Chris Hillman: Bonus Q&A with the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer: ‘It’s neither hair nor there!’
His new memoir, ‘Time Between,” devotes five chapters to growing up in San Diego. He got his first guitar in Tijuana for $10
Chris Hillman is still in flight after all these years.
After growing up in Rancho Santa Fe and embracing bluegrass music, Hillman helped make rock history as a member of The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers in the 1960s. He then joined Stephen Stills in Manassas in the early 1970s and launched the chart-topping country-music group the Desert Rose Band in the 1980s.
A veteran solo artist, Hillman is the subject of an in-depth Union-Tribune interview about his absorbing new memoir, “Time Between.” Published by BMG Books, it devotes nearly all of its first five chapters to his time growing up in San Diego.
Here are bonus questions and answers from our interview with Hillman, who will turn 76 on Friday.
Q: The cover photo on “Time Between” shows you in the mid-1960s when you were just starting to take off with The Byrds. What do you think when you look at that photo now?
A: (laughs) I could be smarmy and say: ‘It’s neither hair nor there!’ It’s funny what I would have to go through to get hair like that. Having not been blessed with straight hair like the other guys, and being 21 or 22, it was very important for me to fit in. So, I’d put stuff on my hair and blow dry it, and it would be perfect ‘Beatles hair.’ Then, when we performed in the Midwest or in the South, it would be very hot and humid. Being a San Diego guy who grew up where we didn’t have any humidity, my hair would go: ‘Boing!’
When The Byrds went to England, I didn’t know they had a different electrical system and had to get somebody to grab a hair dryer for me. I’d have to go to great efforts to make my hair straight. Finally, a friend who did hair said to me: ‘This is ridiculous. Let’s not do this anymore.’ I also think that particular moment in time (that the cover photo shows) was wonderful. We had already made it and had a hit single with ‘Mr. Tambourine Man.’
Q: Out of curiosity, have you ever gone back to Tijuana to try and find the place where your mom bought you your first instrument, a $10 gut-string guitar, or to see where you later briefly lived with your flamenco guitar-playing friend, Juan Martin?
A: No, I haven’t gone back there and I don’t even know if Juan is still alive. He had a nice apartment, sort of across the street from the Jai Alai Palace. I was speaking pretty decent Spanish then, because I had to. As for the guitar, we probably walked into a little store and found it hanging on the wall. And it really cost about $10. It wasn’t actually a bad instrument, but it finally collapsed. I learned enough chords and the deal with my mom was that, if I learned and stuck with the guitar, she’d help me buy another one.
A funny thing is, because we had no money when The Byrds were starting out, I remember another good bargain I got in Tijuana. It was a brown suede jacket, which cost about $25, that I wore in a couple of early Byrds. It was a great jacket.
Q: Exactly how good are Roger McGuinn’s martinis, and do you ever have martini get-togethers on Zoom?
A: (laughs). Pretty good! (My wife) Connie and I bought him a portable drink mixing unit and he loves it. Roger loves to make drinks and I was partial to martinis. When we did the 50th anniversary ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ tour (in 2018), we’d have this wonderful post-concert time where we’d have martinis, and our poor wives would have to sit and listen to us reminisce about The Byrds.
Q: Who is your target audience for your book?
A: My target audience really is the people who grew up with me that are aware of the music I was involved with. My tale is beyond my musical journey. All I wanted to talk about was the music and my great love of it. And it was love. It was startling to get paid for it the first time. (laughs) I think William Faulkner said about Hemmingway: ‘You won’t need a dictionary to read his books.’ Well, you won’t need a dictionary to read this memoir!
Q: Does music man anything different to you now?
I still do love music. My tastes are different, though. I’m listening to the music my folks listened to, Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee, on XM Sirius. And I still love listening to old country music from 1940s and ‘50s, and all the old bluegrass. There’s a lot of new bluegrass out there that’s really good and these kids are really good players. But I don’t hear the songs, or any depth to the songs, and certainly not with country music. Country music now is just dreadful and has taken on a different look. The marketing is all in the image.
Q: Might you be inclined to write another book?
A: I think I would. I don’t have a Volume Two of ‘Time Between.’ But I was thinking about enhancing or embellishing something in this book or going more into a fictionalized story. I look forward to doing another book, probably more than making another album. We’ll see.
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