by Chris Hillman
by Roy Peak
Chris Hillman, as a shy kid just learning to play bass, helped to form the California band the Byrds, which by itself, would be enough to land him a spot in the history books. But Hillman wasn't content to stop there. He also was a guiding force in the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Desert Rose Band, and Manassas. For over half a century Hillman worked with such musical luminaries as Roger McGuinn, Stephen Stills, Bernie Leadon, David Crosby, J.D. Souther, Tom Petty, and Gram Parsons. In the eighties he founded the Desert Rose Band, which had a multitude of hits on the country charts.
Hillman grew up in a small town in California, picked up guitar and mandolin and played in bluegrass bands until he saw a little known band called the Beatles playing on the Ed Sullivan Show. Like many of the youth of the time, it changed his life forever. A chance meeting with a band looking for a bass player led to Hillman being in the right place at the right time and the Byrds quickly became one of the biggest breakout bands at the time. The Byrds, touted as "the American Beatles" recorded several albums, toured the world, and influenced generations of musicians in the process. The band went through various band members over the years, Hillman being one of the constants. After the band broke up, Hillman was lucky enough to be part of some of the finest bands around, playing with the best songwriters and musicians in the world for many decades, and grows from a shy young man to a seasoned musical veteran, finding his voice, the love of his life, and his religion in the process.
Hillman writes honestly and candidly about band members, managers, and record executives, he talks of his love for playing music, writing songs, and working with several of the greatest musicians of his time. His style is very "conversation-like," as if you're in the room with him, drinking a beer, talking about the good ol' days. Very refreshing if you've read other rock bios such as Pete Townshend, or Elvis Costello. Hillman's reminds me more of Roger Daltrey's memoirs or Marky Ramone's—candid, honest, passionate, refreshing, not as if he's out to push an agenda. These are his memories, simple as that. A great book, not just about the Byrds, but about Chris Hillman, the times he lived in, and the journey which took him from a shy mandolin player, to a seasoned musician, and a husband and father.
Roy Peak is Sacred Chickens' Music Editor. He has played electric bass in more bands than he cares to remember for more years than he can remember. He wrote the theme song for the Utica, New York radio show "Hey You Kids, Get Off My Lawn" on WPNR-FM. His solo debut album, All Is Well, has been called "Loud, cacophonous, and beautiful by a truly unique artist." His short fiction has been published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and he writes music reviews for the King Tut Vintage Album Museum of Jacksonville. Roy writes music reviews for the Rocking Magpie among others. Check out his brand new album A Wolf at the Door.