February 6 – The Burrito Brothers Take Flight

The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace of Sin

Today we celebrate another landmark country rock album. It was still an emerging genre in 1969, and one with band members Gram Parsons’ and Chris Hillman’s finger prints all over it. They had both played on the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo release the previous August, with Parsons taking songwriting credits for a couple of its tracks before his blur of an association with that band ended as quickly as it had begun. Hillman followed him out of the Byrds a couple of months later, and the two formed The Flying Burrito Brothers in the latter months of 1968. Their critically acclaimed first album, The Gilded Palace of Sin, was released this day 50 years ago.

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(L-R) “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow, Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons, Chris Ethridge

Most of the songs were written by Parsons and Hillman in their rented L.A. home, a time and scene described very well in John Einarson’s book, Hot Burritos: The True Story of the Flying Burrito Brothers, written with heavy input from Hillman. Of the eleven songs, six were co-written by Parsons with Hillman, two with Ethridge, and one by Parsons and Barry Goldberg. The other two were soul tunes which the group incorporated seamlessly into their overall sound. Both written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn, Do Right Woman was first recorded by Aretha Franklin in 1967, and Dark End of the Street was originally sung by James Carr.

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One of the elements that sets this album apart from others from the opening track is not only the absence of a lead guitar, but the inclusion of “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow’s pedal steel guitar which more than fills the void. Kleinow is vital to this recording, and he was a highly sought after session man as a result of it (see Kleinow wiki link below for a list of others he worked with). There are also three session drummers giving a few of these tracks just the right amount of snare.

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“Sneaky” Pete Kleinow

There are left-leaning takes on subjects one might not expect in country music at the time with My Uncle (Vietnam) and Hippie Boy (the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago). There are songs I think of as classic country in Sin City, Do You Know How it Feels, and Juanita, and songs of tenderness such as Ethridge’s Hot Burrito #1. There are no bad tracks to me on this album. Personal favorites include…hell, all of them. And the overall vibe of the album was rounded out perfectly with the sequined Nudie Suits designed by Nudie Cohn and the photo session in the desert with a couple of their girlfriends in tow.

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Nudie Cohn

I’ve taken a somewhat cynical view of Gram Parsons in other posts due to his description of his own music as “cosmic” as opposed to simply country or country rock, but the Flying Burrito Brothers gave us something very special with this album. There’s no disputing that Parsons was passionate about both genres, and it shows here. But there were a couple of things brought home well in Einarson’s book mentioned above. Firstly, they (Gram, specifically) could’ve accomplished so much more, but Parsons had a lack of motivation which is mostly attributed to the fact that he lived off a family trust fund. Maybe he’d get out of bed, maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he’d be sober for a performance, but probably not. Unlike the others in his band, he always knew where his next meal was coming from.

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Gram with the Flying Burrito Bros. on that awful day at Altamont, December 1969.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, the songs on this record were all co-written. Gram clearly brought plenty of talent and enthusiasm for country, but Chris Hillman and to a lesser extent Chris Ethridge deserve a lot more credit than they’re given. And without a doubt these songs wouldn’t have been as good without Sneaky Pete’s pedal steel. Call it cosmic if you want, but it was a group effort, and a great one at that.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Christine’s Tune
  2. Sin City
  3. Do Right Woman
  4. Dark End of the Street
  5. My Uncle

Side Two:

  1. Wheels
  2. Juanita
  3. Hot Burrito #1
  4. Hot Burrito #2
  5. Do You Know How It Feels
  6. Hippie Boy
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John Einarson’s bio of the Flying Burrito Brothers, with heavy input from Chris Hillman.

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gilded_Palace_of_Sin#Track_listing

https://www.allmusic.com/album/the-gilded-palace-of-sin-mw0000193836

https://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/gilded-palace-of-sin-flying-burritos/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sneaky_Pete_Kleinow

October ’68 – Dillard and Clark: A Most Exellent Journey

Dillard & Clark – The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark

Continuing from my previous post featuring the great songwriter and Byrds co-founder Gene Clark, today we’re celebrating the second Clark record after setting out on his own, though technically it’s not a solo album.  The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark was released 50 years ago this month, just a couple of months after what is widely considered the seminal introduction to the country rock genre – the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo – and a few months after the lesser-known Safe at Home by Gram Parsons’ International Submarine Band.  The album features a collaboration of Clark with banjo and fiddle virtuoso Doug Dillard of the famous bluegrass family and group, the Dillards, as well as future Burrito Brother and Eagle, Bernie Leadon.

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I shared some background on Clark in my tribute here, and in Doug Dillard he found not only a freewheelin’ partner in crime in the emerging country rock genre, but also a fellow native of the Show Me State of Missouri.  Dillard (1937-2012) hailed from Salem, a couple of hilly hours away from Clark’s hometown of Tipton.  The Dillards were an established bluegrass act in the early 1960’s when they landed a recurring role as the fictional bluegrass group The Darlings on the Andy Griffith Show, appearing at various times from 1963-66.

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The Dillards as The Darlings on the Andy Griffith Show.  Doug is at bottom left.

This first Dillard and Clark album was a collaborative effort.  Though Clark took on the bulk of the songwriting, credits were shared with the multi-instrumentalist Dillard, as well as Leadon, who added banjo and guitar – the connection being Leadon’s previous involvement in the same San Diego teen bluegrass band as future Byrds member and Clark band mate Chris Hillman, who also contributes mandolin on two tracks on this album.

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Due to the group’s personnel and timing of its release, The Fantastic Expedition… has understandably been compared with the Byrds great country rock achievement, not to mention that of the Flying Burrito Bros. the following year.  No doubt, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, this Dillard and Clark debut, and the Gilded Palace of Sin make for a great triple listening experience.  But whereas the Byrds and Burritos albums lean heavily on the pure country element, The Fantastic Expedition… features more of a bluegrass flavor complimented by vintage country.

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This album flows beautifully.  While Sweetheart of the Rodeo, as great as it is, does sound to me like a rock band playing country – especially on the tracks where McGuinn’s vocals are recorded over Parsons’ original takes – Dillard and Clark sound more seasoned at what they were doing, and they were.  In his AllMusic review, Mark Deming writes, “…they created a mature and confident sound that was exciting, thoughtful, and deeply soulful in a way those better-known albums were not.”

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Have a listen to the opening track, Clark’s Out on the Side, for example.  I wrote in an earlier post that I don’t comprehend exactly what Gram Parsons’ term “Cosmic American Music” means, but crank this track or listen through headphones.  Its harmonies and heavy-yet-quiet pattering drums are as “cosmic” as anything you’ll hear in the country rock genre.  Frankly, the same goes for the the second song, She Darked the Sun, with its lyric:

She walked into my life with her cold evil eyes
With the length of her mind she darked the sun

From there the tracks vary in tempo, and it’s hard to imagine the musicians having anything but a great time laying them down.  The whole album is a perfect combination of virtuoso playing and some of the strongest singing of Gene Clark’s career.  Other favorites for me are Train Leaves Here This Morning – a song which makes me think of riverboats on the Mighty Mississippi during simpler times – featuring Donald Beck’s mandolin, With Care from Someone and The Radio Song, both with Andy Belling’s cool electric harpsichord, and In the Plan with its fantastic harmonies.

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On stage at the Troubadour (L-R):  Bernie Leadon, Michael Clarke, Gene Clark, Doug Dillard.

Because of Clark’s refusal to tour due to his fear of flying, Dillard and Clark’s live presence was limited to a few notoriously drunken performances at L.A.’s Troubadour.  They would follow-up with a second and final album a year later which was less acclaimed but still very good.  As a common theme running throughout the work of Gene Clark, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark was a bolt of lightning and clap of thunder that relatively few people saw or heard.  It came about as a result of informal jamming between Gene and Doug, and with the rest of the band they fine tuned their sound into something timeless.  Again from AllMusic’s Deming:

Time has been kinder to this album than most of the genre’s founding works, and it’s a work rooted in tradition while reveling in freedom and new ideas and making the most of them all.

Cosmic, man.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Out on the Side
  2. She Darked the Sun
  3. Don’t Come Rollin’
  4. Train Leaves Here This Morning

Side Two:

  1. With Care from Someone
  2. The Radio Song
  3. Git It On Brother
  4. In the Plan
  5. Something’s Wrong

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fantastic_Expedition_of_Dillard_%26_Clark

https://www.allmusic.com/album/the-fantastic-expedition-of-dillard-clark-mw0000783755

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dillard_%26_Clark

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dillards