The Flying Burrito Brothers

TrackAlbum
Ain’t That A Lot Of LoveLast Of The Red Hot Burritos
Christine’'s TuneThe Gilded Palace Of Sin
Cody, CodyBurrito Deluxe
ColoradoThe Flying Burrito Brothers
Dark End Of The StreetThe Gilded Palace Of Sin
Hand To MouthThe Flying Burrito Brothers
Lazy DaysBurrito Deluxe
WheelsThe Gilded Palace Of Sin
White Line FeverThe Flying Burrito Brothers
Wild HorsesBurrito Deluxe

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Contributor: Peter Viney

First decision: who were they? When did they stop?

We start with a development of The Byrds Sweetheart of The Rodeo, with the band formed as Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, Chris Ethridge and Sneaky Pete Kleinow dressed in their Nudie suits for The Gilded Palace Of Sin (1969). Chris Hillman switched from bass guitar to guitar and mandolin. No drummer credited, but a third Byrd, drummer Michael Clarke, joined just after it was completed.

Two Dan Penn songs are on there; Do Right Woman (written with Chips Moman) and Dark End Of The Street (with Spooner Oldham). Wheels, My Uncle and Sin City shift from the Byrds country rock era, closer to straight Nashville C&W. Hot Burrito #2 stands out, perhaps because this Chris Ethridge/Gram Parsons composition is less countrified. Christine’s Tune is also known as Devil In Disguise (NOT the Elvis song). Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman were the centre of the group, and their compositions dominate the Toppermost list.

The second album was called Burrito Deluxe (1970). Chris Ethridge had gone, meaning Chris Hillman switched back to bass, and Bernie Leadon came in. Already Parsons and Hillman had problems collaborating, and the album has some great covers. The Rolling Stones Wild Horses was arguably partly a Parsons song anyway (it says Jagger Richards), then Dylan’s If You Gotta Go plus Farther Along. Lazy Days is Gram Parsons’ major contribution, with Older Guys and Cody, Cody attributed to all three singers: Hillman, Leadon & Parsons. Stay with this: Sneaky Pete is still there on pedal steel, and Michael Clarke on drums. As soon as Burrito Deluxe hit the stores, Parsons left. This is the point where the band are captured on the film Festival Express and appear pretty feeble live next to Janis Joplin, The Band, Buddy Guy and Seatrain. But the Grateful Dead don’t look good in that company either, and even the world’s greatest Band fan has to admit is was Janis’s show.

Rick Roberts was recruited on vocals and guitar to replace Parsons for the third album The Flying Burrito Brothers (1971), which for me is their best. It’s also the band I saw at the Lyceum, and a band which knocked me out. This was the days of towering Marshall stacks and earbleed volume levels permanently set to eleven. The Flying Burrito Brothers used what has now become the norm. They each had a small Fender amp mic’d into a large PA system. They played at hifi volume, every intricate interweaving guitar lick perfectly clear, a bass guitar sound that was perfection. They finished with Willie & The Hand Jive. I’ve seen Johnny Otis do it, I’ve seen The Band do it. That was the best, and no, it’s not on any record, and if it were it would be in the list. Rick Roberts was a great singer, and was also the major songwriter on the album with Colorado (my first choice Burritos song), Four Days Of Rain, Why Are You Crying, and collaboration with Chris Hillman on All Alone and Can’t You Hear Me Calling. Covers include Merle Haggard’s White Line Fever and Dylan’s To Ramona. This line up is documented live in a July 1971 radio show easily and cheaply available on CD, Devils in Disguise, but Sneaky Pete had already departed to be replaced by Al Perkins. That radio show includes a version of The Byrds One Hundred Years From Now and The Everly Brothers Wake Up Little Susie.

Those first three studio works are the definitive three albums. The live covers they do such as Six Days On The Road, To Love Somebody, Wake Up Little Susie are a major feature of their appeal.

Then confusion sets in. 1972 brought Last Of The Red Hot Burritos documenting the late 1971 tour live. Ain’t That A Lot Of Love stands out, even in comparison to Taj Mahal’s version. Bernie Leadon departed for The Eagles, so Chris Hillman was the only remaining founder member, though with Michael Clarke, we still have two ex-Byrds. Kenny Wertz came in on vocals, guitar and banjo, and Byron Berline joined on fiddle, with Roger Bush on bass and guitar. By the end of the year Chris Hillman decided to go, bequeathing the band name to Rick Roberts, who continued to tour under the name in 1973 before calling it a day.

In 1973, the death of Gram Parsons revived interest in the band, and Close Up The Honky Tonks compilation was issued. Their ex-manager decided to exhume the band, starting with Sneaky Pete and Chris Ethridge from the first version, and pulling in another ex-Byrd, Gene Parsons, and Gib Guilbeau on fiddle for Flying Again in 1975. By the next one Airborne (1976 … “flying” … geddit?) yet another ex-Byrd was pulled in, bassist Skip Battin. A series of successful country albums ran through the early 80s, and the band was revived in the 90s, the common factor being Sneaky Pete Kleinow. I don’t think any of this straight C&W stuff is of interest … well, I wouldn’t. I haven’t heard much of it because this isn’t the pre-72 band at all. At some point they changed to The Burrito Brothers, then The Burritos, and the name was taken over by John Beland, a mid-70s recruit.

The posthumous Sleepless Nights by Gram Parsons dates from 1976, and includes some outtakes recorded just before he left The Flying Burrito Brothers, with the band. Dim Lights Thick Smoke (And Loud Loud Music) is the one Burrito offshoots continued to include in their sets. Mark Deming’s review at AllMusic sums it up well:

a lot of the time both Parsons and the band sound like a solid bar band in the middle of a Wednesday night set – more than competent, but less than inspired

Then finally Sneaky Pete formed Burrito Deluxe in 2003, naming them after the 1970 album. They produced three solid albums, with Carlton Moody and Garth Hudson of The Band joining Sneaky Pete. This band is a separate subject altogether.

Gram Parsons official website

The Flying Burrito Brothers complete bio- and discography

The Flying Burrito Brothers biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #86

3 Comments

  1. Ben Turkel
    Oct 3, 2013

    “The Gilded Palace Of Sin” is a great album, unfortunately they never came close to touching it. It reminds me of Blood, Sweat & Tears who also released a phenomenal debut “Chlid is Father to the Man” with Al Kooper and their subsequent albums without Kooper were lousy. In my view, “Burrito Deluxe” is a massive let down after the Gilded Palace, probably one of the worst drop off’s (along with BS&T) after a brilliant debut that I can recall. The third album is an improvement, but it’s not the same band. I would argue that the first album by the reformed Burritos “Flying Again” is unfairly maligned and deserves some respect. There’s a funky cover of ‘You Left the Water Running” that’s pretty good. I haven’t listened to it in some time, but I think that album is at least as strong as “Burrito Deluxe”.

  2. Peter Viney
    Oct 3, 2013

    Interesting. I prefer BS&T II to Child Is Father To The Man, though BS&T III is pretty awful. That’s one for whenever BS&T appear. I think you have to have Chris Hillman to be the Burritos, but Rick Roberts was so good I went on to his solo albums. That live set in 1971 completely knocked me out, which is why I suspect the third album is my favorite.

  3. Ben Turkel
    Oct 3, 2013

    Peter, I definitely agree with you on BS&T III, I picked that up used recently, listened to it once and sold it back. “Last of the Red hot Burritos” is a good album. There are a few different versions floating around. There’s one with a couple of bonus tracks. I have to say my view of Gram Parsons has diminished over the years. At this point, I think he’s highly overrated. I think that Gene Clark is the real deal and Gram Parsons was a bit of a poseur. That being said, “Gilded Palace of Sin” is a great album and does stand with “Music From Big Pink”, “Astral Weeks”. ‘Electric Ladyland” and many other landmark albums from the late 60’s

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