2017 album from the Byrds / Flying Burrito Brothers / Manassas legend. Produced by Tom Petty who appears on the record with The Heartbreakers plus guest slots from David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Desert Rose Band's John Jorgenson, Herb Pedersen and Jay Dee Maness, premier upright bassist Mark Fain, singer/guitarist Josh Jov and fiddler Gabe Witcher.
Chris Hillman is one of the under appreciated guys in 20th Century rock history and his CV is mind boggling. From his early recorded beginnings as a mandolin player in two bluegrass outfits: The Scottsville Squirrel Barkers and The Hillman, somehow he was in the right place at the right time and with the right face to be picked as the bass player for The Byrds in late 1964 joining Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, David Crosby and Michael Clarke in what would become one of the most important bands of the mid-60s. After the departure of Clark in early 1966, Hillman had to cover backing vocals and suddenly on their fourth album: ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ (1967) he became a songwriter and lead vocalist of class placing four and half songs on said album, more than any other member.
Crosby was fired during the making of their fifth album ‘The Notorious Byrd Brothers’ and with Clarke leaving too, McGuinn and Hillman finished off the album themselves before building a new line-up featuring Chris’ cousin Kevin Kelley on drums and the then unknown Gram Parsons taking over Crosby’s role. This combination recorded the ground-breaking ‘Sweetheart Of The Rodeo’ (1968) album which many see as the first “Country Rock” album. Parsons quit after refusing to tour South Africa, whilst Hillman followed a few months later that September and joined Parsons to start a new band: The Flying Burrito Brothers.
In early 1969 they signed with A&M and recorded ‘The Gilded Palace Of Sin’, another album that sold little at the time but is now seen as a pioneering classic, mixing Country, Rock and R&B. By the turn of the 1970s, Parsons was in trouble - his addictions were starting to get the better of him and he was fired shortly after completing their second album ‘Burrito Deluxe’. Hillman assumed leadership and their third and final album ‘The Flying Burrito Brothers’ (1971) was a polished slice of early Country Smooth Rock, it’s sound paving the way for The Eagles - indeed, Bernie Leadon who joined the Burritos for their second album would go on to join the world beating band soon after.
Hillman accepted an offer from Stephen Stills to join his band Manassas as his right hand man and in April 1972 their classic double album was released which featured Hillman heavily on rhythm guitar and vocals and grabbed some writing credits. After a brief diversion in late 1972 in a Byrds reunion album with the original line-up (which was poorly received), Hillman returned to Manassas duties for their second album. Unfortunately ‘Down The Road’ was also a let down after the majesty of past achievements and they split too.
In 1974 Hillman was back in a new group, put together by Asylum Records boss David Geffen: The Souther Hillman Furay Band, teaming our hero with singer songwriter J.D. Souther who was involved with The Eagles and Richie Furay (ex-Buffalo Springfield and Poco). Although their first album was a modest success the second wasn’t and the three men went their separate ways in 1975. Geffen offered Hillman a solo deal and finally Chris went out to establish his own name. He released two records during this period which were pleasant soft rock outings but failed to sell. By the end of the 1970s he had teamed up with two of his formed Byrd mates Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark. Their first album contained the US Top 40 hit “Don’t You Write Her Off” and it led to Gene Clark partying his way out of the group. McGuinn and Hillman stumbled on as a duo with another couple of albums but by early 1981 it was all over and Hillman ended his ‘pop’ career.
After a year out, getting himself back in shape, in 1982 he released his third solo album ‘Morning Sky’ on an independent label. This record saw him return to his country roots, with a laid back feel, playing covers with friends. He followed it up two years later with the fuller sounding ‘Desert Rose’ and this in turn led to the formation of his next group The Desert Rose Band. Finally, Chris hit success on his own terms as least in the vast US country market. They even picked up a couple of nominations at the Grammys in 1988 and 1990.
The band ran out of steam by 1993 and Hillman took a few years off. When he returned in 1996 he started a run of albums over the next ten years which included two solo albums, two duo albums with his friend and regular picker Herb Pederson and three albums in the bluegrass combination Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pederson.
Apart from a 2010 live album with Herb, Chris has been so absent from the scene that we assumed he’d retired. But, what a way to return with Tom Petty producing and his old Byrds band members joining in the fun too! Welcome back Chris!