Chris Hillman performing in 2004.
|Birth name||Christopher Hillman|
|Born||December 4, 1944 Los Angeles, California..|
|Genres||Folk, Bluegrass, Folk rock, Rock, Country rock, Country.|
|Occupations||Singer-songwriter, Musician, Songwriter.|
|Instruments||guitar, mandolin, bass guitar, vocals.|
|Years active||1960 - Present|
|Labels||Columbia, Sugar Hill, Asylum, A&M, Rounder.|
|Associated acts||Scottsville Squirrel Barkers, The Hillmen, The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas, Souther Hillman Furay Band, McGuinn, Clark and Hillman, Desert Rose Band, Herb Pedersen, Tony Rice, Larry Rice, Chris Hillman & Herb Pedersen.|
Along with frequent collaborator Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman was a key figure in the development of country rock, virtually defining the genre through his seminal work in The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers, and later became the leader of the country act Desert Rose Band.
Chris Hillman, the youngest of four children, spent his early years on his family's ranch home in rural North San Diego County, approximately 110 miles from Los Angeles. He has credited his older sister with exciting his interest in country and folk music when she returned from college in the late 1950s with folk music records by The New Lost City Ramblers and others. Hillman soon began watching many of the country music shows broadcast on local television in southern California at the time, such as Town Hall Party, Spade Cooley and Cal's Corral. Hillman's mother encouraged his musical interests, and bought him his first guitar, but shortly after he developed an interest in bluegrass, and fell in love with the mandolin. When he was barely 15, Hillman went to Los Angeles to see legendary bluegrass band the Kentucky Colonels at the Ash Grove, and later convinced his family to allow him to take the train by himself up to Berkeley, California to take lessons from mandolinist Scott Hambly. It was around this time that Hillman's father died.
Hillman became well known in San Diego's folk music community as a solid player, which garnered him an invitation to join his first band, the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers. The band lasted barely two years and only recorded one album, Bluegrass Favorites, which was distributed in supermarkets, but has earned a legendary, albeit posthumous, reputation as the spawning ground for a number of musicians who went on to play in the Eagles, Flying Burrito Brothers, Byrds, Hearts and Flowers, and the Country Gazette. When the band broke up at the end of 1963, Hillman received an invitation to join the Golden State Boys, then regarded as the top bluegrass band in Southern California, featuring future country star Vern Gosdin, his brother Rex, and banjoist Don Parmley (later of the Bluegrass Cardinals). Shortly thereafter the band changed its name to The Hillmen, and soon Chris was appearing regularly on television and using a fictitious ID, "Chris Hardin," to allow the underage musician into the country bars where many of his gigs were held. When the Hillmen folded, he briefly joined a spinoff of Randy Sparks' New Christy Minstrels known as the Green Grass Revival.
At this point a frustrated Hillman considered quitting music and enrolling at UCLA, but he received an offer from The Hillmen's former manager and producer Jim Dickson to join Jim (later Roger) McGuinn, David Crosby, Gene Clark and Michael Clarke in a new band, The Byrds. Hillman was recruited to play electric bass guitar, although he had never picked up the instrument before. Thanks to his bluegrass background he was able to quickly develop his own unique, melodic playing style on the instrument. The Byrds' first single, a jangly cover of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man", was a huge international hit and marked the birth of the musical genre "folk rock". During the mid-'60s, the Byrds ranked as one of the most successful and influential American pop groups, recording a string of hits including "Turn! Turn! Turn!," "Eight Miles High," and "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star".
Hillman kept a low profile on the band's first two albums, on which McGuinn and Clark sang lead vocals with Crosby adding a high harmony. However, the departure of Gene Clark in 1966 and the growing restlessness of David Crosby allowed Hillman the opportunity to develop as a singer and songwriter within the group. He came into his own on the Byrds' 1967 album Younger Than Yesterday, co-writing and sharing lead vocals (with McGuinn) on the hit "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star." Hillman also wrote and sang the minor hit "Have You Seen Her Face", as well as "Thoughts and Words", "Time Between" and "The Girl with No Name", with the latter two songs showing his bluegrass and country roots. Hillman's prominence continued with the Byrds' next album, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, on which he shared songwriting credit on seven of the album's eleven songs.
Internal strife dogged the Byrds, and by the beginning of 1968 the band was down to two original members, Hillman and McGuinn, along with Hillman's cousin Kevin Kelley on drums. They then hired Gram Parsons to replace Crosby. Together with Hillman, Parsons changed the Byrds' musical direction, helping to usher in a new era of music known as "country rock" when they recorded the album Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Once again, Hillman seemed to recede into the background, leaving most of the vocals to Parsons and McGuinn while he concentrated on bass and mandolin. Parsons left the band shortly thereafter, and Hillman brought in former Kentucky Colonels guitarist Clarence White as a replacement, but this lineup was short-lived when Hillman himself left a few weeks later.
Hillman teamed with Parsons again, this time as a vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, to form the Flying Burrito Brothers. Further honing their pioneering country rock hybrid sound by combining the energy, instrumentation and attitude of rock and roll with some of the issues and themes of country music, the Burritos recorded the landmark The Gilded Palace of Sin, followed in 1970 by Burrito Deluxe. Parsons left the group in 1971 and Hillman stayed on for two less successful records, bringing in the Byrds' Michael Clarke, future Eagles guitarist Bernie Leadon and future Firefall singer Rick Roberts. This lineup was also short-lived.
Before the Flying Burrito Brothers disbanded, Hillman joined Stephen Stills' band Manassas, where he remained until 1973, when he briefly rejoined the original lineup of the Byrds for a reunion album on Asylum Records.
In 1974, Hillman teamed with singer-songwriter Richie Furay who had co-founded both Buffalo Springfield and Poco, and songwriter J. D. Souther, who had co-written much of the Eagles' early repertoire, in the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. The three never quite gelled and finally went their separate ways in 1975 after two albums and internal squabbles.
Hillman released two solo albums, Slippin' Away and Clear Sailin', which included several songs co-written with Crawdaddy magazine editor Peter Knobler. One of their songs, "Step on Out," was recorded by The Oak Ridge Boys on their 1985 album and became the title cut. He was also an in-demand studio musician, playing and singing on sessions for Gene Clark, Dillard & Clark, Poco, Dan Fogelberg and others. After an early 1977 British tour reunited him with Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark, the trio stayed together for two McGuinn-Clark-Hillman albums (on which Hillman continued his songwriting collaboration with Knobler) and one under the McGuinn-Hillman moniker, experiencing one hit single with "Don't You Write Her Off" in 1979.
By the beginning of the 1980s, Hillman returned to his bluegrass and country roots, recording two acclaimed, mostly-acoustic albums for Sugar Hill Records with singer-guitarist-banjo player Herb Pedersen, a former member of The Dillards. Soon after, Hillman and Pedersen formed the Desert Rose Band, which proved to be Hillman's most commercially-successful post-Byrds project. Their first LP, an eponymously titled 1987 outing, generated two Top Ten country hits in "Love Reunited", written with Steve Hill, and "One Step Forward", plus the number one single "He's Back and I'm Blue." From 1987 till the end of 1993 the band recorded seven albums and had a string of 16 country music hits, the majority of which were in the country Top Ten, as well as garnering a number of Academy of Country Music awards, before calling it quits in 1994.
Recently, The Desert Rose Band reunited when John Jorgenson performed with Chris Hillman, Herb Pederson, Jay Dee Maness and Bill Bryson on May 2, 2008, at the Station Inn in Nashville. This lineup is the best known and includes all of the original members present on the hit albums from the 1980s. At this show Hillman said it was the first time they'd played together in 19 years. They went through a string of DRB hits but were unable to play "He's Back and I'm Blue" because Hillman said he had forgotten the words. This sold-out show prompted Hillman and the band to play a handful of other reunion shows at clubs and music festivals throughout the U.S. Several of these were recorded for inclusion on a live album which Hillman is currently shopping to record labels in the U.S. and Europe. When released, this will be the Desert Rose Band's only official live album.
At the peak of the Desert Rose Band's success, Hillman also began appearing infrequently with McGuinn. A duet recorded by the pair for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Will The Circle Be Unbroken Vol. II album, "You Ain't Going Nowhere", reached the Country Top 10 in 1989. Soon, the pair joined Crosby in a reformed Byrds, playing a handful of club dates. In 1990 they appeared at a tribute to Roy Orbison, performing "Mr. Tambourine Man" along with the song's composer, Bob Dylan. The same year, the Byrds cut four new songs for inclusion in a career-spanning box set, and in 1991 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1996 Hillman reunited with Desert Rose Band alumnus Herb Pederson for the CD Bakersfield Bound. Like a Hurricane (1998) followed, as well as three bluegrass-flavored releases on Rounder Records with Pedersen, Larry Rice and Tony Rice. He appeared on the 1999 album Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons in a duet with Steve Earle on "High Fashion Queen", which Hillman co-wrote with Parsons. After a short hiatus, Hillman and Pedersen returned with Way Out West (2002), a 17-track collection of country, roots rock, and Americana, followed by The Other Side (2005).
Contains material recorded in 1963-64. Reissued in 1981 and 1995 on Sugar Hill
|US Country||CAN Country|
|1984||"Somebody's Back in Town"||81||—||singles only|
|1985||"Running the Roadblocks"||77||—|
|1989||"You Ain't Going Nowhere" (with Roger McGuinn)||6||11||Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume Two
(Nitty Gritty Dirt Band album)
|AMA Lifetime Achievement Award