Herb Pedersen is the consummate country-rock sideman and team player, a true Americana renaissance man. The guitarist/banjo player and songwriter started out playing bluegrass in the early '60s folk-era SF Bay Area; he later enjoyed stints in the The Dillards, Chris Hillman and the Desert Rose Band, and a bazillion other bluegrass, country-rock and roots-country bands, including his own Laurel Canyon Ramblers. Over the years he's backed stars such as John Prine, John Denver, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris and dozens of others... This discography takes a look at the records where he was a primary artist or a major influence, but if you keep checking the liner notes on all those eclectic old '70s albums, I'm sure you'll find Pedersen's name listed on quite a few. Here's a quick look at his work...
The Dillards "Wheatstraw Suite" (Elektra, 1968)
Pedersen had already made a name for himself in several '60s blugrass bands when he got the nod to join the Dillards... In the hippie era, their sound started to get a little wiggier and more electric, though the Dillards found their overlords at Elektra strangely resistant to any experimental moves, and unwilling to let them plug in and groove out, like their pals in the Byrds. So the boys shopped their sound around, tried swinging a deal at Capitol, then came back to Elektra (which had since jumped onto the psychedelic bandwagon) and produced this odd, gentle cult classic. Herb Pedersen replaced Doug Dillard, who had split the band for a while, and he brought a wellspring of new energy and enthusiasm along with him. The repertoire was pretty cool, a mix of softcore sunshine folk, breezy melodic newgrass (before there was such a word) and goodnatured humor. They covered the Byrds, nodded towards Alfred G. Karnes and Gene Autry, and painted a sonic pastel palette across the wide open horizon of the newfound hick-rock crossover. Pedal steel player Buddy Emmons adds a nice mind-expanding tone through his drifting, high tones, and the airy group harmonies are also kinda nice. Most of these songs are pretty short, some are fairly notional, but taken as a whole, this is a rather enchanting album. Recommended!
The Dillards "Copperfields" (Elektra, 1970)
On their fab followup to the Wheatstraw album, the Pedersen-era Dillards smooth their sound out a bit, making their efforts both more cohesive and, in some regards, a bit bland. Here the lads lean heavily on sugary high harmonies and purty instrumental sweeps, and, if the truth be told, they remind me a bit of John Denver... Not a lot going on in terms of old-fashioned bluegrass pickin', though -- this is more of a template for the soft rock sounds of the coming country-rock boom than any sort of a 'grass album. Still, there are some lovely passages, even if listening to the whole album all at once may be a bit taxing at times.
Herb Pedersen "Southwest" (CBS/Epic, 1976)
(Produced by Mike Post)
This is one of his rare solo albums, an intriguing country-rock outing that mixes a variety of styles and themes... There's the yearning hippie-era mysticism of "Jesus Once Again," folkie musings about growning old, the pure bluegrass twang of "Can't You Hear Me Callin'," and more lavish country-rock tunes that were the style of the time. The album's highlight is the irresistibly propulsive singalong song, "The Hey Boys," as groovy a go-off-the-grid dropout anthem as you're every likely to hear. And e brought plenty of his pals along for the right: Emmylou Harris harmonizes on the somewhat sappy (but also quite sweet) "Our Baby's Gone," about watching your child grow up, while guitarist David Lindley noodles away on songs like "Rock 'N' Roll Cajun." Admittedly, this is an uneven album -- I bought it ages ago so I could hear "The Hey Boys," which I remembered from my KFAT days -- but it has some nice stuff on it, and it's certainly a good reflection of its times. Definitely worth checking out.
Herb Pedersen "Sandman" (Epic, 1977) (LP)
Here Today "Here Today" (Rounder, 1982)
An all-star jam session, with Jim Buchanan, Vince Gill, Emory Gordy, Jr., David Grisman, Herb Pedersen... A lot of talent, and a mighty fine album!
Herb Pedersen "Lonesome Feeling" (Sugar Hill, 1984)
(Produced by Herb Pedersen)
A sweet set of melodic folk-country-pop, with a firm rooting in bluegrass and traditional music. Pedersen opens with a country-rock version of Tom Paxton's "The Last Thing On My Mind," and later moves into a series of songs that have a strong similarity to Gordon Lightfoot. Throughout there's lots of gentle, dreamy pedal steel by J.D. Maness, some dobro, and banjo plunking as well; not too surprisingly, Chris Hillman accompanies on mandolin, along with some LA studio cats like Leland Sklar and Hal Blaine, playing n an unusually country-riented gig. A very mellow, listenable record, a nice summary of the eclectic hippie-twang that Pedersen helped pioneer. Recommended!
Chris Hillman "Morning Sky" (Sugar Hill, 1982)
Pedersen provides high harmonies and sympathetic backing on this solo set... A sign of things to come? You betcha!
Chris Hillman "Desert Rose" (Sugar Hill, 1984)
A cheerful set of upbeat country-rock, with backing by several of Hillman's longtime pals... This album led to the formation of the Desert Rose Band (see below) although the group's final lineup would be quite different, as well as the sound. Two players made it into the later band: Herb Pedersen provides harmony vocals and Jay Dee Maness adds some sweet pedal steel licks, but the rest of ensemble is different, partly drawing on the remnants of the old Emmylou Harris Hot Band (with lead guitarist James Burton and piano player Glen D. Hardin) as well as some fine picking by country-rock veterans Bernie Leadon and Al Perkins. The later DRB albums are a bit more aggressive and poppy in comparison, but you can see why Hillman stuck with it: this is a lovely record, and definitely worth picking up. Nice stuff.
Desert Rose Band "Desert Rose Band" (Curb-MCA Records, 1987)
Herb Pedersen formed the core of this surprisingly successful roots-country Top 40 band, along with frontman Chris Hillman and guitarist/arranger John Jorgenson, as well as steel player Jay Dee Maness, who gave the band a retro feel that balanced its more contemporary pop-country production style. The group took its name from a Chris Hillman 1984 solo album which Pedersen had also played on; in many ways it was a commercial vindication of the old '70s country-rock scene, which had embraced both old-school country and eclectic experimentation. The Desert Rose Band was pretty solidly "pop," however, shooting for chart success while still keeping things twangy. This debut disc included their first single, "Ashes Of Love," a cover of an old Johnny & Jack song that managed to crack the Country Top 40, as well as the three singles that followed -- "Love Reunited," "One Step Forward" and the chart-topping "He's Back And I'm Blue," which established the group as one of the major acts of the late '80s. Nice stuff, all things considered!
Desert Rose Band "Running" (Curb-MCA, 1988)
Desert Rose Band "Pages Of Life" (Curb-MCA, 1989)
Desert Rose Band "True Love" (Curb-MCA, 1991)
(Produced by Tony Brown)
Desert Rose Band "Life Goes On" (Curb-MCA, 1993)
Laurel Canyon Ramblers "Rambler's Blues" (Sugar Hill, 1995)
With the ashes of the Desert Rose Band settling 'round him, Pedersen reaffirmed his love of old-school bluegrass (albeit with a singer-songwriter-y "progressive" tinge) while leading the Laurel Canyon Ramblers, along with his Desert Rose buddy, bassist Bill Bryson. Lots of fine, crisp picking and sweet, sad heartsongs, with plenty of zip and twang. The instrumental tracks are standouts, particularly the sweetly propulsive "Yellowhead" and the gentle "Flatland Ramble." A few nice gospel harmony songs, too, amid all the secular stuff, and a nice acoustic remake of "Love Reunited," which was a hit for the DRB a few years earlier. Great debut of a short-lived band.
Laurel Canyon Ramblers "Blue Rambler 2" (Sugar Hill, 1996)
Herb Pedersen & Chris Hillman "Bakersfield Bound" (Sugar Hill, 1996)
The lads dig deep into their love of West Coast honkytonk (aka, "The Bakersfield Sound") as well as other classic country heartsongs, and the harmony style of the Everly Brothers and the Louvins... Great record, packed with great cover tunes and some sweet originals as well. Highly recommended for folks who love mellow, melodic country songs.
Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen "Out Of The Woodwork" (Rounder, 1997)
An acoustic-music supergroup with Pedersen and Hillman joining bluegrass brothers Larry and Tony Rice... This is a pretty nice record, in which their collective love for and appreciation of old-fashioned country music and harmony singing is made manifestly clear. The song selection is quite nice, and the picking is sprightly, lively and clean... There's more than a whiff of the consummate musicianship of the Bluegrass Album Band records on here, just with a more contemporary feel, with more modern and more country-oriented songs given the deluxe all-star treatment. Features several Chris Hillman compositions, and a few by Larry Rice (which are a bit strained and overly-crafted, in comparison). Overall, this is a very nice record, well worth checking out.
Laurel Canyon Ramblers "Back On The Street Again" (Sugar Hill, 1998)
On the third LCR album, Herb Pedersen and fellow ex-Desert Rose Band-er Bill Bryson delve into the soft-harmony style of old-fashioned bluegrass and brother act smoothies, such as Jim & Jesse or the Louvin Brothers. The title track is a little wobbly, and there are a few sugary undertones that may seem cloying. But on the whole, a nice truegrass-ish outing. Includes some nice gospel numbers, and pleasantly restrained picking throughout.
Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen "Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen" (Rounder, 1999)
Hmmmm. I'm not gonna make many friends saying this, but I really can't say as this disc did that much for me... There's too much of a precious, genteel, overly-crafted feel to it, somehow... Larry Rice has never really appealed to me as a singer, and Hillman doesn't quite leap to the fore in quite the way we wish he would. Everyone on this band obviously knows their stuff, and this is a nice record, with plenty of nice songs; it just doesn't seem to have much sizzle. This sorta starts out bright and pure, then gets bogged down in folkie prissiness... Oh, well.
Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen "Running Wild" (Rounder, 2001)
Larry and Tony Rice team up with Byrds/Dillards vets Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen for a pleasantly low-key set of country-bluegrass ballads. Overall, I'd reluctantly have to admit that this lacks ooompf, but it is a nice reminder of the pioneering crossover work that Hillman and his various crews did in the '70s to help widen the palatte of modern-day hick music fans. A pair of EZ dino-rock covers ("Things We Said Today" and CCNY's "4 +20") are alternately charming and a bit iffy. One interesting is Larry Rice's "The Mystery That Won't Go Away," a CNN-era update of the old topical ballads that once filled traditional music... Only this time, instead of the sinking of the Lusitania or some train crash, it's about the murder of Jon-Benet Ramsay. Worth checking out; they really seem to be hitting their stride on this one...
Herb Pedersen & Chris Hillman "Way Out West" (Back Porch, 2002)
This opens with a straight-ahead truegrass instrumental, then slips into a thumping, good-natured Buck Owens-y Bakersfield Sound country tune, along with several well-chosen cover tunes, lie "Invitation To The Blues" and a version of the Everly Brothers' "Problems" that has a very desert Rose-ish feel to it. Nice stuff -- another sweet collaboration from this super-simpatico duo.
Herb Pedersen & Chris Hillman "At Edward's Barn" (Rounder, 2010)
A nice, unpretentious live set, with two old country-rock/bluegrass/Americana veterans playing straightforward acoustic versions of classics from the Southern California roots-music scene of the 1960s and '70s. The repertoire includes familiar faves by the Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Hillman's old Desert Rose Band, and an old Louvin Brothers tune or two. There's something gratifying about hearing these guys introducing a song like "Wheels" and matter-of-factly remembering when and why it was written. It's particularly nice to see Pedersen in the spotlight again: if they'd included a version of "The Hey Boys," that woulda been fun, too. If you're a fan, you'll get a kick out of this album.
Loafer's Glory "Loafer's Glory" (Arhoolie, 2012)
(Produced by Loafer's Glory)
If you like cool, confident, no-muss, no-fuss traditional bluegrass music, you'll dig this gloriously relaxed session, featuring Herb Pedersen and bassist Bill Bryson, along with their pals, Tom and Patrick Sauber, all long-time veterans of the bluegrass and twang scenes. Another sweet, low-key set packed with old favorites and flawless harmonies and picking... The ensemble vocals remind me of the Osborne Brothers in their mellower moments -- I'm sure you'll find favorable comparisons as well. This is truegrass music the way I like it, tapping into the soulfulness rather than the drag-racing speed-trials aspects. Recommended!
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