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Hillman, Chris (4 December 1944-Present)

Multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, California, who started out with The Scottsville Squirrel Barkers and appeared on their 1962 album, Bluegrass Favorites.  He then joined The Golden State Boys and they morphed into The Hillmen.  The Hillmen released one eponymous album and then folded in 1963.

After briefly performing with The Green Grass Revival, Chris was recruited by Hillmen producer Jim Dickson to form a new group, The Beefeaters, along with Gene Clark, David Crosby, and Roger McGuinn.  The group’s inaugural release came and went with little fanfare, and after adding percussionist Michael Clarke to their ranks, they changed their name to The Byrds.

In 1965, The Byrds covered Bob Dylan’s song, “Mr. Tambourine Man”, and they were officially on the map.  Other hits from this time period included:  “Eight Miles High”, “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”, and “Turn!  Turn!  Turn!”  David and Gene left the band and only Chris, Michael, and Roger were left standing in 1967.  Roger recruited pianist Gram Parsons to replace David, and Michael was eventually supplanted by Chris’s cousin, Kevin Kelley.  In 1968, they recorded Sweethearts of the Rodeo, and it is considered to be the seminal country-rock album.  Unfortunately, its success was soured by Gram’s departure over a disagreement about whether to perform in South Africa.  It was, for all intents and purposes, the end of The Byrds.

Chris followed in Gram’s footsteps, and they joined The Flying Burrito Brothers, which comprised Jon Corneal, Chris Ethridge, and “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow.  During his time with FBB, they released four albums:  Burrito Deluxe, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Gilded Palace of Sin, and Last of the Red Hot Burritos.

Gram quit the band in 1971 and Chris went on to co-found Manassas with Stephen Stills.  They made their mark and then broke up in 1973.  After a short Byrds reunion, Chris added his surname to a new trio, the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, an ill-fated endeavour that failed to translate into success in spite of the considerable talent of its individuals.  J.D. Souther was more of a solo artist and soon Chris followed suit, releasing a couple of albums in the mid-‘70s, Clear Sailin’ and Slippin’ Away.

It was not long before he joined another trio, McGuinn, Clark & Hillman, and they issued a trio of LPs and enjoyed two top-ten hits.  They broke up in the early ‘80s and Chris released another solo effort, Morning Sky.  It was followed by Desert Rose in 1984.

In 1986, Chris and Herb Pedersen started The Desert Rose Band, along with Bill Bryson, Steve Duncan, John Jorgenson, and Jay Dee Maness.  They released a self-titled album in 1987 and topped the charts with “He’s Back and I’m Blue”.  “Love Reunited” and “One Step Forward” reached the top ten.  Their album Running yielded more hits:  “I Still Believe in You” enjoyed the view from the top of the country chart and “She Don’t Love Nobody” and “Summer Wind” squeezed into the top five.  Chris moonlighted with Roger and they recorded “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” which did go somewhere, ending up in the top ten.  In 1989, The Desert Rose Band released Pages of Love which resulted in more top-ten successes in the form of “Start All Over Again” and “Story of Love”.

The band was showered with awards in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, winning the Academy of Country Music’s Touring Band of the Year in three consecutive years and the Country Music Association’s Horizon Award and Vocal Group of the Year in 1989 and 1990, respectively.  Around this time, Chris reunited with David to once again re-form The Byrds, and they were enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

Chris ended his tenure with The Desert Rose Band in 1994, although he and Herb released another album, Bakersfield Bound.  Its follow-up, Like a Hurricane, blew through the record stores in 1998.  Larry and Tony Rice joined them for Rice, Rice, Hillman and Pedersen in 1999, and this was followed by Running Wild in 2001.  Chris and Herb released Way Out West in 2002.

In 2004, Chris received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Americana Music Association.  The Scottsville Squirrel Barkers received similar kudos from the City of San Diego, and this was coupled with a Roots Award for Chris from the Mojo Honours List.

In 2005, Chris released a solo CD, The Other Side, which featured material ranging from The Byrds to The Desert Rose Band.  The Desert Rose Band got back together on 2nd May 2008, at Nashville, Tennessee’s Station Inn.  The success of this concert led to a U.S. tour, and much of this series of live concerts was captured on CD.  Chris had back surgery at the beginning of 2010 but continued to tour with Herb Pedersen and The Desert Rose Band.

Here’s The Byrds performing “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” in 1965…