This is the last installment of my CSN/The Byrds/Buffalo Springfield series.
Chris Hillman began his music career as a mandolin player for several California bluegrass bands in the early-1960s. Producer Jim Dickson tapped Hillman to play bass, an instrument he never played before, for the fledgling Byrds in 1964. Learning a new instrument and switching from bluegrass to folk-rock was quite a challenge for the nineteen-year-old. The group had tremendous success right out of the gate with their first single, Mr. Tambourine Man, scoring #1 on the U.S. charts. As some of the other original members left, Hillman’s role in the band expanded to include both singing and songwriting duties. He was even able to incorporate his beloved country music into the band’s song list.
As the Byrds began their descent from popularity, Hillman exited in 1968 and joined Gram Parsons to form The Flying Burrito Brothers, a pioneering country-rock group. From there, Hillman was asked to join Stephen Stills’ new venture, Manassas, in 1971 as second-in-command. One of the other members of the group was guitarist, Al Perkins. Most people haven’t heard of Perkins but he was one of the preeminent steel guitar and dobro players of the period. He was also a “Jesus freak,” one of the members of the loosely-knit Jesus Movement on the West Coast. Perkins witnessed frequently to Hillman and he eventually professed to have accepted Christ in 1972 but it wasn’t a genuine conversion by his own admission.
When Manassas ended in 1973, Hillman and Perkins joined Richie Furay, formerly of Buffalo Springfield and Poco, and Eagles-songwriter, J. D. Souther, in the CSN rip-off, The Souther, Hillman, Furay Band. Furay was not at all happy about having a Jesus freak in the group. But Perkins began witnessing to Furay and six months later, he accepted Christ. When the music press broke the story about Furay becoming a born-again Christian, I remember my reaction being something like, Oh, no! Another one of my favorite artists has become one of those “born-agains.”
Furay eventually dropped out of the rock and roll grind to become a Calvary Chapel pastor. Hillman says he genuinely accepted Christ in the early 80s and began attending an Evangelical church. But he was also newly married at the same time and gradually gravitated to his wife’s Greek Orthodox faith. So how does one genuinely accept Christ and then go back and put on the chains of legalism?
Richie Furay continues to pastor the Calvary Chapel in Broomfield, Colorado.
Richie’s autobiography (see here) was one of the things the Lord used to draw me back to Him a couple of years ago.
After Manassas, Al Perkins continued his career as a performer, producer, and sought-after session musician. And he’s continued witnessing for the Lord.
Following Manassas, Chris Hillman eventually put together the Desert Rose Band (1987-1993), which charted eight Country Top Ten songs. At the age of 71, he now plays limited acoustic engagements with former Desert Rose bandmate, Herb Pedersen.