Desert Rose to return to its roots

Country band sets an acoustic show of Billboard hits at Fox
2013-01-31T00:00:00Z Desert Rose to return to its rootsGerald M. Gay Ggay@azstarnet.com Arizona Daily Star
January 31, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Guitarist Herb Pedersen looks back at his time with the Desert Rose Band with equal amounts of fondness and pride.

The group was a collaboration between Pedersen, Chris Hillman and other top-tier California musicians.

It took shape in the mid-1980s and served as a throwback to the West Coast "Bakersfield Sound" made famous by iconic country players Merle Haggard and Buck Owens.

The songs created were straightforward and honest and filled a void in Pedersen's mind.

"I think we were giving country music a dose of what it really lacked at the time," the 68-year-old multi-instrumentalist said in a recent phone interview. "There were a lot of bands out there trying to get into country rock. They were losing the point of what country music really was."

The Desert Rose Band's return to roots resulted in several Billboard hits over the course of nearly a decade, many of which will be performed when the group plays the Fox Theatre Saturday.

One of the band's greatest strengths, Pedersen said, was its musicians, nearly all of whom had been playing around California for decades.

Pedersen ran in the same circles as Hillman long before the two joined forces.

Inspired by the same roots and bluegrass artists (groups like the Osborne Brothers), the two often crossed paths during gigs at Los Angeles folk venues such as the Troubadour and The Ash Grove in the late 1960s.

Hillman, an early member of The Byrds, had already parted ways with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band and had created The Flying Burrito Brothers with Gram Parsons.

Pedersen was a performing member of the progressive bluegrass band known as the Dillards.

"We were living in parallel universes," Pedersen said. "His was more of the upscale, pop-rock scene. I was more in the folk and bluegrass, traditional music arena."

As Hillman continued to tour and travel as part of the Burrito Brothers and with Stephen Stills' band Manassas, Pedersen earned his stripes as a well-respected session musician, recording with the likes of John Denver, John Prine, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt.

The duo rekindled their friendship in the early 1980s.

Producers invited Pedersen to work on a couple of Hillman's solo projects.

When singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg looked to Hillman to form a backup band for his "High Country Snows" tour, Pedersen was brought on as part of the team.

"We would open the shows and then Dan would come out and do the album with us," Pedersen said. "It was a cool little deal."

The Fogelberg lineup also included John Jorgenson on guitar and Bill Bryson on bass.

Members opted to continue the project as the Desert Rose Band, sans Fogelberg, after the tour, enlisting the talents of Steve Duncan on drums and Jay Dee Maness on pedal steel guitar.

Pedersen said it was Jorgensen who suggested they "plug in" and go electric, which was fine by Pedersen.

"I felt like it was the thing for me to do," he said. "To get out of the studio scene for a while and try to do this. It was an opportunity that really appealed to me."

The band did well with a string of hits that made their way onto mainstream country radio, including "He's Back and I'm Blue" from its eponymous debut album and "She Don't Love Nobody" from its sophomore release, "Running."

Many of the band's songs came from Hillman and his writing partner Steve Hill.

"I thought Chris had great material for radio," Pedersen said. "He was so prolific at that time with his songwriting career, that we had a lot to choose from. Lucky us."

Just as the band derived inspiration from West Coast greats such as Haggard and Owens, younger artists were drawing inspiration from the Desert Rose Band, even after its members parted ways in the early 1990s.

During one reunion show at the Crystal Palace, Owens' longtime venue in Bakersfield, Calif., the band found itself in a pickle after Jorgenson couldn't make the gig.

As luck would have it, a fan in attendance was happy to oblige.

"Brad Paisley was there," Pedersen said. "He said that he knew all of John's solos and it turned out that he did. I didn't know who he was at the time, but I knew him after that night. He is a great player and a wonderful guy."

Even today, the Desert Rose Band celebrates a loyal fan base, whom the group plays for at venues across the country a few times each year.

Tucson is the only stop the band is making in Arizona in February.

"We left a nice mark, a nice body of work for people to listen to," Pedersen said. "It's not unlike Buck and Merle and people like that, who really cared about the material. That is what we strived for, and I think we did a pretty darn good job."

If you go

• What: An acoustic evening with the Desert Rose Band.

• When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

• Where: Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress St.

• Cost: $23-$49 through the Fox Theatre box office, 547-3040.

• Information: foxtucsontheatre.org online.

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