Chris Hillman: "I Figured Out When to Leave the Fantasy Behind and Cross the Line Into Reality"

His name is rarely mentioned in the same breath as the other giants of popular music over the past 50 years: Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, much less his former colleagues Crosby and McGuinn. But if one were to sample the bands that Chris Hillman has been apart of -- the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Souther Hillman Furay Band, Stephen Stills' Manassas, and the group he's been associated with on and off over the past 25 years of so, the Desert Rose Band -- it would become increasingly obvious that he belongs in that same strata of superstardom.

Despite a humble start as a teenager playing mandolin in a short succession of bluegrass bands in Southern California, Hillman's stock rose rapidly when he joined the Byrds, moving to bass and a role that was initially essentially support for the front line trio of Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, and singer Gene Clark before becoming a prime mover in the band's musical development. An increasingly prolific songwriter -- he helped compose the classic "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star" -- he and later recruit Gram Parsons eventually spun off into the Flying Burrito Brothers, continuing the country crossover the Byrds had begun with Sweetheart of the Rodeo, an album considered pivotal in the origins of Americana.

As Hillman approaches his 70th birthday this coming December, he remains as passionate about making music as he ever has. He's also deeply committed to his ideals, especially those having to do with his Christian faith and his politics, both of which tend to distance him from those with whom he came of age in the rebellious '60s and '70s.

When we caught up with him for our interview, he was gracious, friendly, forthright, and all too willing to share his memories and reflections about a life well-lived.

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Lee Zimmerman