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Musical journeys leads to another joint album for Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen

By Robert Wooldridge, November 1999

Though they have recorded only two albums together as a unit, the musical journey of Tony Rice, Larry Rice, Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen has crossed paths many times during the years. With the release of their self-titled second album on Rounder, Rice, Rice, Hillman and Pedersen delivered a worthy follow-up to their excellent 1997 debut "Out Of the Woodwork."

The union began in 1962 when Hillman and Pedersen first met while playingin different bands on the folk and bluegrass circuit in Southern California. Pedersen recalls that after graduating from high school in '62, he joined his first band called the Pine Valley boys, while Hillman was with the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers.

About two years later, Pedersen first came across the Rice brothers. "In '64, when Chris was with the Blue Diamond Boys and I was with the Pine Valley Boys, the Rice brothers had a band called the Haphazards," recalls Pedersen. "They were just young kids - little kids, like 10, 11, 12 years old. Larry was the oldest, and he was the mandolin player. And Tony was just barely playing guitar or big enough to hold one."

While Hillman went on to play in one of the era's most influential bands, The Byrds, Pedersen went to Nashville in 1967 and became a highly sought after session man, particularly after meeting the legendary Earl Scruggs.

"At that point my name was getting around pretty much," says Pedersen.

Much session work followed for Pedersen, who has played with such artists as Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and John Denver, as well as a stint with The Dillards between 1967 and 1970 as a replacement for Doug Dillard.

Tony and Larry Rice have worked together extensively with J.D. Crowe's New South and as the Rice Brothers (along with younger brothers Wyatt and Ronnie). Larry has also toured with Dicky Betts, while Tony has performed progressive bluegrass with David Grisman and with his own Tony Rice Unit.

Hillman and Pedersen collaborated as members of the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Desert Rose Band (which enjoyed substantial country chart success in the late '80's), and as a duo with their 1996 album "Bakersfield Bound."

Pedersen says that the Bakersfield sound of the '60's is his favorite era in country music. "It's something I could identify with as opposed to Nashville because I'm from here. It was more of a close to home kind of sound and Buck (Owens) was just such a monster at the time. Great tunes, great players. And Ken Nelson, his producer, was just a phenom at Capitol Records. He was doing all the country stuff there. When I wasn't listening to bluegrass, I was listening to all of that coming out of Capitol at the time."

The latest Rice, Rice, Hillman and Pedersen release is a mix of originals and some interesting covers. Perhaps the least obvious choice is the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil."

"Larry comes up with some little oddities every once in a while," says Pedersen. "But it seemed to work out really cool. Larry's a good one for finding obscure songs and applying them to bluegrass."

Some of the tunes were songs on which Pedersen had played on the original version as a session man, including Emmylou Harris' "One of These Days."

"I don't try to do it exactly the way the old version was," says Pedersen. "But it's just nice to experiment with different singers and players."

Pedersen also revisits Mike Brewer's "Hearts Overflowing." "I actually recorded that with Jonathan Edwards in '76. Brian Ahern produced it."

Another obscure song reworked on the album is "Out Among the Stars." "Adam Mitchell was a singer/songwriter in the L.A. area in the '70's," recalls Pedersen. "That was on one of his solo projects, and I always liked the tune. I worked on the Adam Mitchell record, and I remember that song."

The closing track is the Flatt and Scruggs tune "I'll Be On That Good Road Someday." "Lester and Earl recorded that probably in the mid '60's," Pedersen says. "I just loved the song and what it says. I just loved the way they did it, and we do it pretty close to their version. As soon as I mentioned that tune Tony and Larry said, 'Yeah, let's do that one.' And I don't think it had been done too much, either. That was one of the things we looked for - songs that have not been done to death."

Pedersen says that he finds no interest in much of today's country music. "It could be called anywhere from pop music to almost R & B. I don't think there's a big foothold in the classic country sound that there was 20 years ago, and that's unfortunate because there's a lot of artists out there who aren't getting signed because they don't look a certain way - they're not young enough," says Pedersen.

"It's like what Garth (Brooks) is going through. Garth is undoubtedly the most successful country artist in the history of the music business, but he still doesn't know what he wants to be when he grows up."