Chris Hillman’s new album, the Tom Petty-produced Bidin’ My Time, premiering exclusively below, “really fell into my lap” according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.
Hillman — a veteran of the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Desert Rose Band and more — releases his latest solo set, and first in 12 years, on Sept. 22. Truth be told it came as something of a surprise to Hillman, who figured the recording part of his career was finished.
“I didn’t think I would ever make another record — and that wasn’t coming out of any kind of bitterness or whatever,” Hillman tells Billboard. “I had some songs that I had not recorded, but I was sort of winding down. It was, ‘OK, I’ve had a great 54-year career,’ and looking at the way the business is at this point there was no reason to do another (album). I was very comfortable going out and doing shows with Herb (Pedersen).” Pedersen and Petty, meanwhile, had other ideas once they heard some of Hillman’s songs.
“I had a conversation with Tom in the fall, November, and I said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?'” Hillman recalls. “And he was, ‘Do you want me to?’ I said, ‘Well, yeah. Can you make the commitment?’ and he said, ‘Do YOU want me to do this?’ ‘Of course I’d love to work with you,’ and he said, ‘Great, we’ll use my studio and everything.’ I said, ‘You haven’t even heard some of the songs.’ He said, ‘I’m not worried,’ and I was, ‘Well, I’d be worried because I don’t know if they’re that good!’ But everything worked out great.”
Bidin’ My Time is a kind of summing up of Hillman’s long and varied career, incorporating the folk, bluegrass, country and rock styles he’s touched on over the years. What was initially intended as an acoustic album grew with the addition of members of Petty’s Heartbreakers and guests such as Pedersen, John Jorgenson, former Byrds mates Roger McGuinn and David Crosby and others. “All in all, it was a joy,” Hillman notes. “I didn’t have to tell them anything; They knew exactly what to play, and it was opening up on a day to day basis, the album. I’ve never had as much fun recording, and I think a lot of it has to do with there was really no pressure attached. I wasn’t going after a new career or trying to get on the charts, whatever that means. It was just making music.”
Bidin’ My Time has plenty of notable moments. The cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Walk Right Back” came after Petty heard Hillman and Pedersen fooling around with it between songs and insisted they record it. “The Bells Of Rhymney,” with Crosby and Pedersen, “was always a very special song to me when the Byrds cut it…it really defined the Byrds sound, that song.” McGuinn, meanwhile, joins Hillman for the Byrds rarity “Here She Comes Again,” which the group played live but never recorded, and on which he Hillman plays bass for the first time in more than 30 years. “I had a ball doing that,” Hillman says. “I never really get the opportunity to play bass anymore, so I had just a wonderful time. I missed it — but I just don’t see ever putting a band together and doing that again.”
Doing Petty’s “Wildflowers,” meanwhile, was an organic song choice, stemming from Hillman and Pedersen’s performance of the song for Petty’s MusiCares Person of the Year honor earlier this year. “After that I said, ‘We should cut this song ’cause it’s so comfortable for me to sing it,'” Hillman notes. “It wasn’t any king of ‘Thanks for producing us, Tom. Here, we’re gonna do one of your songs.’ I was hoping it would meet his approval, and he loved how we did it. It’s such a great song…”
Hillman and Pedersen, joined by Jorgenson, will be hitting the road on Sept. 21, with more dates slated for 2018. Meanwhile, Hillman has also written a memoir — “Like every other aging musician,” he quips — which he’s rewritten to include Bidin’ My Time. “Mine’s about music,” says Hillman, who hasn’t signed a publishing deal for the book yet. “It’s not about which guy died of drugs or this or that. It’s about having that passion for music starting in 1963 when I got paid for the first time, $15. Every year I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to go enroll in college,’ and a door would open and I’d go through that door. It was an interesting journey, and hopefully people will find it interesting enough to read about.”