Time Between: My Life as a Byrd, Burrito Brother, and Beyond
By Chris Hillman
BMG, 2020, 238 pp.
With the arrival of the British Invasion and “Beatlemania” in 1964, folk musicians, Jim McGuinn (twelve-string, lead guitar), Gene Clark, and David Crosby (rhythm guitar) saw the writing on the wall and united to form a rock n’ roll band. Chris Hillman, (bass guitar) and Michael Clarke (drums) were added and the Byrds were born. The band had phenomenal success right out of the gate with their first recording, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” going to #1 on the singles charts and their same-titled album, released in June, 1965, peaking at #6 on the album charts. The Byrds’ unique sound, a melding of folk music and rock n’ roll, influenced a generation of songwriters and musicians.
In this very enjoyable memoir, Chris Hillman recounts his career, beginning with his boyhood years growing up in Rancho Santa Fe, California, his development as a country-bluegrass musician, and his unlikely recruitment into the Byrds at the tender age of nineteen. After several personnel changes, Hillman’s role in the Byrds grew, and he and new recruit, Gram Parsons, steered the band into country music with the pioneering album, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” (1968). Parsons and Hillman then broke away from the Byrds and founded the influential country-rock band, the Flying Burrito Brothers (1968-1972).
Following the Burritos, Hillman was involved in the following notable ventures while continuing to hone his skills as a musician, singer, and songwriter:
- Manassas with Stephen Stills (1971-1973)
- Byrds’ founding members’ reunion album (1973)
- Souther-Hillman-Furay Band (1973-1975)
- Solo albums, Slippin’ Away (1976) and Clear Sailin’ (1977)
- McGuinn, Clark, and Hillman (1977-1981)
Following MCH, Hillman returned to his country-bluegrass roots with three, small-label albums, leading to the formation of the Desert Rose Band (1985-1994), where he enjoyed his most satisfying professional success as the leader and frontman of the popular country music band.
After DRB folded, Hillman kept busy with a number of small-label releases, always including friend and ex-DRB bandmate, Herb Pedersen.
Hillman intermixes his professional history with many personal reflections including the inevitable internecine squabbles with bandmates. Hillman was sixteen when his father committed suicide in 1961, which scarred the boy and fueled ugly rages throughout his life. Hillman claimed to have accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior in 1973, through the witness of Christian bandmate, Al Perkins, but would eventually “convert” to the legalistic sacramentalism of his wife, Connie’s, Greek Orthodox church.
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Being a long-time fan of the Byrds and their offshoots, I already knew many of the stories, but Hillman does provide some fresh insights. The preliminaries are a bit too long for my taste. Hillman doesn’t actually document his initiation into the Byrds until page 67, nearly one-third of the way through the book, but that’s a minor criticism. The takeaway is the interesting story of a very shy, young musician of limited abilities, who, despite plenty of adversity, determinedly persisted and made himself into a remarkable talent and showman. No one in attendance at those early Byrds concerts in 1965, including his bandmates, would have guessed that the shy bass player with his back to the audience would go on to carve out a distinguished, fifty-five-year career. Those in the know recognize Chris Hillman, now age 75, as one of the principal pioneers of the country-rock sound, which would later be successfully commercialized by the Eagles.
Status of the other founding members of the Byrds: Gene Clark (d.1991) and Michael Clarke (d.1993) died from drug and alcohol abuse. After achieving fame and success as a member of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, David Crosby nearly ended his life due to drug addiction before spending five-months in prison and drying out in 1986. He continues making albums and touring. Jim (later Roger) McGuinn also became heavily involved with drugs. In 1977, with his life spiraling out of control, McGuinn accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior. He also continues to record and tour and publicly profess his faith. See my post about McGuinn here. For my reviews of all twelve of the Byrds’ albums, see my index here.
Below: The Byrds’ recording of “Time Between,” written by Chris Hillman, from the 1967 album, “Younger Than Yesterday.” That’s guest artist and future Byrd, Clarence White, masterfully delivering some very tasty country guitar licks. Nope, that’s not a pedal steel guitar Clarence is playing, it’s a 1954-model Fender Telecaster modified with a B-Bender.