Byrdwatchers got a special treat last Wednesday night at the Tales from the Tavern show at the Maverick Saloon when former Byrd Chris Hillman and the fabulous Herb Pedersen were joined onstage by another former Byrd, the unannounced guest David Crosby, not far (as the crow flies) from his Santa Ynez home.
The trio performed three of The Byrds’ best-known songs — the Bob Dylan cover “Mr. Tambourine Man,” whose arrangement by The Byrds launched the folk-rock genre decades ago, the timeless “Turn! Turn! Turn!” which they revealed led composer Pete Seeger to send a letter to the band thanking them for changing peoples’ views of him from a hated commie to a hero, and the classic “Eight Miles High,” which featured some cool psychedelic mandolin playing (yes, it’s possible) from Hillman.
They also nailed the Byrds song “The Bells of Rhymney,” which Crosby claimed he hadn’t sung in 20 years. What a treat to hear those glorious harmonies!
Before Crosby’s appearance, Hillman and Pedersen had already beautifully harmonized to bluegrass classics such as “Rank Stranger” and “The Old Cross Roads,” and songs from their own long and amazing careers, including “She Don’t Love Nobody” and “Love Reunited” (a rare “song about keeping your marriage together”) from their time in the Desert Rose Band; “If I Could Only Win Your Love,” which was Emmylou Harris’ first hit and which Pedersen sang with her; “Close the Door Lightly” from The Dillards when Pedersen was a member in the late 1960s; and Hillman’s “Heaven’s Lullaby,” which he dedicated to an audience member from the local church where he sings “hillbilly tenor” in the choir.
A highlight for me was the brilliantly wicked Flying Burrito Brothers song “Sin City,” which Hillman co-wrote with country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons. Hillman dedicated this to Burritos bassist Chris Ethridge, who had passed away just two days before, and the other original Burritos who are sadly no longer with us.
By the time the Byrds mini-set ended, Hillman was losing his voice, although it must be mentioned that he still sounded great and continued to hit the high notes. Rumor has it that the three were having so much fun singing together before the show that Hillman’s voice wore out.
No matter. This gave another chance for Pedersen to shine on the vocals to “Hearts Overflowing,” as he had done earlier on “Wait a Minute,” which he wrote years ago about the pains of going on the road and leaving his young kids at home.
In closing, I remind the reader of the old proverb that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. But I’ll make the following addition: Having two Byrds in the house is priceless.
Bury Me Beneath the Willow
She Don’t Love Nobody
If I Could Only Win Your Love
Close the Door Lightly
Wait a Minute
The Old Cross Roads
Mr. Tambourine Man
Turn Turn Turn
Eight Miles High
The Bells of Rhymney
The Water Is Wide
— 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, music-illuminati.com.