This week’s Classic Clip is a little piece of history with Chris Hillman revisiting one of his classic tracks with his then very new band, The Desert Rose Band. Chris Hillman is now recognised as one of the legendary architects of country rock and subsequently americana due to his time with The Byrds, his particular influence on their ‘Sweetheart Of The Rodeo’ album, his partnership with Gram Parsons in the Flying Burrito Brothers, and his wingman role to Stephen Stills in Manassas. However, at the end of the ‘70s, this was certainly not the case. His solo career hadn’t taken off, nor had the quasi-supergroup Southern Hillman Furey Band and the Byrds in all but name reunion, McGuinn Clark & Hillman. He found himself on start-up independent bluegrass and acoustic music label Sugar Hill and with a very limited audience. However, this proved to be the making of Hillman’s subsequent lifetime career.
His two Sugar Hill albums, ‘Morning Sky’ and ‘Desert Rose’, laid the foundation for the Desert Rose Band which he formed with Herb Pedersen, John Jorgenson on guitar, JayDee Maness on pedal steel, Stuart Duncan on drums, and Bill Bryson on bass in 1985. The Desert Rose Band took the country rock of Southern California to the country bank, bringing significantly more authenticity to the music than the Eagles ever did and achieving significant success on the country charts.
The video clip here is from 1984 and shows a nascent Desert Rose Band with JayDee Maness on electric guitar in place of John Jorgenson, and Buckaroo Tom Brumley on pedal steel guitar. The original version of the Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons penned ‘Wheels’ appeared on the Burritos ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’ and at the time was viewed as a Hank Williams inspired biker ballad. In this version, the Hank Williams quotient is increased and the vocals of Pedersen and Hillmen remind us of the great tradition of country brother acts. A little bit of music history before the Desert Rose Band recorded their first tracks and proof positive of what a great songwriter and pathfinder Chris Hillman is.