Though many music fans still do not recognize his name, Chris Hillman has had a monumental impact on American music and may have one of the most impressive resumes of any contemporary musician. He’s probably most famous for being a founder of the legendary Byrds in 1964, with Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, David Crosby, and Michael Clarke. They recorded an electric version of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” that hit the top of the American and European charts and went on to be recognized among the founders of folk rock, psychedelic rock, and country rock.
But, before that, Hillman was a California guy who grew up under a surfboard. At age 17, he played mandolin for a San Diego-based bluegrass band called the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers, who included Bernie Leadon – a future founder of The Eagles. Hillman next joined another bluegrass band called The Golden State Boys (later The Hillmen).
In 1968, Hillman left the Byrds to create The Flying Burrito Brothers with ex-Byrd Gram Parsons. Hillman says the Burritos “created an environment” for outlaw country music. While the Byrds put more rock into their country-rock, the Burritos often put in more country.
After the Burritos, Hillman’s next venture was with Stephen Stills in the short-lived but innovative band Manassas. The group’s self-titled debut album is one of pop music’s most brilliant works – a masterpiece that melded rock, bluegrass, salsa, blues, and country music.
Other of his pursuits include The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band with Poco’s Richie Furay and John David Souther. In the 1980s, he joined forced with Herb Pedersen and others to form the Desert Rose Band. But, Hillman and Pedersen eventually headed back to bluegrass, joining Tony and Larry Rice in Rice, Rice, Hillman and Pedersen.
Hillman may not get the acclaim enjoyed by a virtuoso mandolinist like David Grisman, but his touch on the mandolin – particularly during his blazing acoustic versions of the Byrds’ classic “Eight Miles High” – can often go beyond sublime. And when he and Pedersen trade mandolin and guitar licks on “The Bells of Rhymney” – a song first recorded by Pete Seeger and popularized by the Byrds – he can paint a landscape as beautiful as one done by Van Gogh.
With such a resume in mind, listen carefully to Hillman’s choices of the best and most influential concerts he has seen:
“I saw Pete Seeger in a small theater in San Diego when I was only 15, and I walked backstage,” Hillman recalls. “He was so kind to me. He told me to keep practicing and to ‘sing out like you mean it.’ ”
Another show a year later also made a lasting impression.
“I was a 16-year-old kid five feet away from the Stanley Brothers in an L.A. club,” he recalls. “I was watching them play and wanting to play bluegrass.” The Stanley Brothers, one of the most influential bands in bluegrass history, were also known for brilliant harmonies.
His favorite concert memories aren’t all folk and bluegrass, though. Hillman also was one of the fortunate people to see a legendary August 1965 concert by four pretty well-known Liverpool rock and rollers. “I saw The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl,” he says, noting that it was during the Revolver period. “They came out on stage wearing Nehru-collar, military-style matching suits. They were fantastic.”
The Beatles that night played a 12-song set: “Twist and Shout,” “She's a Woman,” “I Feel Fine,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” “Ticket to Ride,” “Everybody's Tryin' to Be My Baby,” “Can't Buy Me Love,” “Baby's in Black,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “A Hard Day's Night,” “Help!” and “I'm Down.”
Two decades later, Hillman caught The Boss in Los Angeles: “I was not a fan of Bruce Springsteen’s records,” he admits. “But I was sitting in the bleachers at the L.A. Coliseum and saw him with Nils Lofgren. He was incredible. He gave off a feeling of ‘there’s no other place I would rather be.’ He was so committed to the moment.”
That show was a part of a four-night stand by Springsteen in September 1985. About 85,000 fans filled the ancient Los Angeles stadium each night during that run to witness the Boss’s wildly successful Born in the USA tour.
Hillman says he “was taken” by a Brad Paisley show about three years ago, but he doesn’t go to concerts anymore. “Because of the crowds and chaos,” he explains. Crowds and chaos were part of his heyday in the '60s. He flatly says those days were the pinnacle of his career, and “The Bells of Rhymney” was the song that “defined” the group.
“We were guys with no rock chops who all came out of folk music,” he says. “We were five of the most diverse, weird people getting together, and we created a sound.”
April showers bring May flow......yeah, yeah, yeah, another day of heavy rain.
Easy for writers block to kick in. Some of these ideas are tried and true but some might be fresh and new to some of you. Sorry, new brand of coffee.........
When I am really stuck, I make a list of end rhyme words from one or two random songs. Cut the sheet into little strips of paper and toss them in a bowl and pull out the rhyme pairs and write a song.
10 Techniques From Professional Artists For Breaking Through Creative Blocks
These strategies can help you get unstuck and start thinking and working creatively again.
By Jane Porter
Danielle Krysa had a successful career as a creative director for an advertising and branding agency in Canada. She was proud of her professional work, but she was secretly making her own art on the side. Krysa didn't talk about her creative work with the same bravado that she approached her professional work. She rarely showed anyone what she was making and often felt a rush of jealousy when coming across the work of artists she admired.
"I’d feel a wave of soul-crushing jealousy—the kind that made me think, 'Who am I kidding? I could never make something like that,'" Krysa writes in her book Creative Block. But in 2009, Krysa decided to do something about her angst and the resistance she was running up against in her creative work. She started a blog called The Jealous Curator, where she posts daily about artists whose work makes her "jealous, but in a good way."
For her book, Krysa interviewed 50 creative people from around the world about their work, what inspires them, and what their go-to projects are when they feel stuck and want to get unblocked.
Here are techniques from 10 artists featured in Krysa's book to help you get unstuck when you're up against a creative block.
1. Take a Stroll Around The Neighborhood
Often a creative block comes from an inability to stay focused on just one task at hand. Your mind feels overwhelmed or distracted by too many things. "Your brain feels like a big knot, and you only think of your kitchen that needs a cleaning," says German-based photographer Matthias Heiderich in Krysa's book. "It makes sense to stop working then, and to re-sharpen the senses."
Heiderich's solution is what he calls "Once Around the Block," inspired by the name of a song by musician Badly Drawn Boy. Simply getting out of your chair, exploring your own neighborhood, paying attention to the houses and sidewalks and shop windows rather than staying stuck in your head and your workspace, can help reenergize you. "Trying to see the banal objects around you in a new light can be a good brain boost," he says.
2. Set Tight Parameters To Play In
Having endless possibilities to choose from can be overwhelming and ultimately lead to a block. That's why setting rules or parameters for yourself can help you start thinking creatively without getting lost in the wilderness of possiblities.
Mixed-media artist Trey Speegle suggests making a drawing and photocopying it 50 times, then altering each image in as many ways as you can think of. "The important thing is to turn off your brain and just play with a repeated form and let your mind see where no ideas or thought processes takes you," he says. "Create your own tight parameters . . . Then give yourself a lot of room to play."
3. Never Underestimate The Power Of Willpower
Sometimes getting past a creative block simply means pushing through the resistance you're feeling. It's easy to run from a project that's giving you trouble, but sticking with it when you feel uncomfortable takes willpower.
"There will be one point in every project where I decide that my idea is absolutely stupid," says Kristi Malakoff, a Canadian-based artist who makes large installations using cut paper. "It’s just pure willpower that gets me through these moments."
4. Don't Wait For Inspiration
Inspiration doesn't just strike. It's cultivated. Waiting around for the perfect moment to launch into a project or tackle a creative challenge will keep you waiting for a long time. Just do the work, advises South African ceramics artist Ruan Hoffmann. "Through work comes new ideas, and the spark to either follow and develop, or develop and then abandon," he says.
One place Hoffmann finds inspiration is in the words of painter and photographer Chuck Close when he says:
"Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you."
5. Seek Out An Assignment
Getting past a creative block means stepping outside your comfort zone. If you feel uncomfortable, you're pushing your boundaries. And that's where good ideas start to take shape.
“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
"Ask someone close to you to give you an assignment,'" says collage and mixed-media artist Hollie Chastain. "Make sure it’s not an idea that you have frequented on a regular basis in your work. Keep true to your vision and technique as you work."
6. Put Random Things Together To Tell A Story
What story are you trying to tell? Whether you're working on a design project or trying to come up with a solution to a technical problem, or writing a book—you're telling a story. What is that story and how can you tell it in a new way?
"The human brain seems to want to understand things," says Swedish-based painter and illustrator, Camilla Engman. "If you put two things together, it immediately starts to think about why and what. For me, that makes up a story."
7. Dare To Go Against What You Know
We often turn to the same solutions or strategies for solving creative challenges that we've used in the past. "You’ve probably developed a certain style that is unmistakably yours. Your creative muscle has become strong, maybe overbearing. It’s time to stretch," says Canadian-based painter Fiona Ackerman.
Ackerman suggests trying to do something unfamiliar or unrecognizable to the work you've done in the past. "This exercise always helps me break out when I’m feeling bored by myself," she says.
8. Take To The Road
Trying to see your neighborhood or block in a new way, as Heiderich suggests, can be a useful way to train your brain to recognize new details around you, but putting yourself in an entirely new and unfamiliar surrounding can also have the effect of re-energizing you in unexpected ways.
"Taking to the road with my camera never fails to inspire me," says photographer and writer Jen Altman. "Sometimes it’s not only the act of the voyage—however short it may be—but the state of mind that envelops you as the road widens. Some of my best ideas have come as I’m chasing the sun across the horizon."
9. Start Again
Often getting out of a rut requires trashing the whole thing and starting from scratch. Instead of trying to untangle the mess you're in, what about setting it aside and creating a new mess using what you've learned from the first attempt. When that try fails, set it aside and start over again.
"Draw something on a piece of paper. Stare at it. Trash it. Draw it again on another piece of paper. Stare at it. Trash it. Repeat," suggests collage and mixed-media artist Arian Behzadi. "Once you feel you’re done, uncrumple all the pieces of paper and line them up in order." Seeing the progress you've made, the attempts you took and abandoned, will help you not only make progress, but also learn from the process you used to get there.
10. Go Toward What Scares You Most
If something scares you, instead of avoiding it, try getting as close to it as you can. Fear can be a powerful motivator and embracing your fears can help you get over a block. Painter Lisa Golightly suggests making a list of the three creative things you're most afraid to try and then forcing yourself do those three things.
"Fear is a big motivator for me," says Golightly. "A college professor once told me that if I was afraid of something, that meant I had to do it. That has basically shaped my life."
Classic songs are spawned by everyday experiences. Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons shared a house in California. Gram came home one day with a few scrapes after dumping his motorcycle. They stared talking about it and wrote this song.
I read Gary Ewer's blog The Essential Secrets Of Songwriting earlier this morning and it started my motor revving.
Here is a snippet:
If you've been building your own catalog of songs over the past few years, and you've got some or most of it recorded, take some time to listen to those recordings, one after the other, and after each song ask yourself the following questions:
1.What’s this song’s most exciting moment?
2.What is innovative in this song? (What sets it apart from everyone else’s music in this genre?)
3.What happens in the first 15 seconds that makes someone want to keep listening?
4.Why would someone want to listen again to this song?
5.Does each song in my catalog offer my audience a unique and exciting musical experience?
Let’s face it, there’s nothing better than playing a song for an audience, a publisher, or a friend and having it move them. Excite them. Make them dance. Or leave them tearing up. As writers, we want to reach out and touch people with our songs. As a professional songwriter, I have written many, MANY songs that, for one reason or another, have failed to move people in the slightest. I have also been blessed to have other songs reach millions and sell millions of records. Over the years, I’ve compiled a checklist that helps me move people more consistently with my songs. On a good day, I’m lucky to get these elements firing on all cylinders.
1. Believability. This might be the number one thing I check and recheck as I write a song. Asking yourself, “Is this believable?” is essential to writing a compelling song. “Does it feel real?” This seems like a simple thing to master, but it’s perhaps the hardest. Great actors want to make their acting seem so effortless that it feels they are NOT acting. And great writers have a knack for making a song feel “unwritten.”
2. Bring Something New to the Party. If you study great writers and artists throughout history, you will see a consistent pattern emerge: they were unafraid to incorporate the old with the new, to mix styles together that were not mixed before, and to stretch the boundaries by bringing something new to party.
3. The Song is King. Often, writers sit down to write after a life event inspires and moves them to express it in a song. But also, they’re so tied to writing the song exactly as it happened in their story that they lose sight of where the song needs to go. The song will reveal it’s own story. Listen, and it will lead you to places you never thought possible. As a Hall of Fame songwriter once said, “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story!” The Song is always King.
4. Don’t Forget the Listener. Have you ever talked with someone, and you get the feeling they don’t care what you think or feel? They just go on and on about something that happened to them? Songs are a conversation between the writer/singer and the listener. Don’t be guilty of a one-sided conversation. Always keep in mind who you are writing the song for. What are they thinking and feeling when they hear your words and melody?
5. Improving On What You Have. Study, learn, and master the craft of writing. Nothing gets in the way of emotion moving a listener like technical mistakes. Learning to re-write and edit your songs can take them to the next level. Studying your craft and becoming a better writer is a lifetime journey. The more you master craft, the more consistently you will touch people with your songs.
6. Practice Subtraction Over Addition. Many writers pour their hearts and souls out on paper because they have so much to say. But great, compelling writing lives in the blank spaces. It’s about learning to say the most with the fewest words. Make each word have weight and importance, and realize what you leave out is just as powerful sometimes as what you leave in.
Love this poem! I grew up on bullheads. Dad would clip a round red & white plastic bobber to my line and I would do my best to cast five feet from the muddy shore of a Mississippi oxbow just outside of Wilton Junction, Iowa. I had already threaded a wiggly garden worm on the Eagle Claw hook. Wouldn't take us long to have a sack full of brownish black fish headed home for dinner. Mom would heat the grease while Dad nailed them into a big maple tree by the fence in the back yard and skinned them. My job was hosing them clean with the garden hose. Good times and good food.