Often times when the words “Country Rock” appear the first thought due to the popularity factor are “The Eagles”. This is an understandable misconception. If you want the truth we must throw the car in reverse and head back to Clarence White and The Byrds. This is not the “Eight Miles High” Byrds I speak of, but rather an album called “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” released in 1968.
This incarnation Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman brought together included a 21-year-old Gram Parsons. Parsons was a student of Classic Country Music with a vision and a voice from the Heavens
Flying Burrito Brothers Sin City Avalon Ballroom 1969
THE FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS • Do Right Woman • 1969
That album would be a Landmark that by the time it was finally released also found the Byrds without Gram, who quit after the band tried to reign him back in and had also erased and replaced his vocals on a number of songs. Parsons had an agenda and the time between the beginning of the project and the final result had struck up friendships with many established musicians, that list included Keith Richards and others in The Rolling Stones camp.
Though Hillman and Roger McGuinn had fired Parsons from the Byrds in July 1968, the bassist and Parsons reconciled later that year after Hillman (who would switch to rhythm guitar in the new ensemble) left the group. Parsons had refused to join his Byrds bandmates for a tour of South Africa, citing his disapproval of the apartheid policy of that nation’s government.
The Flying Burrito Brothers recorded their debut album, “The Gilded Palace of Sin” with no permanent drummer. Before commencing their first tour, the group ultimately settled upon the original Byrd Michael Clarke as a permanent replacement. He remained the band’s permanent drummer until 1971. The Line up of Parsons, Hillman. Clarke, and Bassist/keyboardist Chris Ethridge and pedal steel guitarist “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow were fueled and ready.
The Band allegedly turned down an event called “Woodstock” Yet would accept a different Gathering the same year., Ethridge departed the group in the autumn of 1969. Hillman reverted to bass after the band hired lead guitarist Bernie Leadon, (Later to Join “The Eagles”). This iteration of the band performed at the ill-fated Altamont Free Concert in December 1969, as documented in the film Gimme Shelter. Sadly the footage of the Band was from an obscured view with Parsons only being seen from the back end.
The Flying Burrito Brothers live- Six Days on the Road
The 1970s “ Burrito Deluxe” failed to chart entirely. A month later, Parsons showed up for a band performance only minutes before they were to take the stage. Visibly intoxicated, he began singing songs that differed from what the rest of the band was performing. A furious Hillman fired him immediately after the show, to which Parsons responded, “You can’t fire me, I’m Gram!” According to Hillman, this incident was merely the final straw; Parsons’ desire to hang out with the Rolling Stones rather than focus on his own band’s career was also a significant factor, mirroring his 1968 dismissal from The Byrds.
FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS Live in Winona Minnesota 1970 (feat. Chris Hillman & Gram Parsons )
The songs of the Burrito Brothers live on and are timeless. This take on their Classic “Juanita” by Emmylou Harris and Cheryl Crow is a testament to this. Bernie is there on the Tele as well paying his tribute.
Sheryl Crow & Emmylou Harris – “Juanita” (from Session at West 54th)
Hillman made some valiant efforts to continue the band yet gradually the original members found their own calling and over the decades there were many incarnations that had no true relation to the Origins and adopted the name. Hillman was not interested in the projects and instead took steps to acquire the rights to the name “The Flying Burrito Brothers” so that he could retire the band once and for all. His efforts were in vain, however.
The History Of The Flying Burrito Brothers!
Interestingly “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow continued to play with the Burritos off and on until his death in 2007. He is also known outside of the music world as one of the artists behind Gumby and for his sound work on The Star Wars sequel “ The Empire Strikes Back.
I truly mean no disrespect to Hillman but The band truly made only 2 albums and Gram was right…He was Gram Parsons, self-destructive or not, He was a Cosmic George Jones. His contributions up until his death in 1973 Have proven He made every project special and his absence from a project was heard in equal volume. “No Gram No Bam!” The young man was magic.
Keith Richards Answers – Did Gram Parsons influence The Stones?
GRAM PARSONS: FALLEN ANGEL 2004
Emmylou Harris assisted him on vocals for his first solo record, GP, released in 1973. Although it received enthusiastic reviews, the release failed to chart. His next album, Grievous Angel, peaked at number 195 on the Billboard chart. His health deteriorated due to several years of drug abuse culminating in his death from a toxic combination of morphine and alcohol in 1973 at the age of 26. These two records However have in time proved out in combination with “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” and The First two Burrito offerings to have laid the foundation for everything after that did Chart and sell out stadiums.
Gram Parsons, “Streets of Baltimore”
Things to invest your time in would be the Film “Grand Theft Parsons”, a mostly factual account of the final execution of an agreement between the Notorious Phil Kauffman and Parsons that whoever died first would burn the other and release their spirit into the Desert of Joshua Tree.
To Love Somebody-Gram Parsons/Flying Burrito Brothers
Love Hurts – Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris
Secondly” Another Side of This Life: The Lost Recordings of Gram Parsons” is a compilation released in 2000 of early recordings by Gram. It features all previously unreleased recordings. The singing style and musical arrangements are much different from Parsons’s subsequent, more country-influenced music.