Chris Hillman’s kitchen? Burned.
His humility? Unscathed.
Half of Hillman’s kitchen was destroyed during the recent Thomas Fire. But the Ventura hillsides resident, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and accomplished solo artist who was also a member of The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, Desert Rose Band and other groups, doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him.
“We lost a little bit of our house, but our neighbors suffered greatly, and it affected everyone,” Hillman said.
He heaps praise on firefighters and his resilient neighbors determined to rebuild. In the meantime, displaced while awaiting house repairs, he’s trying to help in his own quiet way by, well, making noise.
On Saturday, Jan. 27, Hillman will perform with longtime collaborators Herb Pedersen and John Jorgenson (former members of the Desert Rose Band) at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. A benefit concert for Thomas Fire victims is also planned for Feb. 16 at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara.
“I don’t want people to say what a wonderful guy I am though,” Hillman said. “If what I do for a living can help, I want to do that.”
Both concerts were planned before the recent conflagration to celebrate Hillman’s latest solo album, Bidin’ My Time, released in September by Rounder Records.
Hillman’s response to the fire and its aftermath is telling because it also reflects who he is as a musician: humble and understated, a team player, deferential to the talent supporting him.
And the roster of supporting talent on Bidin’ My Time is impressive, from Pedersen and Hillman’s former Byrds bandmates David Crosby and Roger McGuinn to another guy you’ve definitely heard of: Tom Petty, the album’s producer. Bidin’ My Time was likely one of Petty’s final projects before he died Oct. 2 at age 66.
The project was not Hillman’s idea. Petty, who often cited The Byrds as an influence and admired the former Byrd man’s work, pursued him.
Petty and the Heartbreakers covered a few Byrds tunes, and Petty wrote the band’s entry for Rolling Stone’s 2010 list of “100 Greatest Artists” (The Byrds were No. 45).
“The Byrds are immortal because they flew so high,” Petty wrote. “For me, they’re still way, way up there. They left a huge mark. … All of folk rock — for lack of a better term — descends directly from the music the Byrds made. They were certainly the first to introduce any sort of country element into rock music. . . . They’re part of what drew me to Los Angeles and made me want to be in a band.”
Petty and Pedersen approached him about recording the album in 2016. At the time, Pedersen was touring with Petty’s band Mudcrutch. Hillman, who has released about a half-dozen solo albums over the years (most recently 2005’s The Other Side), said he had no intention of recording another one.
“I was sort of done with recording — not in a bitter way, but it’s not really a big business entity anymore,” he said. “They came up with the idea, and I had a talk with Tom about it.”
Their conversation, as Hillman recounts it, was plain and sincere.
“I said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ He said, ‘I do. Do you want me to do it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’d be honored.’ ”
They spent a month recording the album at Petty’s L.A. studio, the Clubhouse.
“It was probably the most fun I’ve had making a record in years,” Hillman said.
The album is an amalgam of old and new, originals and covers, covering all the sounds Hillman is known for as a singer, songwriter and guitar-mandolin-bass player: folk, rock, bluegrass, country rock.
All songs on the album, even the “new” ones, were written before the recording process, and some had been gestating for years. The album opens with “Bells of Rhymney,” a folk song from the 1965 Byrds album Mr. Tambourine Man; the Bidin’ My Time version includes vocals by Crosby and Pedersen.
“I decided to cut it again because I wanted to sing with David and Herb, two great tenors,” Hillman said.
Hillman songwriting originals on the album, some co-written with others, include the title track; “Such Is the World That We Live In,” an ultimately optimistic tune that explores what his great-grandfather might say about not-so-positive current events; “Given All That I Can See,” which he describes as “a gospel-like tune”; and “Restless,” in which Hillman sings, “I’m restless / Like every other man alive.”
Title track “Bidin’ My Time” has been biding its own time: Hillman said the song was written in 1987, but “means more now. I guess you could do a straight-out definition of ‘biding time,’ but it’s really the part of all of us that wants another door to open, and having the courage to commit to that. New things are scary to everybody; I don’t care how old you are. It’s taking that first step, and always just trusting in yourself.”
The final song on the album is a cover of Petty’s “Wildflowers,” which Hillman and Pedersen performed at last year’s benefit concert honoring Petty as the 2017 Grammy MusiCares Person of the Year.
Hillman said he met Petty in 1978 but didn’t get to know him well until the recording session last year.
“He had a wonderful sense of subtlety, and patience,” Hillman said. “He guided, but from afar. He just trusted me.”
Hillman said he also admired Petty’s humility. “I’ve never seen a more humble man, especially in the position he held. He was a very down-to-earth guy, and that’s why people really mourned him when he passed away, because he was very accessible to everyone, regardless of who they were. I have very little patience for people in the arts that have an attitude.”
Bidin’ time? Easy for Hillman.
Attitude? He can’t abide that.
Chris Hillman, Herb Pedersen and John Jorgenson perform on Saturday, Jan. 27, at 7:30 p.m. at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. For more information, call 449-2787 or visit www.civicartsplaza.com. For more information about Hillman and his new album, visit www.chrishillman.com.