly played every genre in the Hillman catalog, from bluegrass to psychedelic rock. A huge Clarence White fan, Stuart played the late guitarist’s famous B-bender Telecaster during the sets. At the opening show at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles in July, Heartbreaker Mike Campbell also made a guest appearance on guitar.

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A Time for ‘Time Between’: In the Middle of a Pandemic

As his onstage repartee with McGuinn during the “Sweetheart…” tour again showed, Hillman is not only an engaging bandleader but also a cinematic storyteller.

His solo talks at the Library of Congress on October 16, 2009, and at the Museum of Ventura County on January 24, 2019, are essential viewing-listening for anyone interested in the history and impact of American music in the 20th century, as viewed from the inside out by a direct participant.

Around 2013, Hillman started early work on adapting some of those stories into a memoir, initially as a written legacy for his kids, and just for the record. Over the years, family, friends, and fans alike (relentlessly) encouraged him to complete it, which he finally did after coming off the road with McGuinn and Stuart.

Chris Hillman, 2018, as pictured on the back cover of his memoir “Time Between: My Life as a Byrd, Burrito Brother and Beyond,” published by BMG Books on Nov. 17, 2020. Photo: Kim Reed.

A chance encounter with Scott Bomar, head of BMG Books, led to a publishing deal and Hillman’s last round of editing and rewriting, with no ghostwriter required.

“It was all a pleasurable thing, and I got a lot of compliments,” Hillman said during the book signing. “The best compliment I got was when Scott said, ‘You know, when I first read this, I knew we didn’t need a co-writer,’ and that’s a big compliment to me.

“As a writer, and I don’t claim to be Ernest Hemingway or anything, but I think as Faulkner said about Hemingway [paraphrasing]: ‘You won’t need a dictionary to read any of his books.’ Well, you won’t need a dictionary to read my book,” he said. “I wrote it as if I was talking to Herb and John on tour: ‘So here’s what happened…[because] I was there, I was the eyewitness.'”

Chris Hillman ‘Time Between’ Q&A with Stephen K. Peeples, Pt. 1

Peeples: Well, I’ve only got 15 minutes with you and of course I have nine million questions and we could go for hours and hours, but I know you have other interviews. So forgive me, I’m just gonna jump in and throw some questions at you. Is that OK?

Hillman: That’s fine. Yeah, and maybe we can make up the lost time later. We’ll go for now. OK?

Byrds & Miles Davis

Peeples: I need to hear the story about how Miles Davis connected The Byrds with Columbia.

Hillman: OK. We were working with Jim Dickson, who I actually I’d met when I was in the Squirrel Barkers and then I worked with him in the Golden State Boys. We were recording an album at World Pacific at night in the Golden State Boys, later be known as The Hillmen, as you know.

So, when we got hold of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” I don’t know, Jim had a demo of it, but it was us playing it. So he took it to a gentleman named Benny Shapiro, who owned the Renaissance; it was a jazz club across the street from Ciro’s, right near the Hyatt House on Sunset Strip.

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The Byrds, 1965: Jim (Roger) McGuinn, Chris Hillman, Gene Clark, David Crosby, and Michael Clarke. Photo: Getty Images, courtesy Chris Hillman.

He takes the demo over and he plays it for Benny. He says, “What do you think of this group I’m working with?” And, upstairs is his 13-year-old daughter, and she hears the song and she comes running down: “Dad, who is that band? I love it!” And Benny says to Jim, “That’s good enough for me; let me make a phone call.”

Well, Miles Davis was a huge artist on Columbia at the time; [Benny] calls Miles Davis,  unbeknownst to any of us, we never even met him. We knew him, we knew who he was, and admired him, but Miles Davis picks the phone up and calls the head of Columbia, Goddard Lieberson, and he says, “You gotta sign these guys. They swing; they’re really good.” He never heard us. He did it as a favor to Benny, who was a good friend of his.

So we got a singles deal with Columbia, which meant that if the single took off, we would have a situation where we could make an album and renegotiate the situation. That’s what happened.

And, actually funny enough, Stephen, goofing around the studio one day, we cut one of Miles’ songs, “Milestones,” just for fun, it was instrumental, of course, they’re all instrumentals. But, I don’t even know if it went on a record. So that’s the story, and it’s a great story. I wish I could have met him. I wish I could have met Miles Davis.

Peeples: Good Lord, I would love to hear your version of “Milestones.”

Hillman: [sings the head riff of “Milestones”] Yeah, yeah. OK.

Peeples: Is that still around?

Hillman: I don’t know what happened to it. I’ll be talking to my lead singer, Mr. McGuinn on Friday, and I’ll ask him whatever happened. I don’t know if it went on a record or what, so, we’ll see. [Still unknown. — Ed.]

Byrds & Bob Dylan

Peeples: Well, while we’re talking about Byrds and [Ciro’s]: The Ciro’s gig where Bob Dylan showed up [on March 26, 1965, and joined them onstage for Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me To Do”]. Can you recap that evening for us, what that was like, the excitement in the room – it was also kind of [during] the transition between the Beat scene on the Strip and the hippies.

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The Byrds, 1965 (clockwise, from top left): Jim (Roger) McGuinn, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, Michael Clarke, and David Crosby. Photo: Jim Dickson.

Hillman: Correct, that’s right. Well, we had really started to develop a following. I think it was right before “Tambourine Man” was released [on April 12]. But Dylan showed up one night.

Now, he had heard our version and he loved it, which I mentioned in the book. He said, “Man, you can dance to it.” Well, McGuinn had changed the time around it from a 2/4 song – it was like Bob Dylan wrote that like a country song – and Roger put it in more of a 4/4 groove so you could dance to it.

But [Dylan] showed up at Ciro’s, and I can’t remember who got him up there, but he got up and played harmonica with us on a song or two. Of course, I was just the bass player, the shy guy in the back, so I would watch it all.

And the funny thing is, I think it was a day or two later, a friend of Jim Dickson’s named Lance Reventlow, the heir to the Woolworth fortune – I don’t know if I put that in the book [yes, P. 79] – and Lance had also designed a sports car, the Scarab sports car, Grand Prix car. He took us all out sailing on this huge catamaran he had. And Dylan went on the boat, I was on it, I think McGuinn and David Crosby, a couple of other people. I don’t think I said one word to Bob Dylan that day. Later on, I did. I would run into him and he was always a very, very nice guy to talk to.

Hillman, The Shy Guy

Peeples: Now, you mentioned being a shy guy. I just recently saw “The Big T.N.T. Show” where you guys played three songs live [taped at the Moulin Rouge club in Hollywood on November 29, 1965], which was really great…really early… But you’re completely off in your own zone.

Hillman: Yep.

Peeples: Do you remember that show and what your state of mind was and what you were thinking?

Hillman: Well, it was all exciting. It was very exciting. We had gone to “The T.A.M.I. Show” [October 28-29, 1964, Santa Monica Civic Auditorium]. I think we snuck in and gotten to see them film “The T.A.M.I. Show.” I think Michael Clarke [Byrds drummer and Hillman hi-jinx co-conspirator] actually walked in, and they thought he was Brian Jones. So he just walked in the back door, ‘cause he did, he looked like Brian Jones. But yeah, “The T.N.T. Show” is the next version of that kind of a thing.

It was a lot of fun, and it was live, it was great. At that point in my life, having come from bluegrass, which is not necessarily the most outgoing, entertaining—you know, you’re not an entertainer in bluegrass; you’re sort of serious about your music. You’ve got a lot to think about. Going into a rock band, I had to rethink it all, but I was very shy…I just played my part. Within six months to a year, I started gaining my confidence and of course went on from there.

Manassas ‘Pieces’

Peeples: I wanted to jump forward a little bit because I just had a really nice conversation with Ron and Howard Albert a couple of days ago.

Hillman: Oh, two of the best producers in the business. The best. Yeah.

Peeples: They spoke very highly of you, and Ron was very flattered by what you wrote about him in the book. But we talked about the three [actually four] albums that you guys worked on together, and so I’d like to do that with you if we could…

Hillman: Sure.

Peeples: …starting with the double “Manassas” album. I’m gonna jump forward to “Pieces.” Are you familiar with Manassas’ “Pieces,” the album [of outtakes from the late 1971 sessions released on CD in 2009]?

Hillman: Yeah, I’m familiar to the point of I went over to Stephen’s house and I was trying to convince him to, “Could we at least finish ‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke’?”, because all we have is a verse.

I said, “Why don’t we think about recording a couple of new cuts for the album?”

And he said, “No, I wanna keep it really down-home.”

I said, “Really? It’s down-home ‘cause you didn’t finish this one song.” But anyway, I’m familiar with it. It’s OK, yeah.

Peeples: On that particular group of songs, I really, really loved your version of “Panhandle Rag.” You remember recording that?

Hillman: Is that on the “Pieces” album? ‘Cause I know we cut it on “Ever Call Ready,” Al [Perkins] and Bernie Leadon and I [in 1985].

Peeples: Yeah, that was later, but this was an earlier version…

Hillman: Ohhhhhh, OK.

Peeples: [Joe] Lala’s playing box…

Hillman: [laughs]

Peeples: This is the one where one of the guys – it must have been Berline – while you were in the middle of your mandolin solo, he says, “Curly Hillman on the mandolin.” You remember that?

Hillman: Oh, yeah, yes, I do.

Peeples: Was that Berline who said that?

Hillman: Yes, I’m certain it was. [chuckles] I have to go look at that thing, get that CD out, and listen to that. Yeah, I forgot about that.

Peeples: Some really good stuff and a couple of things were obviously rerecorded for later albums by you guys individually, but it holds up as an album by itself. I was shocked. I thought it gonna be, just, pieces, but there’s actually some good stuff on there.

Hillman: I really have to revisit that, yeah. We were having fun that day, and just playing I think is what happened. I don’t think Stephen played on “Panhandle Rag.” I don’t conceive of him playing on that, but it was probably Al, Byron, and I, and Joe, yeah, OK.

Peeples: First week in Miami.

Hillman: Ah, OK.

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Manassas booking agency photo, 1972: Paul Harris, Joe Lala, Chris Hillman, Dallas Taylor, Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels, Stephen Stills, and Al Perkins.

Joining Manassas; Stills’ Gift: a Gibson Lloyd Loar 1924

Peeples: So [joining Manassas]: You got the call from Stephen – and you were kind of in a weird place at that time, right? And then you got the call from him.

Hillman: Well, I’ll tell you. I had taken the Burritos as far as I could. In fact, we really were doing well. We were doing incredible business. We had done two albums without [Gram] Parsons: We did the blue album, the eponymous Flying Burrito Brothers [June 1971]. But it was a good album. Byron and Rick Roberts were in the band, and then the last one we did was “Last of the Red Hot Burritos” [February 1972] which was a live album, which was a great album. Fantastic.

So, we were on the road, I run into Stephen – he’s on the road with the Memphis Horns, and of course, we get together and talk afterward. You know, we were pals when he was in Buffalo Springfield [Hillman famously talked owner Elmer Valentine into booking Buffalo Springfield at The Whisky in spring 1966, a seven-week house band stint that essentially launched BS’s career].

But, two weeks later, he calls me, he said, “Can you come to Miami and da-da-da-da – I’m doing another album.” I said, “Yeah, I’d love to.” So, that’s what happened. I went down there and when he gave me that mandolin…

Peeples: Yeah, but tell me the story. Why did he give it to you and what did he say to you when he did?

Hillman: Oh, I’m sorry. So, of course, in the book, he says, “You know, I gotta tell you. That mandolin I saw you playing in Colorado six months ago was a horrible instrument.” I said, “Yeah, OK.”

I said, “You don’t normally tell another musician his instrument’s bad.” I said, “No, it is a bad one. It’s not a good mandolin.” And I wasn’t playing—all the time I was in The Byrds, I didn’t even own one. I quit playing for four years.

So he said, “I wanna show you something,” So he pulls the case out of the back, brings it out, he says, “Check this out.” And I open it up, and I said, “My God, it’s a Gibson Lloyd Loar 1924!”

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Chris Hillman displays the Gibson Lloyd Loar 1924 F5 mandolin Stephen Stills gave him in 1972 in this screencap from Hillman’s second “Time Between” interview with Stephen K. Peeples on February 25, 2021.

I’m lookin’ at it. He says, “Play it.”  I played it.

He says, “What do you think?”

I said, “It’s fantastic! It’s beautiful!”

“Do you like it?”

I said, “Who wouldn’t? I love it!”

He said, “It’s yours.”

I said, “What are you talking about? I can’t take this.”

He says, “I want you to have this. I bought this, I got this for you.”

I said, “Why?”

He says, “For what you did for us at the Whisky a Go-Go.”

I said, “I didn’t do anything.”

[He said,] “You got us a job at the Whisky a Go-Go.”

I said, “All I did was tell Elmer Valentine [who owned the Whisky on the Sunset Strip] to take a chance on you and hire you guys, ‘cause I thought you were really good. I’d heard you at a rehearsal.

And [Valentine] said, ‘I’m taking you on your word, Chris. I’m gonna put ‘em in for two days.” He kept them for a week or two [and a total of seven]. And, this is the funny part, though: So I went, “My God, I didn’t really do anything.”

[Stills] says, “Please…”

Then the second day we’re working, Stephen says, “Can I talk to you for a minute?” And I go, “Oh, God, I must have screwed up yesterday; he’s gonna take the mandolin back. Oh, God, what did I do?”

And he says, “What do you think about putting a band together, with the guys you’ve been working with on the sessions?”

It took me two seconds and I went, “Yeah!”

He said, “Let’s do it,” and I said, “I’d love to.”

Stephen, to me, Stephen Stills was at the top of his game, ’72, ’73. I mean, he was singin’ great, he was playin’ great. The concept of Manassas went from a single album to a double, and then he comes up with these parts, these little vignettes of the country part and the rock part and the blues part, whatever. So it was a great album and we went gold on that thing. Double album. It went Top 5.

Peeples: Yeah, I think what everybody loved about it was the smorgasbord. It was really a showcase of all kinds of American music, and it all really worked so well.

Hillman: Yeah, it was a great band; I had so much fun in that band, and we played all over the world. It was great. I learned a lot of music from Stephen. I really did. His acoustic guitar playing alone I learned a lot from him.

I learned a lot of songwriting tips, little things like we’d start writing a song together, it wouldn’t work, he’d always save everything.

And I’d go, “Are you going to save that lyric?” He said, “Yeah, you never know, ‘cause a year from now, I might need – and this might be the lyric that fits.” I said, “God, I never thought of that. Yeah.” So, I did that. I’d always save everything.

[Hillman and Stills co-wrote “It Doesn’t Matter” and “Bound to Fall” while Stills wrote just about everything else on “Manassas.”]

Peeples: If you look at the stuff he did, there are early songs that he redid from Buffalo Springfield to his solo albums to Crosby, Stills & Nash. So, yeah, keep everything, you never know.

And back to Ron and Howard: They told me the story about how when they were recording the band, that they removed the light from the “RECORDING” light so that the band, especially Stephen, would not know when the recording machine was on…just because they wanted to roll tape on everything.

Hillman: Oh, yeah. They rolled it on everything; they were smart. Ron and Howie had great ideas and Stephen would be working, God knows, unbelievable hours, and Ron and Howie would [tag-team with] each other, of course. Excellent.

And then, of course, we do the Manassas stuff, the double album, and the second album. Wasn’t a great album; not at all their fault, our fault.

‘Slippin’ Away’ from Bob Johnston

Hillman: When I did my solo album, my first solo album for Asylum, [“Slippin’ Away,” 1974] … as I write in the book, I had gotten a hold of this guy. He was a very well-known producer in Nashville, and we did not connect. We did not connect.

And I call up Stills. He says, “What’s going on? How’s your record going?”

I said, “It’s not going good at all. I can’t seem to communicate with the guy I’m working with.”

And he says, “Get rid of him. I’m gonna get Ron and Howie to come up.”

I said, “I’d love that.” So Ron and Howie, I called them, they came to L.A. and we started recording. First album was “Slippin’ Away,” yeah. It was a good record.

Peeples: Now, you don’t mention him by name [here or in the book], but we’re talking about Bob Johnston as the original producer.

Hillman: You know, I believe you got that right. It’s funny enough, when I mention that, McGuinn says, “Ohhh.” He had an issue with Bob Johnston too, where he starts a record with him – I mean, Bob Johnston did Dylan and he did Cash, but I mean basically turned the machine on. He was just there.

He wasn’t a bad guy, but my God. It’s when he said to me – you’ll love this – he said, “All we gotta do, Chris, is get these guys some organic apple juice and they’ll play the tracks just like you want ‘em.”

And I went, “What? What are you talking about?”

[laughs] Bob and I parted company and he was not happy. “You can’t fire me.”

I said, “I’m sorry, it’s not working. It’s not working.”

Producer-engineers Howie and Ron Albert behind the board in Miami in 2013. Photo courtesy the Alberts.

Peeples: Well, now, all of the sessions that you did with Ron and Howard were in Miami, with the exception of this one: You worked at Cherokee…and one or two other L.A. studios, right?

Hillman: Correct. Cherokee, yeah.

Peeples: You mention this in the book in a couple of places – when you went to Miami, you stayed at a house that was being leased.

Hillman: Correct.

Peeples: OK. So, do you remember anything about that arrangement? Do you remember Cindy Johnson and Jeri Jenkins and Home at Last?

Hillman: No, I don’t. I don’t know, let’s see, the people that cleaned the house or something. I don’t know. The first time I went for the Manassas, I went to whatever house Stephen had leased, and so we followed that game plan when McGuinn, Clark & Hillman recorded in Miami, and I did; I talked Roger and Gene into going to Miami – well, you were working with us, too. You were at Capitol. And we leased a house and all of the above. I don’t remember people, I don’t remember anybody like that, I’m sorry to say.

Peeples: Well, real quickly, the story is that Ron and Howard at Criteria met these two girls who I went to high school with [so did the Alberts], and the girls [Cindy Johnson and Jeri Jenkins] formed a concierge company, basically, that provided the lodging and food and all of the other stuff – no drugs or sex – for the musicians who were in town recording at Criteria, so they didn’t have to stay at a hotel. They would stay at some big mansion on the beach that these two girls set up. So their business was called Home at Last, and they [received “special thanks” credits on] 40 different albums. They worked with the Bee Gees and all kinds of people [CSN, Jimmy Buffett, Allman Brothers Band, Eagles also among them.]

Hillman: Mm-hmm. I wondered how he got into finding those houses. Well, yeah, Home at Last is familiar; I don’t remember them, I’m sorry to say.

McGuinn, Clark & Hillman

Peeples: So you mentioned McGuinn, Clark & Hillman: Let’s put that together. There was a deal afoot at Capitol for Roger, and then what happened after that?

Hillman: As far as I know, the deal was for Gene and Roger, and then Ron Rainey was their manager, I think. And they added me to the deal and it became a little more lucrative for everyone. I don’t know why, it wasn’t because of me, but it was just a “three Byrds better than two” or something.

Chris Hillman, Roger McGuinn, and Gene Clark, from the photo session for the cover of “McGuinn, Clark & Hillman,” 1979. Photo: Jim McCrary.

But, I liked McGuinn, Clark & Hillman. I’ll tell you: It was a good band. Why we didn’t just – no, we didn’t want to call it The Byrds ‘cause David [Crosby] wasn’t involved and Michael [Clarke] wasn’t involved, but we made some good records.

The first album we did was pretty darn good, and Ron and Howie did add a lot of stuff that the other guys might not have agreed with, but I thought what they added worked pretty well.

Peeples: Like what?

Hillman: Strings, and Gene’s song, “Feelin’ Higher,” and they had the background voices. It was beautiful. And once again, Gene Clark steps up to the plate with some unbelievably beautiful songs. “You are the wind that fills the sails of jealousy.” I mean, he was writing lyrics like that, Stephen, when he was 19, and we’re going, “My God!”

I asked David Crosby once, I said—actually, David was working with me on the Petty album [Hillman’s “Bidin’ My Time” in 2017], and I said, “Did you ever see Gene read a book when we were on the road?”

He said, “No, did you?”

I said, “No. Where did he get that?”

He said, “I don’t know.”

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Ron Albert and the author, Los Angeles, 1979. Photo: Henry Diltz.

[Clark] would come up with the most beautiful, poetic lyrics; we aspired, all of us, to be able to write that well, and he was prolific. He would write three, four songs a week. But a wonderful guy. I worked on just about every record he did after The Byrds, but a tortured soul, I’m sorry to say. He lasted a long time, but he was really a talented guy. He really was. You know that ‘cause you were around him.

Peeples: Yeah…well, working with him in bands, you lost him twice: You lost him in The Byrds and then lost him…

Hillman: I mean, Ron and Howie were pullin’ their hair out when Gene was doing his lead vocals on that album, ‘cause he just wasn’t prepared. And they’re very patient. They had to have been to work with the Manassas band. But they were having a lot of – they told me, “I can’t get Gene to sing this. He’s a good singer.” I said, “Yeah, he’s a real good singer.” But anyway, it all got done and everything went where it was gonna go.

Peeples: Well, now, there was a tour afterward that was pretty successful. You guys hooked up with [guitar player] John Sambataro and…

Hillman: Yeah, Johnne – great player, great singer, great friend of mine. We had Johnne, we had one of my favorite drummers, Greg Thomas, who I think is not with us anymore; he had Parkinson’s. But Greg was such a good drummer, and I loved playing bass to Greg Thomas. He was so much fun, and Johnne – it was a good band. It was a good band.

Bakersfield Bound

Peeples: Well, Chris, I know we’re runnin’ late here, but I gotta get one more…thread in here having to do with Bakersfield. The Bakersfield story runs through your book pretty much from [neighbor] Bill Smith in 1961 playing you Buck Owens’ first, you know, the first time you heard Buck Owens…

Hillman: Yeah, yeah, yeah…

Peeples: …all the way forward to Desert Rose Band and JayDee Maness (who played pedal steel with Gram Parsons in the International Submarine Band, on The Byrds’ “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” and with Buck Owens’ Buckaroos) and West Coast country, and meeting Buck and Dwight Yoakam. Can you trace that Bakersfield [connection], and the whole West Coast country thing that DRB represented?

Hillman: Well, you know, in high school—and I was just learning the guitar in 1960, and I would watch, even before 1960, I would watch Spade Cooley every Saturday night live, Channel 5 [KTLA in Los Angeles]. And then “Town Hall Party,” I believe was Tex Ritter, if not Cliffie Stone. “Hometown Jamboree” was Cliffie Stone, that’s right.

Peeples: Right, right.

Hillman: Tex Ritter. “Cal’s Corral.” Every Saturday night and Sunday, I would watch “Cal’s Corral.” Why? To watch the Golden State Boys. And then I end up gettin’ to play in that band for six months [he joined . I just couldn’t believe it.

That was it; I loved the music. There was something that connected with me, and of course, when I went from folk music to bluegrass, that really hit a nerve with me. I loved it. Still do. So, that really was it, and the whole connection, getting to meet Buck finally.

He told me one night—he was so nice; we played at one of his birthdays when he was around still—and he says to me, “Chris, you’re a darn good singer!” And, you know, when you hear that from somebody that you really admire, you’re 10 feet tall.

The time Herb [Pedersen] and I played, we played the week before he died at the Crystal Palace and he came down to see us. I think it’s in the book where he puts his arms around us, and we were warming up, and he says, “Man, you guys, you sound like Don and I,” Don Rich [fiddler-guitarist-backing vocalist in Owens’ renowned backing band, The Buckaroos].

That was the night his guy overpaid me, and I gave the check back and Buck says, “Keep it. You earned it. And save your money.” I love that. He said, “Save your money.” One of the smartest businessmen in music, barely got out of high school, ends up owning television, radio, you know, brilliant man. Nice man, etc.

So that was a big honor to have him comment on my singing. Connie Smith did, too, when we were out with Marty [Stuart] and Roger [on the “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” 50th-anniversary tour in 2018].

Peeples: Wow.

Hillman: “You’re a good country singer.” I said, “Wow.” And I wasn’t, you know, Stephen, when I started out, I could sing in tune. I wasn’t a good singer. I learned how to convey the emotion, let’s put it that way.

Peeples: And your work with Herb, I mean, “Bakersfield Bound,” and then connecting with Dwight to do that tribute special to Buck up there.

Hillman: Oh, yeah. Yeah, we did play at the funeral. That’s about all I can relay about; we opened that service with “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and everybody was there. I mean, Brad Paisley played, and Dwight, and, oh gosh, Trace Adkins and various people. It was an interesting day. Poor guy.

The only thing is, you know, Buck purposely came back that night to play for that family that had driven to hear him and he was going home, and they said, “Oh, we drove all the way from Portland,” or wherever, and he says, “OK, alright, well give me a few minutes,” and he goes up and plays a show for them. And he goes home and quietly, gently falls asleep, and he was gone. There you go. There’s the man to do something like that.

[Hillman was also the designated bass player in the all-star SuperBand tribute to Owens along with Dwight Yoakam, Brad Paisley, and Billy F. Gibbons on the Academy of Country Music Awards telecast in May 2006.]

Anyway, thank you for having me on your show. I gotta go. If you talk to Ron and Howie again, give ‘em my best, will you? I love ‘em. I’d love to make another record with them someday. I don’t know if that’ll happen.

Peeples: Well, they send their love to you too, also….thanks, buddy, have a great one. Love to Connie, love to the kids. Be well.

Hillman: Thank you, Stephen, thanks very much.

chris hillman
Screencap from Chris Hillman’s “Time Between” interview with Stephen K. Peeples, February 2021.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

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.

For more information about Chris Hillman, and to order an autographed copy of “Time Between,” visit www.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.

Also:
* www.rounder.com (label)

* www.skylineonline.com (for booking)

Special thanks to Connie Pappas-Hillman, Cary Baker/Conqueroo, Rory Aronsky, and Pete Frame.


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 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 his YouTube channel for more exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews.


Article: Chris Hillman ‘Time Between’ Autobiography Q&A, Pt. 1
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Category: News and Reviews
Article Source: StephenKPeeples.com