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Flying Burrito Brothers, The

The ‘band with a thousand line-ups’ was formed by two ex-Byrds (Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons) along with pedal steel guitarist “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow, bassist Chris Ethridge and various drummers.

In 1969 they released the album The Gilded Palace Of Sin which took country rock even further than The Byrds with Sin City and The Dark End Of The Street, as well as rocking excellently on Christine’s Tune, complete with Everly Brothers-style harmonies. The production was superb and The Burritos looked set to be really big.

Despite a glowing review from Rolling Stone, the album stiffed, peaking at #164 and shifting less than 40,000 copies. It wasn’t slick enough for the country fans and the rock crowd just weren’t ready for it.

Mysteriously, their second album (Burrito Deluxe) lost their original sound and, sadly, the band blew their chance. Parsons and Ethridge left the group and were replaced by Bernie Leadon and Rick Roberts, with Chris Hillman switching to bass. Around this time, Michael Clarke (also ex-The Byrds) became the group’s permanent drummer.

In 1971 Leadon left to join The Eagles while Kleinow opted to pursue a career as a session musician rather than continue with the band. Hillman, Clarke and Roberts were joined by Al Perkins, Kenny Wertz, Roger Bush and Byron Berline (pictured below left).

The line-up changes were not yet over though, and Hillman and Perkins departed in October to join Stephen Stills in Manassas. Just for good measure, Clarke left as well.

Gram Parsons died on 19 September 1973. It was a squalid death (at the Joshua Tree Motel in the Mojave Desert) after feasting on marijuana, Jack Daniels, Tequila and heroin, with possible side orders of morphine, cocaine and barbiturates.

burrito_byronberlinWith no original Burrito’s left, the core lineup of Roberts, Wertz, Berline and Bush were joined by Alan Munde, Erik Dalton and Don Beck on a tour of Europe before calling it a day.

Much to Chris Hillman’s frustration, former band manager Ed Tickner “commandeered” the band name for a new line-up of Pete Kleinow, Chris Ethridge, Gene Parsons (no relation to Gram), Joel Scott Hill and “Gib” Guilbeau.

This ‘new’ Flying Burrito Brothers signed a deal with Columbia Records and released the lacklustre Flying Again in October 1975.

The band were soon up to their old tricks and Ethridge was replaced by Skip Battin (ex-Byrds) for the following year’s Airborne. Once again, it all fell apart. Various other ‘reunited’ line-ups came and went – primarily for European and Japanese tours – and the band (or a version thereof) scored a surprise US Country hit with a live version ofWhite Line Fever.

By the 80s the band was recording as simply The Burrito Brothers (no longer flying) and relying heavily on songs written by latest newcomer, country veteran John Beland. When the band finally split up (again) in 1985, Pete Kleinow “reclaimed” the Flying Burrito Brothers moniker and toured with Battin, Harris and Goodall.

Various line-ups of the band have re-formed for tours and recording since then, but by 1997’s California Jukebox nobody really cared anymore. Pete Kleinow died on 6 January 2007.

Chris Hillman 
Guitar, mandolin, bass, vocals
Gram Parsons
Guitar, vocals
Sneaky” Pete Kleinow
Pedal steel guitar
Chris Ethridge
Bass, piano
Bernie Leadon
Guitar, vocals
Michael Clarke
Rick Roberts
Guitar, vocals
Al Perkins
Pedal steel guitar
Roger Bush
Kenny Wertz
Byron Berline
Alan Munde
Don Beck
Pedal steel guitar
Gene Parsons
Guitar, vocals
Joel  Scott Hill
Greg Harris
Guitar, vocals
Mickey McGee
Floyd “Gib” Guilbeau
Jim Goodall
Skip Battin
John Beland
Guitar, vocals