Chris Hillman – Bidin’ My Time
Rounder – 29 September 2017
Chris Hillman, a founding member of The Byrds, has recently released “Bidin’ My Time,” a late-career gem of classics and originals that also turned out to include the final studio recordings of the late Tom Petty. The album was produced by Petty, and recorded at his home studio earlier this year.
Hillman, who many consider the father of the country-rock movement, was a key member of The Byrds until late 1968. He later embarked on a successful career with groups like The Flying Burrito Brothers and the Desert Rose Band, formed with current touring pals Herb Pederson and John Jorgenson.
On the new album, he’s joined by several old friends including former Byrds David Crosby and Roger McGuinn as well as Heartbreakers Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench and Steve Ferrone. Petty himself played on two songs – lead guitar on “Here She Comes Again,” and harmonica on “Given All I Can See.”
As Hillman prepared for a recent show in Fall River, Massachusetts, he described how Petty came to produce the album. It started with a light-hearted conversation between the two music legends. Their brief negotiation sounded more like a pair of giddy teenagers planning a date. Hillman explained:
“I talked to Tom in November of last year. I said, ‘Are you sure you wanna do this?’ He says ‘Well, do you want me to do it?’ I said, ‘Well, yeah, but do you want to make the commitment?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but do you want me to do it?’ After some more back and forth, I finally said ‘I’d love to work with you, are you kidding me.’”
He met Petty before they went into the studio. “I played him a couple of songs and he says ‘Is this going to be a folk album?’ I later turned to Herb and said I don’t think he liked those songs. We started out to do an acoustic album but then it morphed into an electric album. Some acoustic and some electric actually – a lot of that was Tom’s input. I love the record. I think Petty, ever so subtly, put his stamp on this.”
What resulted is a special collection of songs, taken from throughout Hillman’s career. “We re-made ‘Bells of Rhymney’ (for the third time) because I wanted David Crosby and Herb to sing together – they are two great tenors. And they are two of my oldest friends,” remarked Hillman.
There’s an impressive cover of the Everly Brothers “Walk Right Back,” a song not originally planned for the album. “While we were in the studio setting up for another song, Herb and I were singing it for fun. Petty runs out of the booth and says ‘Let’s cut that right now.’ So, we cut it in one hour – done! And John Jorgenson played one of the all-time great guitar solos. I think sometimes when you’re not thinking about it and you just jump right into the water, great things can happen.”
Another highlight is “Here She Comes Again.” “It was a song Roger and I had written in 1979. It captures the essence of the early 60’s Byrds and Beatles.” Petty’s brief solo features his signature 12 string sound, and is one of the album’s high points. The song is as well produced as anything Petty himself ever released.
There’s also the Gene Clark song “She Don’t Care About Time,” which was originally the B-side to Byrds hit “Turn, Turn, Turn.” “I love the song, I love the lyric. We didn’t steer too far away from the original Byrds arrangement,” noted Hillman.
The album concludes with a beautifully stripped-down version of Petty’s hit “Wildflowers,” nothing short of perfect. Hillman’s vocal is flawless and the guitar picking is a slightly “down home” version of Petty’s original. The song serves as an unintentional but fitting tribute to Petty.
Many artists make late-career albums that are treasured by fans, but not always appreciated by critics. This release, thoughtfully recorded and produced, should please both longtime fans and critics, as well as those less familiar with Hillman, Tom Petty fans especially included.
Out Now on Rounder. Order via Amazon