Interview: Chris Hillman Creates ‘Bidin’ My Time’ as ‘a Labor of Love’
Chris Hillman -- formerly of the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas, the Desert Rose Band ... the list goes on -- thought he was done making albums. Then, Tom Petty called.
It wasn't as out of the blue as it sounds: Hillman and Petty have known each other since the 1970s, and another mutual friend, Herb Pedersen -- also formerly of the Desert Rose Band and a frequent collaborator of Hillman's -- had been on the road with Petty when an idea began brewing. Pedersen suggested to Petty that he produce a project of Hillman's, then, once both parties expressed interest, met with Concord Music Group.
"They flipped over the idea," Hillman tells The Boot, so he and Petty headed into the studio for what they thought would be an acoustic project, with Pedersen as an executive producer. What they got instead is Bidin' My Time, a 12-track, plugged-in record, released on Friday (Sept. 22), that features Pedersen and fellow Desert Rose Band alumni John Jorgenson and Jay Dee Maness; fellow former Byrds members David Crosby and Roger McGuinn; Petty and Heartbreakers Mike Campbell, Steve Ferrone and Benmont Tench; the Punch Brothers Gabe Witcher and more.
"This wasn't something I was looking for ... This just sort of fell in my lap," Hillman says. "[And it] just unfold[ed] ever so effortlessly. I couldn't believe it ... and then I went, 'I know what it is: There's no pressure.' ... This is really a labor of love."
Indeed, Bidin' My Time's 12 songs are telling of Hillman's career as a whole: There are new songs such as "Restless" and "Such Is the World We Live In," but there's also a new version of the Byrds' "The Bells of Rhymney," a re-worked and re-titled version of "Old John Robertson" (now "New Old John Robertson") and the first ever studio version of the unreleased "Here She Comes Again."
"It's always down to the songs. I don't care what era ... It's always what it boils down to," Hillman says with passion, adding with humility, "and I am assuming my songs were okay."
Halfway through Bidin' My Time, Hillman covers the Everly Brothers' "Walk Right Back." It's only on the album by chance: Hillman was goofing around in the studio between sessions and singing the song when Petty heard and insisted they cut it for real.
"[He's] very subtle. He has good ideas, and he ... lets the music flow," Hillman says of Petty as a producer. "He was very good, a very good producer. I've worked with some good ones, and he's up there with them."
The final track on Bidin' My Time is a cover of Petty's "Wildflowers," which Hillman had previously performed for a MusiCares concert in Petty's honor. Perhaps surprisingly, Hillman says, he wasn't particularly nervous about recording the song with its original singer at the helm.
Though Hillman's previous bands, these days, fall squarely within the classic rock genre, the singer-songwriter notes that his more recent work isn't all that much of a departure from his roots. The Byrds, after all, grew out of the folk scene of the 1960s, and the Flying Burrito Brothers were alt-country before alt-country existed.
"I don't live in the past," Hillman says. "I look back on the past as, I was very blessed; I was a very lucky guy to do all of that, and to survive it."
What does the future, then, hold for Hillman? More touring, for sure, but another record is less likely.
"It would have to be something really, really interesting," he says -- though he's kicking himself for not asking Stephen Stills (also a former Manassas member) to make a guest appearance on this one, so maybe there's still a little more left to do.
To learn more about Bidin' My Time and Hillman's upcoming tour dates, visit ChrisHillman.com
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