Monday, November 12 , 2018, 9:57 pm | Fair 50º


Jeff Moehlis: Chris Hillman, Herb Pedersen to Perform in Santa Ynez

Duo will sing songs by The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers and more

Chris Hillman has been a professional musician for nearly 50 years, starting on bluegrass mandolin before he joined The Byrds, for which he played bass guitar and contributed vocals. You can hear him on hits including “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” “Eight Miles High” and “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star,” which he co-wrote.

Hillman left The Byrds after their landmark album Sweetheart of the Rodeo, joining up with Gram Parsons (who also played on that album) to form The Flying Burrito Brothers, whose classic debut album The Gilded Palace of Sin featured many songs that he wrote or co-wrote with Parsons. Hillman was also a key member of the band Manassas with Stephen Stills, and had multiple country hits with the Desert Rose Band.

Hillman will be joined by Herb Pedersen at the Maverick Saloon next Wednesday, April 25, as part of the Tales From the Tavern series. Click here for tickets.

Chris Hillman will be performing with Herb Pedersen at the Maverick Saloon in Santa Ynez on Wednesday night.
Chris Hillman will be performing with Herb Pedersen at the Maverick Saloon in Santa Ynez on Wednesday night.

Incidentally, this phone interview, with Hillman responding from Ventura, was transcribed about eight miles high on a flight between St. Louis and San Francisco. Click here for the full interview.

Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at your upcoming concert at the Maverick Saloon?

Chris Hillman: What I’ve been doing for the last few years is working with one other guy, Herb Pedersen. It’s all acoustic, so we mike our instruments, and it’s very vocal-oriented, so we both sing — sing duets — and play. I cover just about a bit of everything from my last 49 years, now, of music. Forty-nine years since I was first paid to play. My professional career started in 1963.

So I will do songs from before The Byrds, and then some Byrds songs, and then Flying Burrito Brothers. Basically just covering all of these little places I’ve been musically. And then I’ll pull out some newer songs and some songs from other writers. We try to mix it up. We do all kinds of stuff. We have a good time.

JM: You mentioned that this will be with Herb Pedersen, and by now you have a nice history with him. Could you describe what Herb brings to the music?

CH: Herb is an incredible singer and guitarist, in that he plays just perfect rhythm guitar. He’s probably one of the best ones in the country. As an accompanist he’s terrific.

He’s such a well-rounded, versed singer. He was a very in-demand session vocalist in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and still does sessions occasionally. He worked for Linda Ronstadt, Kenny Rogers and James Taylor, and people like that. I mean, he would do these sessions. And of course he was in Emmylou Harris’ band for a while, then he was in John Denver’s band for a long time.

So what he brings is a very stable musical foundation for me to work off of. He’s always there, and he’s very professional, dependable. And we both came from the same musical roots of traditional folk and country and bluegrass music. So that’s the best part. He knows the songs, he knows how to sing them with me, and we’ve known each other 49 years. It’s about since I started, when he started, too. It works out quite well.

JM: I know that this has been documented elsewhere, but how did you go from being a bluegrass musician who played mandolin to suddenly being the bass player for The Byrds?

CH: I really went from mandolin to bass by just a stroke of luck. I had heard the fledgling group sing together. It was just the three of them: Roger McGuinn, David Crosby — Santa Ynez resident, by the way — and Gene Clark. I heard them sing with one guitar, and they were just beautiful. And when I got the call and they said, “Can you play bass?” I said, “Yeah.” I couldn’t play bass. I’d never touched a bass. But I knew that there was something special about the sound they were making. So I learned. I really, literally, learned to play the bass.

But then when I went down to start the practice session with them, the first day, I realized they were learning, too, so it was OK. I didn’t walk into something where I had to play a lot of catch-up. I learned, I learned to play, and I think the fact that none of us really were coming from a rock-‘n’-roll background helped to create the unique sound of The Byrds.

JM: Could you describe the Gram Parsons that you knew?

CH: The guy that I knew was a really sweet guy. I had two good years with him. He was hardworking for that two-year period. He probably wrote some of his best material then. And he wanted to do it. He wanted to really put the time in and do it.

And I lost him. I had to break off the relationship, and I don’t think he ever got a hold of himself after that. But from The Byrds album to the first Flying Burrito Brothers album, he was really great. Good guy. He was like a brother to me. Then he got under the dark cloud of drugs and alcohol, and it was over. As it does for everybody. Never fails. There it is. That’s all I can tell you.

JM: Probably my favorite of yours is “Sin City,” off that first Flying Burrito Brothers album. What’s the story behind that song?

CH: Literally, that song was written in 25 minutes, and based on true things that were happening around us. I started it, he [Gram] was asleep. We were sharing a house in the Los Angeles area. It was coming real quick, I woke him up, and we finished it off. It was just based on some things that were going down. We had a manager that was robbing us that we’d had bad dealings with. And just various things. It was just mirroring the culture of the time, really. The last verse is about Robert Kennedy. The second verse, I’m not quite sure what that’s about. Gram wrote that one. I don’t know if he was awake yet [laughs]. It works, though.

I like that song a lot. I still play it every night.

Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site,

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