Talk From The Rock Room: Between the Lines: Chris Hillman- ‘Time Between: My Life as a Byrd, Burrito and Beyond’

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Between the Lines: Chris Hillman- ‘Time Between: My Life as a Byrd, Burrito and Beyond’

For the most unassuming member of the band the ‘Byrds’, Chris Hillman has made a most indelible mark on rock and roll history. For a man once asked by John Lennon, ‘Does he talk?’, Hillman’s new memoir, Time Between: My life as a Byrd, Burrito and Beyond speaks in measured truthful tones regarding Hillman’s fifty plus years in music. Chris Hillman, in his own words, dispels rock and roll myth with tales about the ‘Byrds’ monster arrival on the musical scene with ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, discloses truths about his relationship with tragic musical legend Gram Parsons, and lets the reader in on a number of clandestine rock and roll and life moments.  A founding member of the ‘Byrds’, ‘Flying Burrito Brothers’, 'Manassas', and his own Desert Rose Band, Hillman played at Monterey Pop and Altamont and in the ‘rock room’s humble opinion the major impetus for what rock history refers to as the ‘country rock' movement.

Through his deft navigation of multiple instruments, and his deep seated love of bluegrass music, Hillman has developed a portfolio of masterful compositions, LP’s and genre defying arrangements. We can now include a book full of stories no longer locked away with his muse. Hillman has worked with some of the most legendary collaborators in rock and country history, including but not limited to, Roger McGuinn, Clarence White, Gram Parsons, Herb Petersen, Bernie Leadon, Tom Petty and Stephen Stills. Finally, his remembrances have been documented wonderfully in the new autobiography Time Between: My life as a Byrd, Burrito and Beyond, due on November 17, 2020. Both Tom Petty (who produced Hillman’s 2017 LP ‘Bidin’ My Time’) and Dwight Yoakam offer special words and a forward for the detailed memoir.

Unlike similar tropes by other famed rockers, Hillman’s memories are untainted by salacious details and are more rooted in making sense of what a vital element he was in the development of rock and roll and country rock. Chris was essential observer and participant in a major musical revolution. He was often overshadowed by the ‘bigger’ personalities in his bands, such as David Crosby and Gram Parsons, but not because of any inferior musical prowess. Hillman was cool without effort, his perceived aloofness included a higher level of talent and intuition.

Hillman’s story begins with fire, a theme that is consistent throughout the book as Hillman burns with a desire which seems to follow an almost predetermined path. The loss of his father from suicide was an obvious and defining moment that becomes a weight as well as an impetus in developing his life. Chris was a ‘middle class California kid’ who with talent, chance, hard work and instilled morals was thrown into a seismic era of music and madness and came out an essential element in the development of rock and country. Hillman as a teen in the early 1960’s would soon be witnessing things he had only read about in books.  Horses, and fast cars would soon give room to mandolins, guitars and eventually an unexpected fame that would change his existence.

Well timed and well intentioned meetings litter his early path to becoming a musician. Producer Jim Dickson, Jim McGuinn, The Godsin Brothers, Clarence White, are just a few of the relationships discussed by Hillman as his career was built brick by brick. Obviously, the famed period from 1965 through the end of the ‘Burrito’s is vital and is covered in lovingly great detail. His attentiveness to his development as well as those around him offers entertainment as well as life lessons. Hillman’s modesty and conversational tone are part of the allure of the book, allowing the reader to relate, a tall task in a rock and roll memoir.

Hillman’s importance in the emergence and genre blending of ‘country rock’ cannot be understated. He is aware of this but offers a refreshing and realistic take, by letting the reader breath in the rarefied air of the era and inviting them to make their own connections. He lends the reader a ‘Byrds’ eye view of the rock and roll world through an essential and inside place.

Hillman clarifies myth, recounting the dramas littering his groups;  the ‘Byrds’, ‘Flying Burrito Brothers’,‘ Manassas’ and his solo career lineups. He reveals the truth regarding Gram Parsons dismissal from the ‘Burrito’s and the sad reality of Gene Clark. But these historic yarns are secondary to what the book is all about, which is Chris Hillman’s music, faith and longevity. Hillman is a real authentic while discussing the pitfalls his own career faced in the mid to late 1970’s. He connects the wires understanding the reasons for his own decent into the trappings of fame, drugs, business and desperation. He witnessed the talent of his close friends deteriorate and used his upbringing and faith to keep him on a line that would lead to a literal and figurative rebirth in the 1980’s.

Hillman was always best at supporting a band, the most essential ‘sideman’ in rock history.  Following a number of life changing events including his marriage to current wife Connie, a new collaborator in Steve Hill, and his rebirth as a man of faith, Hillman’s career became everything he had ever wanted. Chris Hillman had returned to the music of his DNA, bluegrass and string band melodies, and in the process rediscovered himself. His group and new musical medium, the ‘Desert Rose Band’ contained an impressive rotating cast with Hillman as the axis. The group allowed for honest collaboration and in the interim, became a huge country music success.

Chris had finally found all of the life pieces he had been collecting since a youth and placed them together at the appropriate time. Hillman underwent a major spiritual revitalization until an unexpected battle with Hepatitis C almost killed him. Once again, a thread woven throughout the text is family and faith is what can get you through anything. It's amazing he is still here with us.

Like all great comebacks, Hillman’s return to health also marked the dawning of a renewed interest in ‘alt-country’, a genre that Hillman in all honesty had been developing since 1965. The reader cannot help but marvel at Hillman’s ‘country rock’ lifetime, but like the best movies we find ourselves rooting for the central hero. Hillman released the Tom Petty produced LP ‘Biding My Time’ in 2017 and found himself right in the thick of it yet again.

Though finding himself right where he needed to be, Hillman has revealed the last few years a mixture of sweet and sour. A number of friends and family including Tom Petty have moved to the next realm. Similarly to the beginning of his tale, fire again returned to his life in December 2017 in the form of wildfires displacing him and Connie from their home. But like Hillman states in the book, ‘Life is all about change and growth’ and as 2018 dawned Chris once again returned to the road celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ‘Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo album. Reunited with Roger McGuinn, the therapy of music, family and faith brought it all full circle, a reoccurring theme in the book.

Time Between: My life as a Byrd, Burrito and Beyond comes at a time when we all need something to look forward to. Through his lifetime Chris Hillman was always the one in a supporting role, providing to the needs of the band, as opposed to the one. Today, he is the front man, speaking loud and clear and jamming into tomorrow.  For fans of rock and roll history this is a critical read. Musical insight, rock myths and important life lessons abound, Chris Hillman is the solid foundation in every artistic endeavor he undertakes.

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