As one of the godfathers of country rock, Chris Hillman helped shape the course of Americana through his formidable body of work with The Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas and the Desert Rose Band from the 1960s onwards. More than a decade has passed since his last solo album, but the 72-year-old has just returned with the exceptional Bidin’ My Time album. Produced by Tom Petty, its impressive cast includes The Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench and Steve Ferrone, plus the two surviving Byrds, David Crosby and Roger McGuinn.
It’s been too long since your last album, 2005’s The Other Side. Why such a long wait?
To be totally honest, I was losing interest. I’ve been doing this since I was seventeen and the travelling was starting to wear on me.
The album was presented to me, really. Herb Pedersen had been singing back-up vocals for Tom [Petty] when he was on the road with Mudcrutch last year. Between them, they conjured up this idea. Tom told me we could record in his studio, but I told him he might not like any of my songs. He said: “No, I trust you.” I was sort of rejuvenated through this process. I guess when you least seek something, it comes to you.
Is this you reclaiming your legacy?
It went that way without any pre-planning. But towards the end of this project, I said to Petty: “Y’know, this is kind of a conceptual album.” It’s covering early bluegrass and The Byrds, and even the title song, Bidin’ My Time, reminds me of an old Flying Burritos cut. For the Everly Brothers track [Walk Right Back], Herb and I were just goofing around with it between takes, and Tom ran out of the booth and said: “Let’s cut it!” That song was such an influence on me. I was always drawn to two- and three-part harmony singing.
The Byrds first recorded The Bells Of Rhymney in 1965. What prompted you to redo it for this record?
To me, that was The Byrds’ signature song. It really explained who we were and what we were doing. Herb and I had cut that acoustically on another record, but I said to him: “If I can get Crosby to sing with us, let’s cut it.” And I did. David and I still kid around with each other after all these years, but I love the guy, as I do Roger. It wasn’t a contrived method to get The Byrds back together, it was about having my friends involved.
You also pay tribute to the late Gene Clark, The Byrds’ chief songwriter, by redoing his 1965 song She Don’t Care About Time.
What a lyric! Imagine this man writing that at nineteen years old. We all aspired to write something that deep. None of us ever saw Gene read a book, but these beautiful, divinely inspired lyrics would come out of him. My God, he wrote so many brilliant songs throughout his life. But then the other side of the coin was that he was this tortured soul. Whether or not that motivated him, I’m not sure.
So what’s next for you?
I’ve been doing a few other things, including writing the obligatory, ageing‑rock-star autobiography. I was all done, but now I have to finish the last chapter, because my life changed with doing this record. I don’t know if I’ll make another album, but this would be a nice way to end it.
Bidin’ My Time is released on September 22 via Proper Music.