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Music for a Cause : The Desert Rose Band will headline a fund-raiser to buy imaging equipment for Community Memorial Hospital.


Who do you think would go to a benefit for Donald Trump? The guy who owns Walmart? Ted Turner? King Fahd? Sure, maybe. How about a benefit for doctors, lawyers, developers and the Internal Revenue Service? The IRS could make all of us go to its fund-raiser, the others, who knows? All of which brings us to this week's subject, tbe Desert Rose Band, which will headline a fund-raiser for a hospital.

Funds raised from this event will go toward the purchase of a SPECT Imaging System for the Nuclear Medicine Department at Ventura's Community Memorial Hospital. The system can be used to diagnose coronary artery disease, damage from a heart attack, fractures and tumors.

These systems aren't cheap--clipping coupons won't help. And there aren't enough aluminum cans west of the Rockies to make a decent down payment. So tickets are $65. Maybe they should invite Donald, Ted and Fahd.

The fund-raiser will be held at the Agriculture Building at the Ventura County Fairgrounds at 6 p.m. Friday. Opening will be Tom Kell, followed by a barbecue and country dance lessons. Wahoo.

Desert Rose Band front man Chris Hillman is a native Californian and a 12-year county resident. He's in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, having been a founding member of the Byrds in 1964.

He's heading for the Country Music Hall of Fame as well. After a pioneering 1968 Byrds album, "Sweetheart of the Rodeo," helped define country rock, Hillman left the Byrds to co-found the Flying Burrito Brothers with the late Gram Parsons.

Hillman continued to make country rock in various musical incarnations until he formed the Desert Rose Band in 1986.

In a recent phone interview from his Ojai home, Hillman discussed the life and times of the Desert Rose Band.

How's the tour, the album and all that?

Despite the recession, it's doing well, and we're having one of our best summers ever even without a great hit single. A lot of people are suffering, even here in Ojai. Everything's starting to work for us even though we're still fighting an identity crisis of the faceless five-piece country band. We try not to be the typical country band which does around 200 dates a year, which is death. We usually tour from early spring to early fall, and I try to hold it to 150 days a year. I can't complain, I've been doing this for 28 years.

Tell us about the benefit.

I'm donating the time of the Desert Rose Band, and we're doing this gig to earn money for new equipment. We also do a Santa Maria benefit every year for a small autistic home. Also, I wanted to do a Ventura date. We were going to do the fair, but we had another gig. We should get the fair back in October, where it belongs, by the way. Also, for some reason, the fair books the worst bands in the world.

The show is going to be in the Ag Building at the fairgrounds. Last time I was there it was for the Surf Punks concert/riot 10 years ago.

Wow, those guys were great. Whatever became of them? I'm an old surfer, an old long-boarder and the Surf Punks told it like it was about the beach.

All this and country dance lessons too. That's not much like Grateful Dead dancing?

I can't dance the two-step, but I can probably do the Grateful Dead dance when you put your arms out and just sort of flop around. Deadhead dancing is very free form while the two-step is very precise.

You're from L.A., how did you end up in Ventura County?

I was born in L.A., but I was raised in San Diego County in the Del Mar/Encinitas area. Orange County is gone. San Diego is overdeveloped. And when we moved up here 12 years ago, Ventura was the last of the '50s beach towns. Downtown Ventura still looks like 1955. Ventura was always a wonderful home to come home to. We lived on Hanover Lane on the beach, but now we live in Ojai.

Alice Cooper. Wahoo.

No, not Alice Cooper, I'm talking about people like Glenn Frey.

Or people that never went away like John Prine.

Yeah, he's great. Have you heard his new one? He won't ever sell like Prince, but his albums are works of art. I want to be like Prine and be able to put on one of my albums in 10 or 15 years and still see some sort of honest musical statement.

Will the Byrds fly again?

I doubt it. Gene Clarke died, you know. Crosby and I wanted to do something, but Roger McGuinn was pushing his solo thing and nothing came of it. At the Hall of Fame thing, everyone got along for two hours, despite the fact that the war started that night. George Bush came on the screen just like Big Brother. Anyway, it was like being onstage with four of your ex-wives.

I remember I saw you guys for the first time at Santa Barbara High School in 1965 with the Dillards.

Man, that was a long time ago. Yeah, the Dillards, they're still around--they live back in Missouri, I think. That tour was pretty scary. They had us flying around on a DC-3--a real Rick Nelson special.

What's the best and worst thing about your job?

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