Hall of famer talks and rocks the theater



Chris Hillman, former member of the 1960s band The Byrds, and current member of the Desert Rose Band, speaks to Robert Marinez’s History of Rock ‘n’ Roll students in the Bakersfield College indoor theater on April 23.

Elizabeth Castillo, Editor in Chief

Chris Hillman, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, gave a lecture and performed with The Desert Rose Band on April 23 at Bakersfield College.

Hillman, 70, gave a lecture on his musical background and his experiences as a musician in the ’60s and beyond. Hillman was an original band member of The Byrds, whose chart-topping singles include “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!”. Hillman discussed working with the writer of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Bob Dylan.

“We got a demo of Dylan’s,” he said. “We recorded the song with Dylan’s blessing.”

Hillman discussed the rapid change of barely being able to support himself financially to becoming a member of an influential band. He also discussed how his life could have gone in a completely different direction. He played out of passion and didn’t worry about the money. He said that as a teenager, he contemplated attending UCLA.

“I could’ve gotten into UCLA with a 2.8 GPA,” he said. “Now, I couldn’t park my car there with that GPA.”

Hillman also discussed his aversion to the phrase, “Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘N’ Roll.” He believed that the phrase trivialized the music and the artistry behind the music of that period.

“Yes, it was true,” he said. “[The phrase] is a convenient way to describe that era,”

He said that musicians during that time who used drugs often destroyed their career. Hillman discussed how horrible he felt drugs to be, then and now. He believed that it did not make the music of that period any better, and he viewed heavy drug use as hedonistic pleasures.

“I’m not preaching to you about drugs,” he said. “When drugs came along, it got ugly, real ugly. Look what it’s doing in Mexico.”

Hillman discussed his departure from The Byrds in 1968 and how he became a member of The Desert Rose Band. He said when the group formed; he was leaning away from electric instrumentation. He said that the group earned a record deal without looking for one and that they enjoyed their career together as a band. A highlight as a member of The Desert Rose Band was working with Reba McEntire.

While Hillman discussed his different successes as a musician, he addressed the importance of an education as well. He said that when young musicians come to him for advice, he tells them to follow their passion but to have a backup plan as well. Hillman never intended to achieve as much musical success as he did. He said the odds of finding success in the music industry are very slim and earning a four-year college degree is important.

After his lecture, Hillman led a question-and-answer session with students. One student asked about his favorite music by newer musicians. He said that he still prefers to listen to older music, including Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington. Hillman did mention one band from the ’90s that he does enjoy.

“Blink-182! I love that band,” he said. “I love their take on lyrics.”

When The Desert Rose Band performed in the indoor theater of BC’s Performing Arts Center, the audience was a blend of older fans and students. The band played an acoustic set and performed with several different guitars and mandolins.

The Desert Rose Band played songs from their discography and several songs from The Byrds. When the group performed “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Hillman gave the song a special introduction.

“This song is dear to my heart,” he said. “It’s life, it’s black and white. It’s very much a beautiful song.”

The band played many different songs, and they joked that it was difficult to pick out songs to play because they had 97 different tracks to choose from. When they finished performing, the audience gave The Desert Rose Band a standing ovation.

The concert and the lecture were presented by Guitar Masters, a local organization dedicated to bringing talented guitarists to venues in Bakersfield. The founder of Guitar Masters, Rick Kreiser, said that he personally knows John Jorgenson, a band member of The Desert Rose Band and a multi-Grammy winning musician. Jorgenson was vital to bringing the group to Bakersfield.

“The Desert Rose Band plays very few dates each year, and I consider it an honor for them to include Guitar Masters and Bakersfield College on their concert schedule,” Kreiser said.

The Desert Rose Band’s performance at BC’s indoor theater was the first time Guitar Masters came to Bakersfield College. Kreiser said that he hopes BC takes full advantage of the indoor theater and utilizes it to attract new artists of every genre to Bakersfield.

“Students, faculty, and the entire city of Bakersfield should be extremely proud of the new Performing Arts Center at BC,” he said.

Guitar Masters, which started as a hobby for Kreiser, focuses on providing gifted musicians of all genres a chance to perform in Bakersfield. Kreiser said that the venue is key to the performance as well to ensure an optimal listening experience for the audience.

“The music is never secondary in our shows,” he said. “Rather, it’s the reason we do them at all.”

Guitar Masters will host Albert Lee, a guitarist specializing in country rock, at the indoor theater at BC as well. Lee has performed with The Everly Brothers and The Crickets, and has recorded for Bo Diddley, Brad Paisley and Emmylou Harris. Lee will have a full band performing with him. The concert will be held on June 24 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the performance are $17 for students with a student ID and $32 for general admission.

For more information on Guitar Masters and upcoming performances in Bakersfield, visit guitarmasters.org.