Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Hillman Alone, Interview Part Four
To reiterate the basic info, the place was Seattle and the year was 1969. In the hotel room Gram hit the showers, and Chris and I talked for a while...
I don't want to ask old, tired questions, but you've been in the rock scene for about five years now--are you glad? Are you tired of it?
CH: Yes, I'm a little tired. But on the other hand, it's changed so much. The pace has gotten so fast. It's not new and fresh like it was four years ago. There's so many groups, so much goin' on. But now it's just starting to go down, the whole thing. Madison Avenue got a hold of the whole thing, and record companies are just squeezing it dry--promoting this group and that group, and half of them don't even make it. ((half? guess those were the good old days!)) I'll tell you, man, I just want to get some money and beat it. If I ever play music again, it will be in a bar for twenty bucks a night--really--just to play, 'cause there's no pressure there and you can actually play. I mean, I figure most musicians in the scene actually only spend about half their time playing. The rest of the time is full of bullshit--record producers and record companies, managers and all that. ((the "all that" probably including journalists!)) If I did it all over, I'd just go into a bar and play.
I've got a friend here in Seattle who is a pretty good guitar player, but he decided a long time ago that he just didn't want to go through it all. I guess he has killed off a little of his talent by just sitting around, but at the same time he has kept out of the whole thing.
CH: I'm sorry I didn't save some money, you know?, when I had the chance. But I had a good time and that's that.
I can't imagine that your career is over by any means, 'cause the Burritos ought to be big.
CH: Personally, I don't like to live in cities. I really don't like crowds. I want to get my own little place; that's what I'd like to do.
Have you got a place you want to settle picked out?
CH: I have fifty acres in New Mexico. So someday I'll build.
CH: Near Taos.
Where all the people have moved back to the country now lately...
CH: I don't know. There's no hippies around where I live. ((laughs)) They don't like hippies down there.
I know they don't; I've been reading about that.
CH: I mean people who are on the streets, hitchhiking. But it's a good place.
How far along are you-all in the next album? Have you done any recording?
CH: We've cut three things, but I think we're going to end up doing the whole thing live instead of doing it in the studio.
Did you do the first one track by track, or "live" in the studio?
CH: It was done live, singing and playing at the same time, mostly. A couple of them were overdubbed. But that's about all, nothing else.
You could tell out there today that you were playing the same music.
CH: That's one of our whole things, you know--no extra bullshit, man. It's us playing... funky... just us. The only person we'd ever use is Clarence ((White; see previous segment)) on guitar. We've tried--we had Leon Russell play piano with us once, and it just wasn't the same, you know, as the five Burritos playing. It was just something alien.
Does Gram play the keyboards on the album usually?
CH: Yeah, that's what he overdubs. Or he'll put the piano down with everybody else.
You concentrate on guitar?
CH: Yeah, rhythm guitar. We either sing it then or sing it later.
That honkytonk song you opened up with... will that be on the new album? ((possibly was "Close Up the Honkytonks."))
CH: I don't know what we're going to cut. That's like standard stuff.
Oh, that's right, you mean if it's live. I didn't recognize the song. Is it yours?
CH: No, but we'll do six originals and six standard songs. We use that song in our sets all the time... Buck Owens.
Pretty nice, I should have known it... Buck Owens. What country cats do you listen to?
CH: I like Buck--I like his earlier stuff better than now. I don't know what he's doin' now; he's into some weird bag. But I like Wynn Stewart.
Wynn Stewart... I know his name, that's about all.
CH: He's had some really good records. George Jones and Jerry Lee Lewis are doing good stuff, and Johnny Bush, Kitty Wells...
Because you're into country yourselves, is that who you listen to mostly these days?
CH: That's how I started playing music, you know. When I was 14, it was the same people--Kitty Wells, whoever was goin' on then. Mostly bluegrass too, like the Stanley Brothers, early Flatt and Scruggs. And I was playin' in like hillbilly bars when I was 17; I had a fake i.d. That's what I grew up on. I'm not from the South, but that's what was goin' on in our house. I played it all the way up until The Byrds, then started out playing bass and doin' all this other shit, and I just got completely out of it. I forgot all about it, until I met him ((Gram)) and, bang, we started doin' it. Because I always used to want to find a cat to sing with. That's how I used to sing, with one guy, when I started out... tenor and lead. ((Herb Pedersen, I hear a voice calling!)) I listen to rhythm 'n blues too. I don't really follow the current rock 'n roll unless it's on the radio--FM, whatever you call underground. I hear Crosby's album a lot on the radio. But Taj is my favorite... he's my favorite. I can listen to that album he cut all night, the second one. And I've heard some stuff he's cut for his third album. He did "Six Days on the Road"--you know, that truck-drivin' song. Incredible, yeah, really funky. It's gonna be a good album. ((pauses to reflect for a moment)) It's just not the same. The Whiskey a Go-Go, the Strip, it's just gotten so crazy. Thousands of kids, you know, and not the same kind of kids--scruffy, funky kids. There's a lot of violence goin' on all over. All the nice scene's been squashed out, and dirt came over it.
It was like the Monterey Pop Festival was sort of a peak, and it's been sort of slipping back--at least the scene with the people has been slipping back--ever since.
CH: Yeah, that's a good place to pick. It's just gone downhill.
How did you make your break with The Byrds?
CH: I just quit. We had a crooked manager at the time too. I was just sick of being in The Byrds, of being a Byrd. It wasn't the same as when the five started out, or even the four, the original Byrds. It got down to me and McGuinn and two other guys that we hired on a weekly salary. It was bullshit, you know; it was really stale. We had a bad producer and a bad record company. So I just got fed up one day and quit. I couldn't take it any more.
Wasn't ((Gary)) Usher producing you in those days?
CH: I don't like his work. You see, we ((Chris and Gram)) got together, and he moved in for a while. We started singin', we started formin' this idea, and it just happened, you know. We started out, bang, out of the cannon. We had a little money from the company, the record company ((A&M)), an advance and everything. We had direction, where we were going to go--but had the wrong managers. Mishandling the whole thing, telling us lies, steering us this way. We stumbled and tripped and fell back to L.A., because the original thing was we worked our way across country to New York, to go to England, where they were waiting for us. We're really very big in England, you know; we've never been there, but we're always in the paper. So we get to New York, and the managers haven't gotten the work permits. We had to turn around and come back here, starving and in debt. We'd burned a lot of bridges when we left. Phone company bills... we come back and, bang, they got us. It's been one setback after another. We're finally getting on our feet, I think. Then Clarke ((drummer Mike)) breaks his leg one night. Ethridge got busted--he just got out of that--so Michael breaks his leg. Little things like that, setbacks. But we got good managers now.
Did you pick these guys originally, or did the company pick them for you?
CH: Gram knew this guy, Steve Allsbury, and as we started along in the early stages it was just me and Gram. It just worked into where Steve was the manager. He made mistakes--not on purpose; he just didn't know what he was doing. He bungled--he didn't follow through, he didn't answer phone calls, he didn't mail out things when he was supposed to. That really blew it. Then again, we've had rough times in the studio, when we can't get together, just like any other group. But there's magic in the group when it's together. Boy, there really is. And it's gonna happen, I know it is. It's just no bullshit--straight-out, honest, we mean what we're doing, we're not jiving. That stuff just ruined rock 'n roll. I mean, I respect Hendrix as a musician, he's a good musician, but all the other cats that are on the bandwagon are using that as a gimmick. Gimmicks come into the thing, and it just destroys it. San Francisco, that whole bunch of bullshit ((hippies, Summer of Love)) wrecked it too. I mean, there ain't one group up there... I may sound like a hardass or somethin', but there really isn't one group up there worth shit. Maybe people that moved there... like the Youngbloods moved there, and I love that cat singing, Jesse ((Colin Young)), he's a beautiful singer. And ((Michael)) Bloomfield lives up there, he's a good musician. But the groups that came out of there full of all the jive... ((Jefferson Airplane? Moby Grape? The Grateful Dead? who knows? Chris broke off his rant as Gram emerged from the bathroom))
You're ready to take on the world now, huh?
((his answer? find out next time in the final segment))