Back in the day, the Desert Rose Band was one of country music's best acts. Taking influences from rock and mixing them with the twang of a pedal steel guitar, the Southern California six-piece had plenty of singles topping Billboard's country music charts, as well as three Academy of Country Music awards and several Grammy nominations.
That was back in the '80s, and some would argue that the Desert Rose Band sounds just as good today. Despite a breakup in 1993, the group hit the road again in 2008 for a few shows across two years before taking another indefinite hiatus.
But Desert Rose is touring again and the band will be in Tucson this Saturday, Feb. 2, for an acoustic set at the Fox Tucson Theatre.
Guitarist John Jorgenson indicated that "tour" might be a strong word to describe the handful of shows that the band will do this year, adding that the members only get together when they happen to be free from other projects at the same time.
"None of us have made this our new career or anything; we all still do quite a bit of other things," he said by phone from Anaheim, Calif. "It's a very special thing that only comes every once in a while, and everybody is still healthy and plays well, and that's often not the case with bands."
Jorgenson became one of the band's founding members after meeting lead singer Chris Hillman at a trade show in California in 1985. After a few months of touring as an acoustic act and opening for the likes of Dan Fogelberg, Jorgenson suggested they expand their sound by adding drums and a pedal steel. Two years later, the band had been signed by a record label.
Hillman, the band's foremost songwriter, is largely known for his involvement with the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, and he's also worked with artists including Tom Petty, Emmylou Harris and Sheryl Crow. The other band members, including bassist Bill Bryson and banjoist/guitarist Herb Pedersen, have played with groups in a variety of musical genres. When Jorgenson isn't playing lead licks for the Desert Rose Band, he leads the John Jorgenson quintet, a Gypsy jazz group. He's also been a member of Elton John's band for six years.
Jorgenson added that Hillman's Byrds influence still remains in the music as does Pedersen's bluegrass roots, which make for interesting vocal harmonies. When the band decided to play an acoustic show, it was this harmonizing and the chance for intimacy with the audience that they had in mind. It also gives them a chance to play the way they did when they first formed.
"It's how we started out," Jorgenson said. "We really like it ... and we're able to do a lot more dynamics with the vocals."
Jorgenson couldn't remember exactly when the band last played in Tucson, but he's sure this won't be its first appearance here. Playing in the Southwest, he said, gives the band members an at-home feeling that other parts of the country don't always provide.
"It feels almost like home," he said. "We feel comfortable. It's part of our heritage and it's part of our background, whereas if we go to someplace like New Jersey, it's almost like we're somewhere more exotic or something."
Jorgenson said concertgoers can expect to hear hits spanning the band's career as well as a few Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers tunes.
"The main thing that we always try to focus on is that any song that we do is going to be a really quality song, because the material and what we're saying with the lyrics is really important to us," Jorgenson said. "We're not trying to preach any message or anything like that, it's just we tend not to do throwaway songs."
After Tucson, the band's plans include a trip up the East Coast in April, Jorgensen said, and appearances in California and Nashville.
"For me, the chance to sing and play with these guys is really special," he said, "and I look forward to it every time."