Chris Hillman Sings Classic Byrds And More


CHRIS HILLMAN and Herb Pedersen play The Coach House Oct.18

In music, there are the icons that are incredibly well known and credited with keeping music evolving. Then there are those whose names don’t ring with the greatest of ease, but whose songs we know the words to, whose writing started new genres, whose achievements are intricately woven into the fabric of rock-n-roll history. Chris Hillman, bassist for The Byrds in the 60’s and member of The Flying Burrito Brothers in the late 60’s and early 70’s, is one of those people. Credited with being an originator of country-rock music, Hillman’s influence can be heard in the musical stylings of bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Eagles, Wilco, Zac Brown Band and so many more. On Oct. 18, Hillman will bring his lengthy catalogue to The Coach House.

He began his music career playing with different bluegrass groups in rural areas of San Diego. “I was 18, I had a fake ID and I was playing all these hillbilly bars,” Hillman recalled. “I loved it and then all of a sudden a door opened for The Byrds and I really lucked my way into that job.”

Hillman was offered a gig with the newly forming band, The Byrds, as a bass player. Not knowing how to play the bass, he still said yes to the opportunity and became a member of the band’s first incarnation, which would also include Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, David Crosby and Michael Clarke. The Byrds would go on to be known as America’s answer to The Beatles and record iconic songs like “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “Eight Miles High,” the latter of which ushered in a new era of psychedelic music. “So You Want To Be A Rock-n-Roll Star” which was co-written by McGuinn and Hillman took the first steps into the genre of country-rock.

When Hillman left The Byrds in 1968, he teamed up with legendary lyricist Gram Parsons (who also briefly played with The Byrds in the later years) to form The Flying Burrito Brothers. Continuing the country-rock sound that had started with The Byrds, Parsons and Hillman wrote songs that expanded the realm of their budding style. The band never gained the fan base or commercial success that The Byrds had, but their albums have become cult classics in the music industry. Later Hillman would go on to have a successful career with the band Desert Rose and as a solo artist from the late 70’s through today.

What might most differentiate today’s music scene from what the industry was like when Hillman started his career is the difference in fluidity of bands. As Hillman notes, “It was the business, it was the music scene. You could work within that small, close-knit community. When you got on a record label, if you were good enough to get on a record label and you had the song, you had pretty much free reign to experiment and create. Now I look in on country music once in awhile and it’s really dreadful. It’s manufactured, it’s all image and the songs are insulting, the lyrics are all the same.”

Today Hillman is 71 and lives in Ventura, CA. Though he still writes and enjoys playing live, he’s not sure that another album will be in the works for him. “Am I chasing a career?” Hillman said. “I don’t think so.”

Whether another album comes out or not, Hillman has absolutely solidified his place in rock history. More than 50 years after joining The Byrds and beginning a lifelong career in music, Hillman’s performance at The Coach House is sure to be an inspiring and reflective show.