Eating It Up: The Brothers find their plates full.
Burrito Brothers get Deluxe update
By Bruce Robinson
Thirty-five years later, pedal-steel-guitar ace “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow is still less than thrilled with the nickname he acquired as one of the founding members of the Flying Burrito Brothers. As the seminal country-rock band was forming, he recalls in a recent telephone interview from his San Francisco home, his band mates “thought it would be cool if everybody had a kind of a special cowboy name, and so that’s where it came from. I always tried to ignore it, because I didn’t want to be Sneaky Pete. I just didn’t like that name–it had a negative twang to it. But I never got rid of it, so I got to a point where I stopped worrying about it.”
With the moniker intact, Kleinow became a key component, along with Chris Hillman and Chris Ethridge, in the band now best remembered for bringing Gram Parsons to prominence. Kleinow’s tasteful playing subsequently decorated sessions for a host of other pre-Americana acts (the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and Little Feat) as well as such eclectic artists as John Lennon, Stevie Wonder, Frank Zappa, the Bee Gees and Barbi Benton. These days, however, his focus is on a new group that unabashedly draw on the Flying Burrito Brothers’ legacy under the banner of Burrito Deluxe. Touring in support of their new disc, The Whole Enchilada (Luna Chica), they perform Dec. 5 at Santa Rosa’s Last Day Saloon.
Along with Kleinow, Burrito Deluxe features Garth Hudson, formerly of the Band, on keyboards, accordion and saxophone; Jeff “Stick” Davis from the Amazing Rhythm Aces on bass; drummer Rick Lonow (Johnny Cash, Tommy Tutone); and frontman Carlton Moody on guitar, mandolin and vocals.
The nucleus of the new band came together for the Gram Parsons tribute album, Georgia Peach, that introduced Burrito Deluxe in 2002. While emphasizing their own new songs and some well-chosen covers (John Prine’s “You Got Gold,” the Box Tops’ “The Letter”), Burrito Deluxe also embraces the best of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ repertoire, including such Gram Parsons signature tunes as “Wheels” and “Hickory Wind.”
“Gram Parsons’ memory is not ever going to go away,” Kleinow says, “whether we like it or we don’t like it. I’m glad that we had all those years with Gram and we have to dedicate a lot to him. It’s kind of a guiding light.”
It was Parsons’ deep love of traditional country music and embrace of the countercultural attitudes of the late ’60s that gave birth to what become known as country-rock, beginning with the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo. About the same time, Kleinow set aside his flattop guitar and ventured to Nashville to see the Grand Ol’ Opry in action. Inspired by the legendary Jerry Byrd, whose lap steel work with Hank Williams, Chet Atkins, Marty Robbins and many others virtually defined the instrument in country music, Kleinow soon picked one up.
“That’s what really clinched it for me, that I wanted to play a real electric steel guitar, when I went to Nashville that time and saw for myself what went on,” Kleinow says. “I got my steel guitar really soon after I’d found out that there was such a thing.”
Back in Los Angeles, he hooked up with Parsons, Ethridge and Hillman and began playing the new stylistic hybrid that soon caught the ear of listeners as diverse as Johnny Cash and Keith Richards. But despite the influence that the Flying Burrito Brothers eventually wielded, Kleinow remembers the early days as a scramble. “In those days we were just whacking it out as fast as we could with all the musical jobs we could find,” he chuckles. “And we’re kinda doin’ that again today.”
While it’s not likely to make an appearance onstage, Kleinow’s black and gold suit with the soaring pterodactyl on the front, which the guitarist wore in the first Burrito band, is still in his possession. “I’ve had my wife fix it now and then,” he admits, “it starts to come apart at the seams here and there, just because it’s so old.”
But does the old suit still fit as well as the old songs?
“I’ll be darned,” he declares, “if it doesn’t.”
Burrito Deluxe perform on Sunday, Dec. 5, at the Last Day Saloon. 120 Davis St., Santa Rosa. 7pm. $15-$18. 707.545.234
From the December 1-7, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.