still at school, Chris Hillman (born December 4, 1944 in Los Angeles,
California) played mandolin in bluegrass quintet, The Scottsville Squirrel
Barkers, with Bernie Leadon (later an Eagle) and Kenny Wertz (later with The
Country Gentlemen); they made Bluegrass Favorites in five hours for the
budget Crown label. He then joined The Golden State Boys in 1962 with Vern and
Rex Gosdin (who later recorded with Gene Clark before achieving fame in country
music) and Don Parmley. Offered a recording opportunity by country-rock
godfather Jim Dickson they changed the name to The Hillmen; an eponymous album
came out on a Together label but nothing happened. After 16 months as The
Hillmen they split mid-1963. Hillman joined The Green Grass Group (apparently a
second-division New Christy Minstrels) for two months, then joined Jim (later
Roger) McGuinn, David Crosby and Gene Clark (then calling themselves The
Beefeaters) in the first incarnation of The Byrds, completed by Michael Clarke.
He left The Byrds in late 1968 to form The Flying Burrito Brothers with Gram
Parsons and others, staying with that band through its best period before leaving
in late 1971. He made an eponymous album with short-lived group, Cherokee,
on ABC, then became founder member of Manassas
with Stephen Stills and fellow Burrito Al Perkins. Meanwhile he also made a
Byrds' reunion LP which disappointed everyone. After two years Hillman, Perkins,
keyboardist Paul Harris left Manassas for The Souther/Hillman/Furay Band with J. D.
Souther and Richie Furay, which failed partly because the principals didn't get
along. Hillman flopped with solo Slippin' Away '76, Clear Sailin'
'77 on Asylum. He then joined two ex-Byrds in ill-fated McGuinn, Clark and
Hillman for two LPs and another without Clark (1979-1980).
Byrd freaks were beginning to despair when Hillman reappeared on the Sugar Hill
label as The Hillmen with Vern and Rex Gosdin, then neo-bluegrass Morning
Sky (1982) with Herb Pedersen, Byron Berline and Desert Rose 1984
with Pedersen and James Burton on Sugar Hill, bringing smiles to the faces of
the faithful as a major character in country-rock found a niche. A devotional
LP, Ever Call Ready on Word, reunited him with Leadon. Hillman formed The Desert Rose Band with Pedersen and others, successful in the country charts
with albums now on MCA/Curb, including an eponymous debut, then Pages Of
Life, Running, True Love, Traditional (1993, with
Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss), Life Goes On 1993; hit singles (some at
number one) compiled on One Dozen Roses. He disbanded in 1993, tired of
the road and feeling that there was no place for the band on US country
radio. In 1995 he made Bakersfield Bound with Pedersen for Sugar Hill
('hard-edged duet singing like The Louvin Brothers, totally stripped of any Nashville production,' he
said to Q magazine). It was said that bluegrass increased its percentage
record sales in late 1996. Out of the Woodwork (Rounder) by Rice, Rice, Hillman
and Pedersen, with Tony and Larry Rice of Desert Rose, was an example of the
best there was.