Byrds co-founder Hillman isn’t ‘Bidin’ His Time’ with upcoming Park City shows
Concerts feature Herb Pedersen and John Jorgenson
Chris Hillman, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his former band The Byrds, remembers when he heard the news that Tom Petty, a good friend, passed away earlier this month.
Hillman was on tour with his friends, guitarist Herb Pedersen and multi-instrumentalist John Jorgenson.
“We were just devastated, and I couldn’t come to grips with it,” Hillman said during a Park Record phone interview from Ventura, California. “I almost cancelled the last four shows of the tour, but Roger McGuinn, my old friend and bandmate from the Byrds, called me and said, ‘Tom wouldn’t want you to quit. You’ve got to go out and play music and celebrate him.”
McGuinn’s words changed Hillman’s outlook, and he stayed on the road.
“So when we come to Park City, we will celebrate Tom,” Hillman said.
Hillman, Pedersen and Jorgenson will perform a three-night stand starting Thursday, Oct. 26, at the Egyptian Theatre. And while the trio won’t be performing Tom Petty or the Heartbreakers songs, it will perform Hillman’s songs in celebration of Petty.
The big reason is because Petty produced Hillman’s new album, “Bidin’ My Time,” which was released on Sept. 22, two and a half weeks before Petty passed away of cardiac arrest on Oct. 2.
The concerts will feature a majority of the songs from “Bidin’ My Time,” and many songs from Hillman’s 50-year career that include The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers.
“Normally with Herb I’ll put 70 songs on a piece of paper and we’ll stick to the first four,” Hillman said about the set list. “Then I’ll call out audibles like Peyton Manning, and we’d change things up. But we needed to have a tight show with John because he’s switching instruments all night.”
Still if someone calls out a song that the three know, Hillman said there’s a good chance they’ll do it.
“Then it will all be whether or not I remember the lyrics,” he said.
The concert may also feature music from the Desert Rose Band, which Hillman, Pedersen and Jorgenson formed back in 1985.
“We actually retired Desert Rose Band in the early 1990s, but would occasionally we would get together and play under that name, but the last time we did was a festival in Norway six years ago,” Hillman said. “The good thing is that I’ve maintained such a close camaraderie with John and Herb throughout the years before Desert Rose, and we have continued to work together after Desert Rose.”
Usually Hillman tours as a duo with Pedersen, but recruited Jorgenson because of his work on “Bidin’ My Time.”
“He was instrumental — no pun intended — in helping me make my new record,” Hillman said with a laugh.
The idea for the album bubbled to the surface a year ago.
“I hadn’t made a solo record in about 10 years, even though I’ve been recording for five decades,” Hillman said. “But this just fell into my lap, because Tom and Herb wanted to do an album.”
After lengthy conversations with Petty, Hillman decided to give it a go.
“Tom was a fantastic producer because he knows all types of music,” Hillman said. “He initially asked if this was going to be a folk album. I said it would be an acoustic album, but then it evolved into an electric album, and Tom’s band The Heartbreakers play on a lot of the songs.”
Hillman couldn’t wait to get to the studio every day.
“It turned out to be a labor of love, and I can’t say that about every record I’ve done,” he said. “Tom was usually there before any of us because he was totally into this project.”
The chemistry between the players made the experience even better.
“Herb is a fantastic singer and rhythm guitar player, and the foundation of any great piece of music is rhythm,” Hillman said. “His vocals are also amazing. In fact, he’s a very in-demand session singer to this day. In the 1970s and 1980s, he was constantly working with whomever, whether it was Dolly Parton or James Taylor or Jackson Browne.”
Jorgenson was the secret sauce that added flavor to the sessions, Hillman said.
“He’s a multi-instrumentalist and a fantastic guitarist, and I don’t think I’ve worked with anyone as knowledgeable as he, whether it be gipsy jazz, country or rock,” Hillman said. “He’s also a great mandolin player and plays keyboards. Plus, the man has a degree in woodwind music that he got at the University of Redlands in California.”
Hillman, who emphasized how much his friends helped craft his album, has a resume that many music writers would make him one of the architects of American Music.
“I’ve seen that many times, and I think it’s a very flattering statement, but I don’t really think about it,” he said modestly. “You know when the artist starts really believing their own press, you got trouble brewing.”
One of the few times Hillman believed something that was written about him was after Petty did an interview with Mojo Magazine and said, “Chris is the consummate musician. He never wanted to be in show business and didn’t like show business.”
“I read that and said, ‘You know, he’s right,’” Hillman said. “I didn’t care about all the adulations. I didn’t go out to be a solo superstar in the 1970s. I just followed my heart
musically with my career.”
Hillman’s first music love was early country music, which led him to traditional mountain folk music and bluegrass.
“I’ve always had a love for old country music, and I’d hear it on the radio or watch some shows on TV that were coming out of Los Angeles,” he said. “Then I heard bluegrass and the solos on banjo, mandolin, fiddle and guitar. And the singing hit a nerve with me.”
A few years later, and 18-year-old Hillman began playing in The Byrds with guitarist and vocalist David Crosby, percussionist and vocalist Gene Clark, drummer Michael Clarke and lead guitarist and vocalist McGuinn.
“Everyone in The Byrds came out of folk music,” Hillman said. “We didn’t start as a rock band. We weren’t a garage band. We were a bunch of guys who just happened to plug in. We learned how to play rock ‘n’ roll, and we played it well.”
After reflecting on his career, Hillman said he’s been blessed to do something he was passionate about.
“I never thought about making a living of music,” he said. “I just thought I would go back go school and register for the next semester, but a door would open and I would take advantage of it. I survived it and have wonderful friends who also survived those days.
“The point is, here I am in my 70s, and when you look back, you cherish the good memories of when we were all there during this special time in music,” Hillman said. “I learned from the best — David Crosby, Roger McGuinn — to where I got onto a level playing field with them.”
Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen with John Jorgenson will perform at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26, to Saturday, Oct. 28, at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St. Thursday tickets range from $23-$35. Friday and Saturday tickets range from $29 to $45. Tickets can be purchased by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com.
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