Desert Rose Band Reunion Satisfies Nashville Fans
CMT Blog Posted: August 10th, 2010 at 2:02 pm | By: Craig Shelburne
The Desert Rose Band returned to Nashville for the first time in 20 years last night (Aug. 9), arriving to a full Belcourt Theatre -- and eager fans like Emmylou Harris and Brad Paisley at their side. Lead singer Chris Hillman told the crowd that the band decided to reunite for the music's sake, with no intentions of making another record, so there was no new, unfamiliar material to politely sit through. Instead, the dynamic band capably and cheerfully rolled through their country hits from the late 1980s, like the fully-charged "Ashes of Love" (with Paisley taking a verse), "Love Reunited," "One Step Forward," "He's Back and I'm Blue," "Summer Wind" and "I Still Believe in You." As soon as they kicked off the first song, "She Don't Love Nobody," I just couldn't quit smiling. They've still got that cool California vibe, yet with an obvious affinity for traditional country music.
Even though my seats didn't allow me to see steel guitarist Jay Dee Maness, his stylish playing wove throughout all the songs. But I was just a few feet away from Herb Pedersen, whose high harmony is still an essential component of their easygoing sound. It's incredibly refreshing to hear a country band that relies so much on the musicianship, rather than just building themselves around a promising lead singer.
Harris told the crowd that Hillman discovered her performing in a singles bar in 1971 and brought her to Gram Parsons' attention when Parsons was looking for a female harmony singer. Without that chance encounter, she noted that she might have never had a career in music. Indeed, a lot of gratitude was spread across the evening, with all the band members praising each other's talent and glowing whenever somebody served up a tasty lick. With John Jorgenson on guitar, there were plenty of those. When Paisley is stepping back and admiring your dexterity, you know you're on the right track.
I can't really pick a highlight from the night, but as I write this, I'm listening to their Greatest Hits album and still grinning from ear to ear. They're playing the Grand Ole Opry tonight (Aug. 10), and here's hoping it doesn't take two decades for them to get back to Nashville next time.
Photo credit: Brian Tipton
With Desert Rose, Chris Hillman proves he still plays well with others
The veteran of the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers reunites with Herb Pedersen and other partners for a labor of love.
Chris Hillman, left, John Jorgenson and Herb Pedersen of the Desert Rose Band at a reunion performance in Bakersfield. (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times / May 26, 2010)
By Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times
The Desert Rose Band couldn't have picked a more appropriate site for launching a brief reunion tour than Buck Owens Crystal Palace in the capital of California country music.
The group, formed by Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers founding member Chris Hillman, arrived in the mid-'80s as the latest in his long string of distinguished Southland ensembles in which he and abundantly talented cohorts proudly pushed, poked and prodded at the boundaries that often, unnecessarily, separated rock, folk and country music.
The group's show Thursday at the club built in the '90s by Owens, one of the key architects of California country, served as a refreshing reminder of a period in contemporary country music when commercial success and musical soul weren't mutually exclusive.
Hillman and his longtime duo partner Herb Pedersen joined up again with guitarist John Jorgenson, steel guitarist Jay Dee Maness, bassist Bill Bryson and drummer Steve Duncan and gamely blazed through their old hits "Ashes of Love," "One Step Forward," "Love Reunited," "Price I Pay," "She Don't Love Nobody" and a few surprises.
In the opening number during their 90-minute set, the first of just a handful of shows the group will play over the summer, guitarist Jorgenson coaxed riffs that magically segued from bluegrass to Beatles in the course of a single phrase while he, Hillman and Pedersen knocked off exquisite three-part harmonies.
In the first outing of this go-round, Hillman muffed a line or two — after the show he said they'd had just a single rehearsal earlier in the day — then shook it off with a good-natured laugh.
It was almost as if Hillman were proving the point he'd voiced a day earlier during an interview. "This is not an attempt to reform a band at all — that's the last thing I would want to do," he said. "We have a good time together, and we have no pressure. We aren't making a record, we aren't trying to get radio airplay."
From the grins flashing from one player to another around the stage Thursday, it was fairly evident that purpose was musical desire rather than financial necessity.
"I was in more bands than anybody in this group," said Hillman, who also spent time with Stephen Stills in Manassas; with ex-Byrds Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark in McGuinn, Clark & Hillman; and with fellow singer-songwriters John David Souther and Richie Furay in the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, among others. "This," he added, "was the one band that parted company without any animosity. It's the only band I've even thought about putting back together on a temporary basis."
It also was the first in which Hillman, always an empathic supporting player or equal partner in those other groups, fully stepped forward as a leader, writing and handling lead vocals on most of the band's material.
Desert Rose had a respectable run on the country charts in the late-'80s and early-'90s as the musical pendulum swung away from the Urban Cowboy brand of pop country and swung back toward a more traditional sound with artists such as Randy Travis, Ricky Skaggs and Emmylou Harris.
What made the group's approach such a treat a quarter century ago was the way the players started with the impeccable instrumental and vocal chops common to bluegrass and infused them with a pronounced jolt of rock energy. It also introduced the folk-rock singer-songwriter ethos to many of their songs.
Hillman and Pedersen demonstrated their exceptional vocal synchronicity in a salute to their departed friend and mentor Owens with a version of "Hello Trouble" that would have broken clean in two if it had any more snap. Their reading of "Together Again" impressively matched the sibling singing style that was the signature of Owens' long partnership in the Buckaroos with Don Rich.
"Some people ask why aren't we doing more shows," said Hillman, who will keep Desert Rose going just long enough for three more dates this weekend in Northern California, three more back east in August and a final date in Colorado around Labor Day. "I say that if we go beyond six, we may start arguing.
"I'm joking," he quickly added. "It may sound corny, but this really is a labor of love. I'm 65 years old — what else am I doing this for?"