Classic Rock Review

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Hot Burritos: The True Story of The Flying Burrito Brothers by John Einarson and Chris Hillman (2008)


Review This book is timely, and to those who have an objective understanding of the subject matter, a searching analysis of the facts taken from many sources and key participants over the accumulated mythology that has accrued since September 1973.

As a fan of the band and the key players since 1972,( when nobody was very much bothered in a defunct band) it is interesting how the lack of objectivity became manifest, and this current work can be seen by some as a “character assassination”. I looked forward to the 1974 release of the A&M compilation “Close up the Honky Tonks” which I bought on import.

At that time, Nick Kent in the NME reviewed the album and described the partnership of Parsons and Hillman as “A consummation of the gods”. He quantified the elements of what he called “Rock, spark and drive” and suggested that people should get listening to the Burritos. At that time, critics would describe Chris Hillman – using the word “thaumaturge” – his involvement in any project facilitating wonders.

Parsons was seen more as a “Mad Professor” creating a mixture of ingredients that might just blow up in you face- or be the source of some strange alchemy, but “his race was run”- or so it appeared. Anyhow, in 1976 there was a major two page feature in the NME under the headline “So you want to be a Cosmic Cowboy” ( where have we heard a similar heading before?) which began to question the nascent Parsons mythology which was just beginning to build up a head of steam.

The writer (in my eyes) made the heretical statement that Parsons couldn’t sing- he couldn’t hold a note, and if you wanted “ground-breaking” country music, then Waylon Jennings and his album “Honky Tonk Heroes” was the way to go.

Anyway, this was too much for me, but shortly afterwards, A&M released “Sleepless Nights” most of the recently released stuff from “Close up the Honky Tonks”-plus the Reprise out takes, and some very patchy covers of rockers and country classics- with Parsons in an obvious state of disarray, and singing in some “distress”. Perhaps, the critic was on to something? Well, this book takes us through the history of those short years, and the reader can decide on conspiracy to undermine, or just simple forensic analysis.

The 1974 compilation had this to say about Chris Hillman. “..the cornerstone and an exemplary musician who took charge when it needed to be taken…Chris knows how to hang in there and do whatever has to be done very well….Ironically enough, when the time came to step out, he fell in with Stephen Stills and found himself just out of the spotlight one last time, pulling a disparate situation together while someone else got the billing”.

The liner notes are favourable to Gram although the telling sentence “At times, he couldn’t seem to get his mind and body going in the same direction for long enough to get something really big together” does rather nail the underlying problem which Chris Hillman has described quite simply as a lack of discipline, and a dereliction of the essential commitment to others- band mates, record companies, the audience etc. Mind you, it’s been timeless matter across the years, the destructive nature of large inheritance in the hands of the young.

A&M did not need to be objective- they had invested in the band, but I can’t help feel that Jim Bickhart’s liner notes from 1974 identified all the salient points long before it became a matter of faith or passion.

Review John Eirnarson is a name with which I’m familiar as he wrote a groundbreaking biography on Byrds founder Gene Clark.

That book seemed to be very even in its analysis of the books subject. Whilst Gram Parsons isn’t intended to be the main subject of this book he , somewhat ironically given the books slant, ends up once more stealing the limelight even if that is bathed in negativity.

I have long admired Chris Hillmans ability as a songwriter and musician and it is a shame that he has allowed the main author to steer this work into a lets have a pop at Parsons tomb. I don’t doubt a lot of what is said about Gram is true and he was flawed in many ways but as Bernie Leadon lets slip at some point there was an element of genius about Gram which others did not have , though they may have been better musicians.

That said I unreservedly enjoyed this book and any aficionado of country rock will not feel they’ve wasted their money. The bands story is well told and clearly illustrates what a different era that was. These days the Burrito Brothers would have lost any recording contract before the ink was dry, but back then record companies were prepared to back mavericks and seemed to actually care about music rather than bucks. By doing so they gave the Burritos a career and all these years later the reason for this book.

It is over the top in its criticism of GP and that’s why I wont give it 5 stars but it doesn’t stop it being an enjoyable read.

Review This book tells the whole story of the Flying Burrito Brothers, starting before the two founders left The Byrds and covering the post-Burritos careers of the members.

Most importantly, it demythologises Gram Parsons as the sole creative force in the band. Parsons had talent, both for writing and for singing, but both have been exaggerated by the cult around him since his death. Listen carefully to Parsons, especially on Burrito Deluxe, and you hear a cracked and out of tune voice. Listen to his solo albums and discover that there are only about a half dozen songs that he wrote that are special.

A very meagre output has been parlayed into a myth. Don’t get me wrong, I actually quite like Gram Parsons, and own everything he recorded with the International Submarine Band, The Byrds, The Burritos and solo. But his actual influence is about half due to his recorded output and half due to the romantic and bizarre way he died.

This book sets the record straight, and although it can be repetitious and dry, it tells a story about another era and offers fascinating insight into the relationships and the environment the band inhabited. Hillman’s contributions dominate, but Chris Etheridge, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Bernie Leadon and Rick Roberts offer remembrances and perspectives.

Leadon’s is interesting in that he suffered from a similar problem to Parsons–the inability to stick with anything for very long. Leadon left band after band and eventually left the big success with The Eagles because he disliked touring and felt his contributions weren’t given enough attention.

This book has its flaws, but it fills a big gap in the history of that scene, and is well worth reading.

May 12, 2013 Posted by | Book Hot Burritos The True Story of The Flying Burrito Brothers by John Einarson and Chris Hillman | , | Leave a comment