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Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen run wild

By John Lupton, December 2001

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Jesse it was that real traditional 'mountain duet' kind of stuff, you know, Jim singing tenor to Jesse...It was just similar tastes, I guess, and I think that's why we kind of think the same way when we write tunes, either when we're writing together, or when Chris is writing with Steve Hill, or whether I'm writing with somebody else, we think in terms of 'Gee, how is Chris, or how is Herb going to sing this part?', in the melody or whatever, so we're constantly thinking about it from that standpoint."

Many have advanced the theory that there is a genetic component to the classic tight-harmony, country duet sound, and Pedersen is quick to agree.

"I think there's a lot to that...like with Don and Phil Everly, for example, those are guys I listened to prior to even listening to bluegrass and folk music. When I was in the seventh and eighth grades, I would listen to Everly Brothers music, and there it was, you know, it was a more refined version of what Ira and Charlie were doing. Not refined in the sense that they were 'better', but it was just a little smoother type of approach, and it was a little more 'pop', you know. And when you hear Don and Phil talk, their speaking voices are different, there's a quality in there that you can hear when they're speaking, that it's undeniable that they're brothers...it's just the way they phrase their words, the way they use their vocal chords, it's just something that they're born with."

Another rich country music vein mined by the quartet on "Running Wild" is the tradition of the "topical story song," a tune written to comment on the news of the day, whether it be a train wreck, a notorious murder or the disappearance of a folk hero like Amelia Earhardt. "The Mystery That Won't Go Away," an original tune by Larry Rice, deals with the death of JonBenet Ramsey, and turned out to be one of the album's more remarkable cuts, though Pedersen admits he wasn't too sure about it at first.

"It was just something that (Larry) had in his head, and when he brought that idea to us, Chris and I just kind of flinched, like 'Oh my gosh, do we really want to do something like this?' But then when he brought the finished tune to us to record...my jaw dropped, because it's like a modern-day 'murder ballad', it's like the 'Knoxville Girl', Version 2001...it just made a lot of sense, and when we finished recording it, we just went, 'Yep, that'll work'..."

The cast of supporting musicians on "Running Wild" will be familiar to those with a knowledge of the work of the Rice Brothers over the years - including yet another brother team, Rickie and Ronnie Simpkins - but the presence of a familiar face from Hillman's and Pedersen's Desert Rose years, pedal steel virtuoso Jay Dee Maness is particularly welcome, and it's clear that Pedersen values him as much more than a friend.

"He brings a different style of steel guitar playing to the party. He has a smoother type of approach to it, but he really likes playing along in ensemble stuff where it might be a little bluegrassy, he loves that sixteenth-note picking kind of stuff, and he's very good at it. But there again, Jay Dee has had to fit into a lot of different things out here in the West, not like Nashville, where when you want steel guitar, they pretty much sound the same, but out here, he's had to adapt to make a living, so it doesn't sound too country, or too whatever...he's an amazing musician, he and I worked on a Beck album a couple of years ago. I played banjo, and he played steel."

Warming to the subject of the differences in the way country music is played on the West Coast, compared to Nashville and the hard-core old time and bluegrass regions of the Appalachians, Pedersen shares his thoughts.

"I think a lot of the people, and I'm guilty of this, who make a living playing the type of music that we do - country-slash-bluegrass - a lot of times you can't help but mix the two, when you're doing sessions for example. I try to use as much of that kind of stuff in commercial work that I do, be it Chevy Trucks, or the California Cheese Corporation or whatever it is, you just...bring your tools to work with you, and a lot of the stuff that I learned to play was based on early bluegrass and country stuff. So, if I'm playing guitar, if they want 'country' rhythm, I'll ask them, 'Well, are you talking about 'Buck Owens country rhythm', or are you talking about 'Lester Flatt country rhythm', because there's a difference, and then they don't know, and then you explain and show it to them, and then they make their decision...But there are so many more musical influences out here, I think, musically than there are in the Southeast, or was, like in the 1960's."

Though they do play some dates as a foursome, Tony Rice, Larry Rice, Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen continue to fill their schedules with plenty of other projects apart from each other. For Pedersen, in addition to session work, it's bluegrass with the Laurel Canyon Ramblers, the band he co-founded with fellow Desert Rose alumnus Bill Bryson that has put out three well-received Sugar Hill discs. Still, he's happy with the new album and won't mind if Rounder comes knocking again.

"I think 'Running Wild' is the best one we've done. It seems to be doing better, chart-wise right now at this early date, and we just hope we can do some more.

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