I was saddened to read yesterday that Chris Ethridge, bass player in The Flying Burrito Brothers, has died aged 72, in his hometown of Meridian Mississippi, and his death is an excuse to remember just how exciting the Burritos were when they first appeared. I always liked Ethridge's bass playing, not just in the Burritos, but on lots of other records, including a couple by Ry Cooder, but especially on Ron Elliott's wonderful album The Candlestickmaker.
Part of their excitement was down to Sneaky Pete, and the Bakersfield kind of twang they snuck into what were rock songs, and, particularly on The Gilded Palace Of Sin, their first album, what good songs they were! Ethridge co-wrote three of Parsons' best songs, the two 'Hot Burritos' on that album, and 'She' (along with Booker T Jones). Two are wonderfully plaintive ballads, but the opening bass riff on Hot Burrito 2 is priceless.
Plus the band looked great, in their Nudie suits.That's Ethridge second from left above, next to Pete, in an outake from the
original cover session. the cover, you probably don't remember, placed the two women, dressed Bonnie Parker-style, in the doorway of a dilapidated shack/outhouse that gave an ironic twang to the 'Gilded Palace of Sin' idea.
And of course The Flying Burrito Brothers was one of the great band names of all time. Although it appears they 'borrowed' it from a band founded by two of the survivors of Parsons' International Submarine Band, and the original FBB included Barry Tashian, from Boston's Remains. Maybe Parsons had come up with the name with the ISB! Interestingly, I have a disc of a live Burritos concert at the Fillmore East where Chris Hillman feels it's necessary to explain to the crowd what a Burrito is. 1970 sure was a long time ago.
By then Ethridge had left the group. On the first album the drumming was done by Jon Corneal (from Dillard and Clark) and by my favourite 'lost' great drummer, 'Fast' Eddie Hoh. Michael Clarke, from the Byrds, would join the group. The Burritos are part of what would be one of Pete Frame's great family trees, as they cross fertilised with the Byrds (Hillman, Parsons, Clarke), Dillard & Clark (Bernie Leadon, who went on to Londa Ronstadt and the Eagles, Byron Berline and Roger Bush, soon to form Country Gazette), and of course Rick Roberts, who wrote and sang 'Colorado', their best post-Parsons song, and went on to great success in the more vapid Firefall.
It was interesting too to see that Etheridge eventually toured with a reformed version of the FBB, the Refried Burritos, for the lackluster Flying Again in 1975, and over the years I've encountered a number of the John Boland/Gib Guibeau versions, which have done better in mainstream country than the originals ever did in the rock charts, but it was never close to the same. I discovered Ethridge had rejoined a new FBB amalgam in 1991, including Poco's drummer/singer George Grantham, with Sneaky Pete as well as Boland and Guibeau. They even made an album called Eye Of The Hurricane, which I suppose I will have to now seek out and listen to. I do seem to prefer living in the past musically more and more these days.
Ethridge, unlike Parsons, was more of a real Southern boy, and he brought all sorts of musical influences to bear on the Burritos, mixing southern soul and Nashville with Parsons (then under the heavy influence of the Stones--it was the Burritos who were actually playing at Altamont when the original trouble broke out), Chris Hillman's bluegrass background, and Pete's country-western pedal steel. It was a heady mix, and they were heady times. RIP.
PS: If you do happen to be chasing down the Burritos for the first time, be careful: I have a disc called Hot Burrito, which is an anthology that contains all the band's key early work, but it has been remastered to put Parsons' voice up front. Occasionally this means Pete's steel licks become more solo, but in general it takes away the palpable drive of Ethridge's bass and Hillman's rhythm guitar.