Tom Ross: To everything, there is a season

Hillman, Pedersen explore a family tree of country rock
By Tom Ross

Steamboat Springs — The No. 1 slow-dance song in the autumn of 1965, when I was in seventh grade at Charles R. Van Hise Junior High School, was “Turn, Turn, Turn,” by the Byrds.

During Friday afternoon mixers in the school cafeteria, boys and girls with sweaty palms awkwardly embraced each other and shifted their weight from one foot to the other in time to the music.

“To everything, turn, turn, turn … there is a season, turn, turn, turn … and a time to every purpose, under heaven.”

The dancing was nerve-wracking, but the music was magical and still stands up 44 years later.

A Steamboat audience had the chance Friday night at Strings Music Pavilion to hear Chris Hillman, a founding member of the Byrds and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with musical partner Herb Pedersen. They performed an acoustic version of “Turn, Turn, Turn” on mandolin and guitar.

Talk about a time warp. If 44 years have passed since the original Pete Seeger folk tune scored a No. 1 hit for the Byrds, then it’s inevitable that my musical heroes now are, ahem, senior citizens.

Hillman is due to turn 65 during the first week in December. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m only eight years, five months, six hours and 93 seconds (very roughly) behind him.

Instead, I’d like to focus on the fact that ’60s country-rock stars still can give performances that are as meaningful, and in some ways more meaningful, than the sets they rocked out as young men and women.

With a list of 70 songs to choose from Friday night, Hillman and Pedersen paid homage to many of their own heroes, such as country artists Buck Owens and Vern Gosdin.

Pedersen, who teamed with Hillman in the 1980s-90s country-rock supergroup Desert Rose Band, was in fine form in Steamboat this week. If you wanted to find harmonies as blended as those of Pedersen and Hillman, you’d have to summon another Byrds founder, David Crosby and ask him to bring along his pal Graham Nash. They were that tight.

Hillman and Pedersen found their relevance at the Strings Music Pavilion by producing a blend of early bluegrass, folk, California country, ’80s rock and ’60s hits. The music was stripped bare and performed simply on two acoustic instruments played into open mics. In doing so, they gave us a graduate seminar in the roots of rock music tinged with country that came out of Southern California four decades ago. The music was cross-pollinated by players who formed bands, broke up and re-mixed to form new bands that pushed the genre forward.

Hillman can be linked to Crosby, who can be linked to Stephen Stills and Neil Young, who played together in Buffalo Springfield, which included Richie Furay, who helped to establish Poco but went on to play briefly with Hillman in the Souther, Hillman, Furay Band.

Of course, Hillman helped Stills found Manassas, and it is Stills to whom Hillman gives a lot of credit for helping him to find his own song-writing chops.

Oh, yeah, and Poco band member Timothy B. Schmit became a longtime member of the Eagles. Come to think of it, Bernie Leadon, who was a founding member and played banjo with the Eagles in the early days, also was a member of the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers. That was the Southern California bluegrass outfit Hillman was invited to join when he was just 17.

You get the picture. I could go on at great length tracing the family tree of country-rock music, but I probably should stop right now.

One of the best moments of Friday night’s show at Strings came when a young member of the audience — at least, she was younger than Chris Hillman or me — called out, “Play Ten Miles High.”

Of course, she was referring to the 1966 Byrds hit “Eight Miles High” penned by Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark and David Crosby. McGuinn used his electric Rickenbacker 12-string on that tune to create some space-country guitar licks like no one else has thrown down since.

Hillman fielded the request from the audience like a pro.

“Ten miles high? I can only go eight miles high!” he quipped. And without hesitating, he began to replicate McGuinn’s guitar riff on his mandolin as Pedersen joined in on harmony.

The music may be four decades old, but it came alive last week. If you weren’t there, look up “Turn, Turn, Turn” on You Tube. It’s all there waiting for you.

Tom Ross is a longtime Steamboat resident. His column is published Tuesdays and Saturdays in Steamboat Today.