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Members include Byron Berline (born on July 6, 1944, in Caldwell, KS), fiddle; Roger Bush, bass; Michael Clarke (born on June 3, 1944, in New York, NY; died on December 19, 1993, in Treasure Island, FL), drums, harmonica; Chris Ethridge, bass; Chris Hillman (born on December 4, 1944, in Los Angeles, CA), vocals, guitar, mandolin; "Sneaky" Pete Kleinow (born on August 20, 1934, in South Bend, IN), pedal steel guitar; Bernie Leadon (born on July 19, 1947, in Minneapolis, MN), guitar, banjo, dobro, vocals; Gram Parsons (born Cecil Connor III on November 5, 1946, in Winter Haven, FL; died on September 19, 1973, in Joshua Tree, CA); Al Perkins, pedal steel guitar; Rick Roberts (born on August 31, 1949 in Clearwater, FL; replaced Gram Parsons, 1970), guitar, vocals; Kenny Wertz, guitar.

The Flying Burrito Brothers got their start in 1968 at jam sessions in Los Angeles clubs like the Palomino and the Whisky-a-Go-Go. Made up of former members of the influential rock group the Byrds and local session musicians, this makeshift group was the first to combine country and late-1960s rock music. As Stephen Thomas Erlewine noted in the All Music Guide, they "virtually invented the blueprint for country-rock. Though the band's glory days were brief, they left behind a small body of work that proved vastly influential both in rock and country." Burrito singer-songwriter Gram Parsons drew the most attention, achieving posthumous cult status for his mysterious persona and skilled songwriting. Several other band members moved onto bigger commercial successes with other bands, such as the Eagles and the Desert Rose Band.

Gram Parsons's Indelible Mark

The creative heart of the Flying Burrito Brothers was ex-Byrd Gram Parsons. Born in Florida to a wealthy family, he grew up in in Waycross, Georgia. He loved playing guitar and formed his first professional band in 1962, a folk trio called the Shilohs. Parsons briefly attended Harvard Divinity School and while in Boston formed his first recording group, the International Submarine Band. They released Safe At Home on country singer Lee Hazlewood's LHI Records in 1967; some credit them with being the first to record what would later be called country-rock.

Parsons moved to Los Angeles in 1967 and had joined the Byrds by February of 1968. A band member for only a few months, Parsons nevertheless left his country influence on the Byrds's 1968 release Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Two of his songs appeared on the album--"Hickory Wind" and "One Hundred Years from Now." "Sweetheart," wrote Dave DiMartino in Singer-Songwriters, "is now generally regarded as the album that spawned the genre of country-rock."

Parsons left the band when the Byrds agreed to tour South Africa--he refused to play to segregated audiences. Soon after, Parsons convinced Chris Hillman to leave the Byrds as well; the two decided to form a band in which they could let their country-rock mixture flourish. Taking the name Flying Burrito Brothers, they added pedal steel guitarist "Sneaky" Pete Kleinow, bassist Chris Ethridge, and a variety of drummers. By 1969 the Burritos had signed with A&M Records and released their first album, Gilded Palace of Sin. The album, which included such memorable songs as Parsons and Hillman's "Sin City," earned rave reviews and drew big-name fans like Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. "Parson's influence was great," wrote Richard Carlin in The Big Book of Country Music. "He took country themes and modernized them, so that a younger audience could sympathize with the material. He showed how the nostalgic sadness of country music could be wed to the power of rock and roll." Unfortunately, the album sold only 40,000 copies.

Influential Pioneers of Country-Rock

After releasing their debut album, the Burritos toured with popular pop-rock band Three Dog Night in 1969 and turned out their second album, Burrito Deluxe in the spring of 1970. A few personnel shifts took place--Bernie Leadon replaced Ethridge before the second album was recorded and the Burritos took on another ex-Byrd, Michael Clarke, as a permanent drummer.

While it contained some strong tracks (including a version of the Rolling Stones's "Wild Horses"), Burrito Deluxe, like its predecessor, failed to advance the band commercially. Parsons began to pursue outside interests, while his fellow Burritos grew frustrated by their poor record sales. Shortly after their second release, Parsons left the group, moving to England for two years, where he spent time with the Rolling Stones. Meanwhile, the Burritos replaced Parsons with Rick Roberts, a Florida native who'd been performing around the Los Angeles area as a singer/songwriter. The new lineup recorded for The Flying Burrito Brothers, released in 1971.


The Flying Burrito Brothers, which emphasized a more mainstream country sound than earlier releases, lacked Parsons's dark-tinged intensity. Hillman took a more prominent role, with Roberts adding a sweeter second voice. Roberts's "Colorado" (later covered by Linda Ronstadt) and "White Line Fever" (a Merle Haggard tune) were among the noteworthy tracks. Further changes followed the album's release--Kleinow dropped out to do session work and was replaced on pedal steel guitar by Al Perkins. Leadon also left, joining Linda Ronstadt's backup, a group that quickly evolved into the Eagles. (Many critics would later say that the Burritos's sound and ideas were the basis for the Eagles's far more commercially successful brand of country-rock.) Kenny Wertz was brought in as guitarist, along with bassist Roger Bush and fiddler Byron Berline.

Despite this infusion of new blood, the Burritos were headed for yet another breakup. During their summer of 1971 tour, the group recorded a two-disc live album, Last Of The Red-Hot Burritos (1972) which included high-energy originals and covers of such country and R&B tunes as "Six Days On The Road" and "Ain't That a Lot of Love." In the June 22, 1972, Rolling Stone review printed in The Rolling Stone Record Review, Volume II, Bud Scoppa said, "It's the impeccable bass playing of Chris Hillman, the only original member still in the group at the time this recording was made, that unites all those careening sounds--this is clearly Hillman's record."

The Last Of The Red-Hot Burritos marked the end of the band's glory days--Hillman had left the group in October of 1971, taking Perkins with him to join Stephen Stills's band Manassas. Wertz, Bush, and Berline went on to form Country Gazette. Roberts was left to keep the Burrito name alive, rounding up pedal steel player Don Beck, guitar/banjo player Alan Munde, and drummer Erik Dalton for a European tour. During this period, Parsons had reemerged as a solo artist, signing with Reprise and releasing the critically praised albums G.P., in 1972, and Grievous Angel, in 1973, the latter featuring the previously unknown Emmylou Harris as co-vocalist. In September of 1973, Parsons died of an apparent drug overdose in a hotel in California's Joshua Tree National Monument. Shortly thereafter, road manager Phil Kaufman and friend Michael Martin stole Parsons's body, brought it back to Joshua Tree and cremated it in the desert, claiming to be acting upon Parsons's wishes.

Parsons's death sparked a renewed interest in his work. In 1974, Close up the Honky Tonks, a double-album compilation of the Burritos, was released to tap into this interest. Original band members, Kleinow and Ethridge, saw an opportunity and revived the Burritos in 1975, releasing Flying Again on CBS/Columbia Records. They enlisted the help of fiddler Floyd "Gib" Guilbeau, bassist Joel Scott Hill (a former Canned Heat member), and drummer Gene Parsons (also an ex-Byrd but no relation to Gram) to round out the band. The album charted better than any of the Burritos' previous records.

Moved to Country Radio

Kleinow was the only original Burrito remaining on the 1975 release Flying Again. Skip Battin, formerly of the New Riders of the Purple Sage, took Ethridge's place on bass for the album. In 1980 Kleinow and others shortened the band's name to Burrito Brothers and signed with Curb Records in Nashville. Their first release, Hearts on the Line, produced three minor country hits that charted in 1981, making them a promising crossover act. Sunset Sundown followed in 1982 with more charting singles. Their most successful country single was "She Belongs to Everyone but Me," which reached number 16 in 1981.

In the decades that followed, the Burritos appeared in a variety of incarnations, many of which included second- or third-generation members. Kleinow reformed the band in 1985 and stayed with it for three years touring America and Europe. Even as late as 1998 the band regrouped yet again and toured Spain. Live albums, compilations, and tributes to Gram Parsons comprised the bulk of their recordings. While there was no shortage of records released, the constantly changing cast of musicians that contributed makes it difficult to consider them the work of one band. The Burritos name continued to sell records, however, because of the tradition it upheld.

by Janet Ingram

Flying Burrito Brothers's Career

Group formed in Los Angeles, CA, 1969; signed with A&M and released debut album, Gilded Palace of Sin, 1969; Burrito Deluxe, 1970; The Flying Burrito Brothers, 1971, The Last of the Red Hot Burritos, 1972; and compilation, Close Up the Honky Tonk, 1974; band re-formed with various members throughout the 1970s; shortened name to Burrito Brothers and signed with Curb Records in Nashville, TN, 1980; released Hearts on the Line, 1981 and Sunset Sundown, 1982; group released over 30 albums (including compilations) by 2002; record labels and group members changed repeatedly.

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