Desert Rose Band Reunites on a Star-Filled Nashville Night
Gary Allan, Brad Paisley and wife Kimberly Williams-Paisley, bluegrass greats Larry Stephenson and Roland White, Emmylou Harris, steel guitar great Lloyd Green and songwriters Odie Blackman and Gary Nicholson were just a few of the celebrities who found their way to Nashville’s Belcourt Theatre Monday night to see the final night of the Desert Rose Band’s mini-concert tour of 2010.
The band, comprised of Chris Hillman, John Jorgenson, Herb Pedersen, Jay Dee Maness, Bill Bryson and Steve Duncan, has not been ‘officially’ together since 1994, but in recent years have done a few dates-on-demand, as requests have come in for the supergroup of musicians, songwriters and singers to perform.
“About two years ago we discussed it and we said why not?” Chris tells The Boot. “We had a couple offers and everyone wanted to do it. It’s not a career move, it’s just for fun. So we did that two years ago and had a great time. This year we had some more things come along, so we played three or four shows in California in May, and then the Birchmere (in Alexandria, Va.) wanted us for two nights, so we said ‘OK, we’ll do another run in August, and there you have it. We have a couple more shows in September in Copper Mountain, Colorado, and Bozeman, Montana.”
“It really is a labor of love,” Chris continues. “We have a great time, we get along with each other, and we play better now than we did in our heyday. We are not under all that pressure to have a record on the charts. We all have our own projects — John has his ‘Gypsy Jazz’ and Herb and I have a new live album on Rounder in September. Everyone keeps busy, so after September we’ll see if we want to do it again, maybe in the next couple years.”
An original member of country-rock legends the Byrds and the Flying Burritos Brothers, Chris adds, “I couldn’t really say I could do it with any other band, because with the Desert Rose Band, when John left, Jay Dee left, there was no animosity that some bands go through when they dissolve. The other great part about it, and no disrespect to anybody, but we don’t have to get back together out of desperation. So it’s just a lot of fun, with no pressure, and we enjoy each other’s company.”
That fact was apparent as the band took to the stage at the Belcourt after a short set by songwriter Pam Rose, who was introduced as “the first rose of the evening.” Chris and his fellow travelers hit it hard, introducing their set with their hits ‘She Don’t Love Nobody’ and ‘Love Reunited.’
Chris introduced the tune that became their first No. 1 record, ‘She’s Back and I’m Blue,’ penned by Michael Woody. Later in the evening they did a second song by the tunesmith, ‘It Takes a Believer.’
All the hits were there, including ‘Leave this Town,’ ‘Summer Wind’ and ‘Start All Over Again.’ John proved that his expertise on multiple instruments has not diminished, as he went from guitar to mandolin and back to guitar throughout the evening. Chris played both acoustic guitar and mandolin, while Jay Dee found some great sounds in his steel guitar.
The band was very much at home on a Nashville stage, with each member recognizing various friends and peers in the audience from time to time as they played. “This song goes out to my buddy Larry Stephenson,” Herb said before they played ‘Once More.’ John sent out ‘Start All Over Again’ to producer Paul Worley, plus dedicated several songs to his wife, who was celebrating her birthday. He sang ‘I Still Believe in You Now’ for Connie, to whom he’s been married for 31 years.
The band members have known each other a long time. Herb and Chris met when Herb was 18. John says he and Chris met at a NAMM show in 1975 and the singer helped start his career. Chris and Emmylou also have a long history, dating back to her early performances in Washington, D.C.
“If it weren’t for Chris walking into that singles bar and hearing me and telling Gram [Parsons] about me, I’m not sure what would have happened,” Emmylou said, adding that Herb’s harmonies on her first album were a major part of its sound. She joined the band to sing ‘Sin City,’ written by Chris and Gram and performed originally by the Flying Burrito Brothers. Chris later said that she had left a recording session for her next album to join them for the evening.
After a burning guitar solo by John during the band’s performance of ‘In Another Lifetime,’ Brad joined them on ‘Hello Trouble.’ Following that performance, Brad dropped to his knees to bow to John as a premier guitar player. “I could do that but I just don’t want to,” Chris commented on Brad and John’s performances. “We first met Brad at one of Buck Owens‘ birthday parties, back when Buck was still roaring. He was a great mentor to so many of us.”
Brad stayed to perform on Buck’s classic ‘Together Again,’ as well as on ‘Ashes of Love,’ where he not only played but sang. Later, John invited him back up to play six-stringed bass on the Desert Rose hit ‘One Step Forward.’
Although the band played for nearly two hours, it seemed as if the evening had just begun when Chris said their good-byes. “Thank you so much for coming to see us,” he said. “We’re just here to have a great time and it’s all about the music. Now these guys [Brad and John] are gonna battle it out!”
The band broke into ‘Price I Pay,’ while the two guitarists unleashed their best licks to entertain the crowd. “Thank you for coming to see the Desert Rose Band,” Chris said again before they left the stage. The room full of fans and peers would not let them go easily, rising to their feet and continuing to applaud, urging the band to return to the stage. They encored with ‘Will This be the Day’ and ‘Why Can’t I Keep You in Love with Me,” dedicating the latter to Charlie Louvin, who is battling stage two pancreatic cancer.
The night wasn’t over, as Chris, John, Herb and the rest of the band came out to greet fans, friends and peers after the final notes had been played. They stay over in Nashville to perform on the Grand Ole Opry tonight (Tuesday, August 10).