or many Gram Parsons enthusiasts, John Einarson's new The Flying Burrito Brothers' biography may read like the music business equivalent to TV's MythBusters. Just as that show demystifies many of life's more puzzling physical curiosities, this new book removes rose colored glasses off the noses of those who (perhaps unknowingly) have given Parsons the reputation for being a supreme artistic genius that died young.
Granted, Parsons was a talented - albeit also troubled - musician. But The Flying Burrito Brothers were by no means merely just his backing band. This work portrays The Flying Burrito Brothers, instead, as a pioneering country-rock band - in the most democratic usage of the term "band."
Keep in mind, however, that Chris Hillman - one of the original Burrito Brothers - is also a primary contributor to this book. Nevertheless, he doesn't try to put Parsons down mean-spiritedly. Rather, he merely lifts himself up, in the most modest way, to the plateau where he always should have stood. This book is his chance to set the record straight, if you will.
This writing's storyline does an excellent job in setting up The Flying Burrito Brothers' story by first looking back to The Byrds' country music evolution. Parsons, we're told here, came along right when The Byrds needed a new direction, and Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman seemed open and excited by Parsons' country infusion into their "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" release. Oddly enough, this acknowledged country-rock classic by The Byrds was also an extremely poor selling album upon first release.
With The Flying Burritos Brothers' debut, "Gilded Palace of Sin," the group helped put much of what we now refer to as alt.-country on the map. And many interviewees in the book note that two of its songs, Hot Burrito No. 1 and Hot Burrito No. 2, which Parsons co-wrote with bassist Chris Ethridge, contain Gram's best ever singing. Furthermore, Parsons' songwriting collaborations with Hillman on Christine's Tune and Sin City introduced one strong song creation team. But Ethridge and Hillman's songwriting chops, as well as Sneaky Pete Kleinow's otherworldly fuzztone steel guitar work, also helped complete the wonderful package that was The Flying Burrito Brothers. Anyone who thinks this was mostly Parsons' doing is sadly mistaken.
Amazingly, this timeless music was made under conditions of extreme cultural prejudice. These hippies weren't just different; they were also enemies of conservative middle-America. Even so, these drug-abusing musicians loved country music enough have their own Nudie suits designed, which they also wore on the cover of "Gilded Palace of Sin." Although Parsons' outfit had marijuana leaves prominently decorating it, he was nevertheless proud to have an outfit tailored by the same man who'd also worked his needle and thread wonders for Hank Snow, Hank Williams Sr. and many others.
A&M Records also deserves special kudos for signing and promoting The Flying Burrito Brothers, who were clearly an unknown entity at the time. Nevertheless, they weren't the only L.A. country-rock band making their maiden voyage at the time. This unlikely scene also included Poco and Dillard & Clark, all of whom paved the way for The Eagles to rake in the big money just a few short years later.
One reason why Parsons gets so much the credit for The Flying Burrito Brothers' huge impact is Hillman's admitted unassertiveness at the time. Nearly unbelievably, Hillman took a second seat to McGuinn with The Byrds, then to Parsons in The Flying Burritos Brothers. He didn't fully get his wings, so to speak, until he led The Desert Rose Band. One has to wonder what these two iconic acts would have been like, had Hillman immersed himself in Norman Vincent Peale books back in the day.
"Hot Burritos: The True Story of the Flying Burrito Brothers" is hard to put down because it smartly tells the tale of an essential band in music history - not just alt.-country history. And if all this written elaboration doesn't make you want to dust off those Burrito Brothers' CDs, you're just not paying attention.