Classic Rock Corner

Byrds, Burritos, and Bluegrass: Chris Hillman Interviewed

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RO: Then came Manassas, which I think was very underrated and never had enough time to reach its potential.

CH: That was a good band. It's funny, there are so many people that remember that band and wish we'd get back together. I would and I would definitely do something with Stephen again. We were only together for two years. But we did incredibly good business on the road, mostly on Stephen's coattails with CSN. He was at the top of his game, and I learned a lot about songwriting from him. But that was one sharp outfit. It kept me on my toes!

RO: You and Herb should do "Jesus Gave Away Love for Free" from the first Manassas album. That would go well in your current style.

CH: I've been playing around with that on the mandolin. I'll work it up for Houston. I promise!

RO: It was the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo album and then the Burritos that really opened the door for country rock. Too bad it was the Eagles who took that sound to the bank.

CH: But Bob, as a music lover, you know it's not your bank account that matters. It's what you leave behind. I know that record opened up [a country sound] for a lot for people. So when I hear the Avett Brothers, and they're really good's worth it. The Avetts also love the Desert Rose Band.

RO: What about contemporary country on the charts? I imagine much of it is too pop-sounding for your taste. Do you ever see it reverting back to a more traditional sound?

CH: I remember when I was in the Byrds I was 20 or so and this guy was in his fifties or sixties, and quite the Bohemian who came out of the Jack Kerouac era. And he said "You know, the Beatles are great, but you don't understand. Listen to Ellington and Basie, that's music, and it will never be that way again." And I went "Yeah, sure."

But you know, that's the music I listen to now, and I love it. But who knows if there will even be a music industry anymore? Kids ask my advice about their band, and I say get a four-year college degree in something you like, but never stop playing music and having a good time.

As for that classic country sound, I don't hear much of it on the radio anymore. Except Brad Paisley. I like him, and he is so attached to the old music. So was Vince Gill. And Alan Jackson. And Emmylou is still straight and true to her music.

Rocks Off: Finally, as a member of one of the great American bands of the '60s, what does that decade look like to you today?

CH: The '60s were a wonderful time until '68 or '69, when it turned dark. We played Monterey with the Byrds, which was the best rock festival ever. Then, within a year and a half, we had Altamont. [David] Crosby was there with CSN and I was there with the Burritos, and I'll never forget when they got offstage and we were going on, he passed me and said "Be very careful. And pay attention. It's very strange out there." And that's all he said.

Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen play 8:30 p.m. Sat., Feb. 5, at Dosey Doe Coffee Shop, 25911 I-45 N., The Woodlands, 281-367-3774 or Tickets are $62-92 and include a three-course dinner and soft drinks before show.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero