Tuesday, June 28, 2016

THE NUMBER FOUR/ 4 DAYS OF RAIN by the Flying Burrito Brothers

I'm on my holiday, deep in the Languedoc, in the South of France. Rain is the last thing on my mind and the last thing in the sky, altho' there was apparently a bit of a humdinger of an electrical storm the other night. I had been consuming and imbibing the best of the local produce and slept sweetly through. Since I have been away from my home all sorts of madnesses seem to have been visited on and/or by my country, and I'm not talking about the football. The temptation was to pontificate pompously on the foolishness of the small majority, but will bite my tongue; the foolishness seems mainly the arrogance of politicians prepared to gamble with anything for the sake of power, this time shooting a great big hole in their own foot, as they now have to juggle with an outcome never dreamt fully possible. Given no change there and such as it ever was, I am only sorry for laughing that you yanks might have a bouffant haired crazy in control soon. Not if we get there first!

Enough, here's the song:

What I have chosen might just seem to be yet another tired old song by a tired old band that tired old guys like me like to name-drop, as if there were a golden age when they were the sound of all for all, you know, like the Beatles or the Beach Boys. Or even, given most of them started off there in the first place, the Byrds. In truth the Burritos were more the anti-Beatles, probably bigger in Europe ever than at home. And usually, whenever they get a mention it is to praise the drug-addled rich kid "friend of Keef", Gram Parsons, dead way before his time. Don't get me wrong, I love the early Gram tinged version of the band, it's where I came in on 'em, but I hung on a bit longer, as Chris Hillman, ever the bridesmaid in all his bands, whether to McGuinn, to Parsons, to Stills, kept the brand alive until his thunder was stolen by Rick Roberts.

Replacing Parsons, sacked by Hillman, can have been no easy task, and the then unknown floridian Roberts had no track record to speak of, the Burritos flirting with just about every other ex-Byrd or Byrd-sidesman in their search, no small pool of musicians, and one they tapped upon for ever after.
Yet their 1971 self-titled 3rd album is arguably their strongest, a slew of Roberts and Hillman/Roberts compositions, along with a Dylan, a Haggard and one from the nearly but never quite a Burrito, Gene Clark. Most of the vocals are led by Roberts, with Hillman slotting into his familiar harmony role.
Just looking now at the track listing is making me tingle, remembering the thrill of discovering life with the brothers could continue.

I guess frictions were running high internally, as the band promptly then shed pedal steel whizz Sneaky Pete and soon to be an Eagle, Bernie Leadon. The next record was probably supposed to be titled emphatically, the live outing, 'Last of the Red Hot Burrito's', another absolute belter. However there seems to have been a U-turn in the skid pan, the recording being nearly free of reflective ballads, containing an enjoyable yet frantic hash of oldies, both Parsons' songs and standards, either as frantic electric country rock, Al Perkins proving himself a more than adequate replacement for Kleinow, or even more frantic bluegrass, with the likes of Byron Berline and Roger Bush guesting on fiddle and stand-up bass. There is not a sole Roberts credit in sight. Then Hillman left too, taking Al Perkins off to Manassas and Stephen Stills.

Details seem sketchy as to what happened next. With dates to fulfil, if no recording contract, Roberts took a rags and tatters version of the band on the road. I bought an odd double LP from this time, 'Live in Amsterdam', an awkward mix of Roberts songs and bluegrass battles. Here's the whole concert but the thrill had gone.

Roberts did a couple of solos, before forming barely country AOR band Firefall. The thrill remained gone. (At least for me as I gather they were quite successful.....)

Various Burrito bands surfaced, Flying and otherwise, usually with more promise and hope than delivery. I even bought some of the stuff, usually disappointed thereby, even the dream ticket collaboration, Burrito Deluxe, of Kleinow, perhaps already showing signs of the Alzheimers that took him, with Garth Hudson, tour of force keyboards man of the Band.

Finally, as it now seems compulsory that no band must ever end, please note this, the latest line-up. It may sound cruel but, no, me neither.

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