When Herb Pedersen and Chris Hillman first met, they were just teenagers, playing Monday open-mike nights at the Troubadour in Los Angeles.
Hillman was with a group called the Golden State Boys, and Pedersen was with the Pine Valley Boys.
“Doug Weston, the owner of the Troubadour, was great because he allowed young talent to come in and get up on a real stage with real microphones and try their craft,” Pedersen said.
After meeting at the popular L.A. club, their careers quickly headed in different directions—Hillman joined the psychedelic/country rock group The Byrds and Pedersen became a popular bluegrass session musician. But a couple of decades later, the two would finally perform together in The Desert Rose Band, a country group that landed 10 top 15 singles.
“None of us really expected the success that we had,” Pedersen said.
Pedersen will join up with Hillman and former Desert Rose band mate Bill Bryson Saturday for a concert in Nipomo. The show, at the Edwards Barn, is a benefit for the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Santa Maria.
After growing up in the Bay Area, Pedersen’s bluegrass inclinations took him to Nashville, where he worked with musicians such as Lester Flatt of Flatt and Scruggs and the Dillards. After a stint in the Dillards, he moved to Los Angeles, where he became an in-demand session player, which required less travel.
“It was very desirable for me since I had a young family,” said Pedersen, a father of three. “I didn’t want to be one of those absentee dads that a lot of guys had to become to be successful with their band situation.”
After moving to L.A., he met Linda Ronstadt, another Troubadour regular, whose popularity would soar in the 1970s.
“You see so many singers coming through,” Pedersen said. “And some of them may not look great, but they have great voices — and they’ll only go so far. And then you have people like
Linda, who had all their ducks in a row.”
Pedersen would perform on numerous Ronstadt albums in the ’70s. And his banjo playing can be heard in the opening of “Love is a Rose.”
At the Troubadour, he also met Mike Post, who would have an impact on Pedersen’s career years later.
“Mike was one of those guys who had a group — the Wellenbrook Singers — and I met him at the Troubadour on one of those Monday nights, and we became friends around that time,” Pedersen said. “And this was long before he was the music mogul of television.”
As Post’s career shifted, he became a popular songwriter for TV shows, writing theme songs and soundtracks for shows such as “Hillstreet Blues,” Magnum P.I.,” “The Rockford Files” and “Riptide.”
As his workload increased, he called on his old friend Pedersen to help.
“We’d see each other from time to time, and when he got ‘The Rockford Files,’ he wanted to use banjo, so he called me up,” Pedersen said. “And I said, ‘I’d be delighted.’ So every week, we would go to Universal and record music for the show.”
Pedersen’s TV work would soon include numerous TV shows and movies, including “Renegade,” “The Simpsons,” “Joe Dirt,” “Smokey and the Bandit” and “Brubaker.”
Meanwhile, he continued to do session work for records, offering his guitar and banjo playing and harmony vocals to acts such as Emmylou Harris, Gordon Lightfoot, John Denver and James Taylor.
Through the years, Hillman went on to different projects as well, joining The Flying Burrito Brothers and Manassas with Stephen Stills. But by 1987, he had finally decided to become a front man. And The Desert Rose Band— with old pal Pedersen backing him up—would be his vehicle.
With No. 1 hits like “I Still Believe in You” and “He’s Back and I’m Blue,” the band made a mark in the surging country scene of the late 1980s — a time Hillman remembers fondly.
“We didn’t have any problems with people getting into mischief,” Hillman told The Tribune in 2009. “We had a 95 percent consistency rate onstage as performers and singers. Everybody pulled their weight 110 percent. We were accepted in the country music community for who were, not for who we had been. Being in The Byrds meant nothing.”
The Desert Rose Band’s chart success only lasted about four years. But since that time, Pedersen and Hillman have worked on several lower-key projects, including their own collaboration, which has resulted in several albums.
“It’s great because we don’t have a label demanding that we do this or that,” Pedersen said. “We’re just doing it for the love of the music.”
Having spent years talking about the old days, most of their conversations, Pedersen said, involve talk of simple things, like parking and restaurants — proof that life has slowed down for these two musicians.
“We don’t want to go on too late, either,” he said. “Gone are the days of going on at 11 o’clock at night. We just don’t do that any more. We’re mid-60s, and it’s just time to slow down a little bit.”
Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.