Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 4 December 1944, Los Angeles) Guitar, bass, mandolin. While still at school he 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 '62 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-'63; 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 late '68 to form the Flying Burrito Brothers with Gram Parsons and others, staying with that band through its best period, leaving late '71; 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; joined ex-Byrds in ill-fated McGuinn, Clark and Hillman for two LPs and another without Clark '79-80.

Diehard 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 '82 with Herb Pedersen, Byron Berline etc and Desert Rose '84 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. He formed the Desert Rose Band with Pedersen and others, successful in the country charts with albums later on MCA/Curb, including an eponymous debut, then Pages Of Life, Running, True Love, Traditional ('93, with Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss), Life Goes On '93; hit singles (some at no. 1) compiled on One Dozen Roses. He disbanded c.'93, tired of the road and feeling that there was no place for the band on US country radio. In '95 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 of US record sales late '96; an example of the best there was was Out Of The Woodwork on Rounder by Rice, Rice, Hillman and Pedersen, with Tony and Larry Rice of Desert Rose.

His highly regarded solo albims included Bidin' My Time 2017, the last album produced by Tom Petty. In 2020 Hillman published a memoir, Time Between: My Life as a Byrd, Burrito Brother and Beyond. He was mostly satisfied to be second-in-command, but it was always about the music; he is clearly one of the fathers of country rock.