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Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen run wild

By John Lupton, December 2001

He's not complaining, but Herb Pedersen is as surprised as anyone that "Running Wild" represents the third Rounder release from Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen - surprised, considering that he initially thought that the first album would never materialize at all, and that it would be yet another one of those great ideas that just never seems to work out.

The friendship and musical association of Pedersen and Chris Hillman dates back some 40 years now, to their teenage years in California. It was at a 1963 show in Pasadena that they met the elder two Rice brothers, guitarist Tony and mandolin player Larry.

It was a case of rising young musical prodigies finding common ground - country music ground - that wasn't always easy to find in the Southern California music scene of that era.

"With Tony and Larry," Pedersen says, "We've known them since they were teenage kids, when they lived in California back in the early '60's. They, along with us, although they were younger than Chris and I, were listening to the same kind of stuff. So, it all...made sense."

That "same kind of stuff" was the vibrant mixture of country-based styles and sounds brought by the waves of immigrants to California from the Depression onward, symbolized by performers as diverse as Buck Owens, the Maddox Brothers and Rose, Merle Travis and the hard-edged bluegrass sounds of Vern and Ray (with whom Pedersen worked for a time).

Hillman, of course, rocketed to fame during his years with The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Pedersen built a career playing for and with folks like The Dillards and Emmylou Harris and released a solo album or two before hooking up with Hillman during the 1980's in the Desert Rose Band, one of the more decidedly country-oriented of the wave of country-rock bands of that era.

For their part, the Rices built pretty solid credentials along the way as well. While Larry has long been recognized as a premier session player and vocalist, Tony Rice has come to be widely regarded as perhaps the pre-eminent acoustic guitarist of his generation. In the late '80's and early '90's, they teamed up with their younger brothers Wyatt (guitar) and Ron (bass) for two popular Rounder albums titled, appropriately, "Rice Brothers" and "Rice Brothers 2."

"When I ran into Tony and Larry up at Grass Valley one year, prior to us getting together and doing (the first) recording, we were talking about, 'Gee, wouldn't it be fun if the four of us could get together and maybe skull out some kind of recording project?'," Pedersen says, "and I said, 'Yeah, that's a great idea', and usually in the heat of those kind of situations, you always think, 'Nah, this is never gonna happen.' Then, a year later, Larry called and said, 'Let's think about going in and recording,' and Ken Irwin at Rounder was gracious enough to give us a little spot there on the label to do some recordings."

That spot on the label turned out to be 1997's "Out Of The Woodwork," and the response was enthusiastic enough that a follow-up album, "Rice, Rice, Hillman and Pedersen" was released in October 1999.

Both albums were geared more toward the traditional bluegrass that had been their original touchstone, but "Running Wild" expands to include more of the variety of country music that each of the four have played over the years.

The title track, for example, is from the repertoire of Ira and Charlie Louvin, perhaps the prototypical country "brother duet" act, and much of the album's emphasis is on vocal interplay. The Louvins were an obvious place to start, says Pedersen.

"When you work in groups, and there's maybe only one or two singers, and you have to fall back on just two-part harmony, (the Louvins) are the guys you go to because they made some of the most interesting two-part stuff...really blossomed, just made it really work. Jim and Jesse (McReynolds) are guilty of the same thing. They have that same type of approach to thirds and fifths, and sevenths and ninths, and whatever they're going to do...they never forsake the purity of the music, but they always come up with something very, very colorful and interesting as far as their harmony blend."

Despite not being brothers themselves, Pedersen says that after 40 years of singing together in one context or another, he and Hillman have managed to achieve much of the same understanding of how to do the two-part harmony.

"Chris and I, we came from similar backgrounds...Even though we're from California, we were exposed at an early age to a lot of really good folk, bluegrass and country music, and for some reason, we both fell into that thing where we both liked the same type of stuff, where we both really embraced Flatt and Scruggs, and Monroe and all the original bluegrass guys and then the spinoffs that kind of made it not more interesting, but just gave it a little different flavor, like the way the Osborne Brothers rearranged their vocal stack, where there was a high lead. And with Jim and

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