The OM Chris Hillman Custom Artist Edition
Source: Sounding Board Newsletter Vol 26 - January 2009
OM Chris Hillman
Western Theme Highlights This Distinctive Orchestra Model
Even in a music career that now spans five decades, Chris Hillman’s accomplishments and accolades are so remarkable it is hard to believe they belong to one person.
As a founding member of the Byrds, he co-wrote So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star and played a pivotal role in the creation of “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” the landmark album that launched country rock as a genre. With friend Gram Parsons, he founded the Flying Burrito Brothers, which sparked the outlaw movement in country. As leader of the Desert Rose Band, he put more than a dozen singles on the country charts.
He helped launch the career of Emmylou Harris, and recorded with artists ranging from Stephen Stills and Tony Rice to Herb Pedersen and Bernie Leadon. His songs have been recorded by Sheryl Crow, Beck, Steve Earle, Tom Petty and Dwight Yoakam, among others. He became a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with the Byrds in 1991, nabbed three consecutive Academy of Country Music “Touring Band of the Year” awards with the Desert Rose Band, garnered four Grammy nominations and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Americana Music Association.
For all his success, Hillman remains true to his roots, a third-generation California cowboy. He wanted that heritage represented on his namesake Martin Custom Edition, so Martin artist relations manager Dick Boak introduced him to famed Western artist William (Willy) Matthews. Willy created a handsome “branding iron and lariat” logo that includes Chris Hillman’s initials and slyly pays homage to the company Chris established to handle his songs, Bar None Music.
Willy and Dick worked closely to translate the art to inlay for the new Martin OM Chris Hillman Custom Artist Edition. Recreated in black mother of pearl, white mother of pearl, faux ivory and gold mother of pearl, the logo looks spectacular against the polished black ebony headplate. The unique headstock inlay is just one of several appointments that make the OM Chris Hillman Custom Edition a singularly handsome guitar. The familiar arched “C. F. Martin & Co.” at the top of the headplate is inlaid in abalone pearl, as are the Style 45 snowflake position markers on the black ebony fingerboard that lead to Chris Hillman’s signature between the 19th and 20th frets. An understated 1932 shaded top, reminiscent of Martin’s original sunburst from the early 1930s, expands from light amber at the center of the top to antique bronze at the edges, and provides a unique canvas for the bold herringbone top purfling and herringbone rosette. The back strip also is inlaid herringbone.
Tortoise color body, neck and headstock binding, heelcap and endpiece are all (with the exception of the herringbone encircled top) accented with delicate black/white purfling or inlay. A beveled and polished vintage-style Delmar nitrate pickguard, Waverly open gear tuners with oval ebony buttons, and white bridge and end pins inlaid with tortoise-color dots complete this elegant instrument.
The solid tonewoods on the OM Chris Hillman Custom Edition are equally stellar. The rare Adirondack spruce top is matched to scalloped Adirondack spruce braces for powerful, balanced tone. Back and sides of East Indian rosewood provide resonant timbre. The low profile 1 3/4” (at the nut) neck is carved from genuine mahogany. For optimal sound, both the nut and compensated drop-in saddle are crafted from genuine bone.
The care Chris Hillman took to develop “his” Martin guitar reflects a lifetime of making music. A native of the ranchlands of rural northern San Diego County, he got hooked on country music and bluegrass early, and soon was playing guitar and mandolin. In his mid-teens, he joined local bluegrassers the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers, with whom he played on their only album at age 17. When the Barkers called it quits, he was invited to become a member of the Golden State Boys, a top Southern California bluegrass band. The group eventually morphed into the Hillmen, named af ter Chris even though he wasn’t the group’s leader.
The Hillmen played weekly on Cal’s Corral, a live local country music television show, and recorded one album, but it too soon folded and Chris was considering enrolling at UCLA when he was invited to hear three musicians with acoustic guitars run through their songs at a Los Angeles studio. The musicians were Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark and David Crosby and they recruited him to play electric bass, an instrument he had no familiarity with but quickly learned. Following the addition of drummer Michael Clarke, they became the Byrds. The group’s f irst single, Mr. Tambourine Man, was a huge hit and the Byrds became a major force in rock & roll.
By early 1968, after several hits and serious attrition in the ranks, the Byrds were down to two members: Chris and Roger. Chris recruited musical acquaintance Gram Parsons and cousin Kevin Kelley into the band and – pushed by his vision and helped by great country musicians like Clarence White, Lloyd Green and John Hart ford – the Byrds recorded “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” the hugely influential album that launched country rock. Gram Parsons left the group soon after the album was finished and after bringing in good friend Clarence White to replace him, Chris also left.
Chris and Gram formed the Flying Burrito Brothers, a group whose “country with attitude” made outlaw country possible. Their first album, “The Gilded Palace of Sin,” became a classic. Gram soon lost interest in the band and Chris rebuilt it with great players like Bernie Leadon. Just before he left the group in 1972, Chris happened upon a young woman singing in a Washington D.C. folk club who so impressed him, he recommended her to Gram. The young woman was Emmylou Harris and the rest is country music history.
A phone call from old friend Stephen Stills resulted in the two joining forces to form Manassas, a band as eclectic as it was talented. Over two years, Manassas created a unique blend of American music, but pressures both professional and personal caused the group to disband in 1973. A brief Byrds reunion, a couple of years in the country rock supergroup Souther, Hillman, Furay Band with J.D. Souther and Richie Furay, and two fine solo albums followed. A get-together with Byrds bandmates Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark in the late 1970s became McGuinn, Clark and Hillman, which recorded three albums and had two “Top Ten” singles.
Since 1995, Chris has recorded seven albums: two solo efforts, two with Herb Pedersen, and three with Rice, Rice, Hillman and Pederson, which featured Chris, Herb and brothers Tony and Larry Rice. Chris’ most recent album is “The Other Side,” a solo project which includes several originals plus new versions of some of his best compositions from the past 40 years. He continues to tour regularly and in 2008 brought back the Desert Rose Band for a handful of concerts.
Delivered in a Geib™ style hardshell case, each Martin OM Chris Hillman Custom Edition guitar bears an interior label personally signed by Chris Hillman and numbered in sequence. The guitar can be ordered in a left-handed version at no additional charge; factory-installed electronics are an extra-cost option. Authorized C. F. Martin dealers will begin accepting orders for the OM Chris Hillman Custom Edition immediately and dealers participating in this “open” edition will be posted on the C. F. Martin website.