Fifty years after their seminal debut album ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’ was released in Spring 1969 The Flying Burrito Brothers shine out as Americana pioneers, their reputation based more on artistic reputation and credibility among their peers and successors, than commercial success. It was famously said of Velvet Underground’s output that ‘The Velvet Underground didn’t sell many records, but everyone who bought one went out and started a band’ ( variously attributed to Lou Reed or Eno), similarly the influence of The Flying Burrito Brothers on bands that followed cannot be overstated.
Formed in 1968 in Los Angeles, California by Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman the first lineup featured bassist/keyboardist Chris Ethridge, pedal steel guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow and session drummer “Fast” Eddie Hoh. Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman had left the most recent incarnation of The Byrds, and the country-rock vibe of the first album reflected the direction The Byrds had taken, with their country-tinged album ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’.
By the time their second album ‘Burrito Deluxe’ was released in 1970 Ethridge had left the band, Hillman switching to bass, and Bernie Leadon joined on lead guitar. The album failed to gain the recognition of their debut, and soon after Gram Parsons left the band, to be replaced by Rick Roberts.
Roberts’ first album with the band, The Flying Burrito Brothers, was released in 1971. After its release, Leadon departed to join the Eagles to be replaced by pedal steel guitarist Al Perkins. This new version of the group recorded the live album ‘The Last of the Red Hot Burritos’, which was released in 1972.
The band split up before the album was released, and over the intervening years various incarnations have resurfaced, with in excess of fifty musicians having been members over the life of the band, and its related acts trading variously as The Burrito Brothers, and Burrito Deluxe, due to issues over ownership of the original band name.
Gram Parsons died in 1973, perhaps adding posthumously to the reputation of the band, and the other original members have also passed away, with the exception of Chris Hillman.
A version of the band continues to tour, under the title ’50th anniversary all-star tribute to THE FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS’ and can be seen at Under the Bridge, London and at Skegness and Kinross in January 2020.
The band is led by multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and vocalist Greg Harris from the line up playing from 1979 through until the mid-nineties, alongside Jeff Pevar, who has worked with David Crosby, Phil Lesh, Joe Cocker, Ray Charles and Jefferson Starship, Richard Newman, drummer with Rory Gallagher, Alvin Lee, Jeff Beck and Tony Morley, bassist with Jefferson Starship and Live Dead ’69 .
I’ll be there, hoping to hear some echos of the golden era of the Burritos.
The career: For those new to the band, the best starting points are the ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’and the live album ‘The Last of the Red Hot Burritos‘, where the live chops and rockier side of the band at their peak are evident.
Key release: Their version of ‘Six Days on the Road’ will always be a personal favourite.