Chris Hillman: The Light We Need

“Roger McGuinn called me and with the words I needed to hear explained that Tom Petty wouldn’t have wanted me to quit.”

[caption id="attachment_201252" align="aligncenter" width="900"] Photo by Lori Stoll[/caption] The Byrds were experimenting with country-rock long before Gram Parsons ever joined the band for the 1968 album Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. A year and a half and two albums earlier, Chris Hillman had written the band’s first two country-rock songs for the Younger Than Yesterday record, and he’d recruited bluegrass/honky-tonk virtuoso Clarence White to play the lead guitar. “Even back then,” Hillman says, “I was the one who was always bringing country music into the Byrds’ sound. On the second album, I got them to cut ‘Satisfied Mind,’ which had been a big Porter Wagoner hit. On the fourth album, I convinced them to record my first song with lyrics, ‘Time Between.’ It was a country song, and I brought in Clarence White to play the Telecaster solo. To me, that’s the beginning of country-rock right there. So when we did Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, it wasn't the big turnaround everyone thought it was; it was an extension of something that had been there all along.” Hillman is often the overlooked figure in the history of country-rock. A self-effacing bassist, he never had the larger-than-life personality of his fellow Byrds Parsons,…

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