Posts Tagged ‘Chris Hillman’

 (Above: The voice of the Byrds, Roger McGuinn, transforms “Eight Miles High” and shows off his guitar chops with this stunning acoustic arrangement.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The stage was empty, but the sound was unmistakable. The shimmering jangle from the 12-string blonde Rickenbacker guitar rang clear throughout the Folly Theater as Roger McGuinn, voice and architect of the Byrds, strolled out casually from stage right. The chorus of the opening song, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages,” resonated throughout the night: “I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now.”

For the next 100 minutes, McGuinn treated the two-thirds full theater to a stroll through his back pages, or, more specifically the music that influenced the sound of the Byrds and his songwriting. It took McGuinn half a hour to work his way up to the rock and roll era. He explained a reworking of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire” ended up as “She Don’t Care About Time,” a Byrds b-side, sang a sailor chanty, a spiritual and paid homage to Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly. He also used his own “Chestnut Mare” as an example of the cowboy songs from the old West.

These performances were interesting as a musical history lesson, but the show didn’t really take off until Elvis entered the building. Calling the transistor radio the iPod of its day, McGuinn explained how the portable radio freed him from having to listen to his parents’ music (and vice versa). The thrill of watching Presley inspired McGuinn to get his first guitar.

Now inspired, McGuinn told the audience about his lessons at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, where each week not only was a new song taught but several different styles of playing it. From there he took the crowd on a expedition through the Limeliters and Chad Mitchell Trio in Los Angeles into Bobby Darin’s band before landing at the Brill Building in New York City.

It was there McGuinn first heard the Beatles and recognized the folk-chord structures they used. Alone in his vision to marry folk with the British Invasion, McGuin fled the Greenwich Villagescene for the Troubador in Los Angeles where he met Missouri native Gene Clark and group that would become the Byrds were born.

Each adventure was illuminated by a musical representation of the time, from the Limeliter’s “There’s A Meeting Here Tonight” and Joan Baez’ “Silver Dagger” to “You Showed Me,” the first song McGuinn and Clark wrote together, which later became a Top 10 hit for the Turtles.

McGuinn performed most of the set seated on a piano bench at center stage. The only musician onstage, he was surrounded by four instruments, an acoustic and electric 12-string guitar, a 7-string guitar and a banjo. The open cases around him made McGuinn look like a posh busker.

The crowd relished every note and story. The room was often so quiet you could hear McGuinn’s pick hitting the strings. He frequently had to prod the audience to get involved, even singing the chorus on major songs like “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” another Dylan cover.

Although his tenor voice had lost some of its range, McGuinn’s singing was strong and his guitar playing was impressive. The best moment was a fascinating new arrangement of “Eight Miles High” that was more Ravi Shankar than Timothy Leary. Appropriately, the autobiographical journey ended with a relatively recent song, “May the Road Rise To Meet You.”

Set List: My Back Pages; She Don’t Care About Time; Leave Her Johnny, Leave Her (Time For Us To Leave Her); Old Blue; Chestnut Mare; Pretty Boy Floyd; Rock Island Line; Heartbreak Hotel (excerpt); Unknown Spiritual; There’s a Meetin’ Here Tonight; Silver Dagger; Gambler’s Blues (aka St. James Infirmary); The Water Is Wide; You Showed Me; Mr. Tambourine Man; You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere; Mr. Spaceman; Dreamland; Up To Me; Eight Miles High; Turn, Turn, Turn. Encore: Feel A Whole Lot Better; Bells of Rhymney; May The Road Rise To Meet You.

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Above: Chris Hillman and Herb Pederson perform “Turn Turn Turn.”

By Joel Francis

The Kansas City Star

Chris Hillman is not a household name, but the influence of the bands he has been a part of has emanated from home stereos for nearly two generations. As a member of the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers and Manassas, Hillman helped blur the lines between rock, country and folk.

He visited all parts of his career during his free 100-minute concert Friday night at Olathe’s Frontier Park. His time with Gram Parson’s Burrito Brothers was represented by “Wheels,” which featured accompanist Herb Pederson on lead vocals. Two songs off the first Manassas album (with Stephen Stills) were also performed, but it was, of course, the Byrds numbers that drew the most applause.

“Turn Turn Turn” appeared early in the set and “Eight Miles High” closed it. In between, Hillman and Pederson performed several songs from their time in the Desert Rose Band: staples like “Together Again,” which was dedicated to Buck Owens, “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues” and “The Water Is Wide.” Former Bonner Springs resident and fellow Byrd Gene Clark got a shout-out before a reading of his “Tried So Hard to Please Her.”

Hillman prefaced “Mr. Tambourine Man” with a story about joining the Byrds and how the group didn’t like the song the first time they heard it. Crediting Roger McGuinn with the guitar arrangement, Hillman proceeded to play it in a style closer to Bob Dylan’s original version.

With Pederson anchoring on six-string acoustic guitar and Hillman switching between mandolin and guitar, the vibe was more Greenwich Village than Monteray Pop. While the performances were well-executed, the limited instrumentation and style started to wear thin about halfway through.

The set picked up when Sam Bush joined the duo for three songs on the violin. Bush’s fleet-fingered fiddle playing drew big cheers on the Grateful Dead’s “Box of Rain,” but “The Old Cross Roads” was the highlight. The blend of Hillman and Pederson’s vocals recalled the Louvin Brothers, while Bush’s violin accentuated the country-gospel arrangement.

Hillman complained throughout the night about the humidity. It may have killed the tuning on his mandolin, but it also provided a platform for Hillman to tell stories about his influences and songwriting while tuning between songs. Although the humidity may have been miserable to a Southern California native like Hillman, a Midwesterner couldn’t have asked for a prettier mid-July evening.

About 500 people spread over the outfield for the show. Seated in camping chairs or on blankets, they brought their kids, dogs and magazines. With conversation at more than a murmur throughout, it was clear the music was just a reason to be outside, not the focus.

That was too bad, because while Peterman wasn’t McGuinn or David Crosby, his vocals complemented Hillman’s nicely. Both artists have been honing their craft for a long time, and they played off each other with a musicianship that is skillful, but not showy.

Bush concluded the evening with a set of his own. Leading his quintet on mandolin, Bush married traditional bluegrass with a rock backbeat on songs like Randy Newman’s “Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man).”

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