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Chris Hillman on working with Tom Petty: ‘An absolute joy’

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Folk rock legend Chris Hillman’s new album is “Bidin’ My Time.” (Courtesy Lori Stoll)
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Legendary ex-Byrd/Flying Burrito Brother Chris Hillman might be on the comeback trail with his first album in a decade, the new Tom Petty-produced “Bidin’ My Time” (which has folksy originals “Restless,” “Given All That I Can See” and “Such is the World We Live In” and covers of classics by Gene Clark, The Everly Brothers and The Byrds). It also helps to have cameos from David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, and Petty Heartbreakers Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell. “But one thing in this line of work that really puts the G in glamour is doing your own laundry on tour, which I’m doing while I’m talking to you,” he says, laughing. “It’s a task you can actually complete.”

Ten years away? Really?

Well, I’ve been working with Herb (Pedersen, partner in The Desert Rose Band) as a duo. We go out quite a bit, and we’ve built a good brand name, and we work whenever we want to with zero overhead. And then I was just winding it down, because I do have, thank God, songs I’ve written for The Byrds, which create a nice, comfortable royalty stream. So here I am ready to retire last fall, when Herb comes up with this idea to have Petty do an album with me. I didn’t even have a record deal, but Herb said, “I’m going to talk to Rounder.” So this record was so much fun, probably because I’m not chasing a career or trying to get on the charts.

How was working with Petty?

He was an absolute joy. He would look me in the eye and say, “I don’t hear this song.” And I’d say, “Let me mess with it a bit.” But then I’d come back and tell him that he was right, it didn’t work. And he’d go, “OK, let’s move on.” I wasn’t even planning to cover his song “Wildflowers” at first. But Tom asked Herb and I to perform at MusiCares this year in January, where he was the honoree, and everybody there — from Lucinda Williams to Randy Newman — had to pick a Tom Petty song to do. Herb brought in “Wildflowers,” and it was perfect. So I decided, “We need to cut this,” and Tom said, “Be my guest.”

Are you still winding down?

What does every other semi-aging rock star do? You write a memoir. So mine is done, although I have to redo the epilogue with Petty’s involvement. But I’m not writing about Gram Parsons ODing on heroin in the desert – none of that negativity is relevant to me. So I’m writing about how good Gram was, how great he could have been, and about all the amazing characters I’ve worked with. It’s only good memories.

IF YOU GO

Chris Hillman
Where: Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison Way, Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 13
Tickets: $30 to $34
Contact: (510) 644-2020, www.thefreight.org

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