The Burrito Brothers have released a new album, “Together,’ and have a series of reviews that both dwell on past histories and ponder the meaning of the band now, while praising the record and noting its slick production and quality musicianship from all involved. Although we do feel that too much time spent in the past can be a little self-defeating, as the past is what it is, and this is a band with a track record for getting in the studio and creating new music that still cuts it for a modern country rock sound, this interview with lead singer Chris P. James does look both backwards and forwards, like Janus. 

Touching on history for a moment, the original band was formed in 1968 in Los Angeles as The Flying Burrito Brothers. Its classic lineup featured country rock pioneer, the late Gram Parsons, and former founding Byrds members bassist Chris Hillman and drummer Michael Clarke, along with eventual original Eagles member Bernie Leadon on lead guitar and pedal steel guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow. The band’s first two albums, “The Gilded Palace of Sin” (which Rolling Stone listed at number 192 on its list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time) and “Burrito Deluxe, remain highly influential and acclaimed works that helped put country rock on the map. 

Gram Parsons said in 1972, “The idea’ll keep going. It’s not like it’s dead. Whether I do it or anybody else does, it’s got to keep going.” And it has, albeit with a slight name change. These days, the band, which formed the current incarnation of the Burritos in 2009 and is now based in Nashville, features Chris P. James on keys and lead vocals, guitarist Steve Allen, Tony Paoletta on pedal steel, and drummer Peter Young. All extremely talented musicians who love being involved with the band’s legacy and creating new music to keep that legacy alive.

Chris, Tony, and Pete have played together since 1990, starting together in the band Mr. Hyde. They know each other’s musical moves in every way possible. This band is tuned in, turned on, upbeat and loaded with great songwriting and musicianship. These guys are truly “brothers.” Steve Allen has got the guitar thing going strong with benders, 12-strings, telecasters and acoustics, he also plays a mean bass. “Smiling” Tony Paoletta is a truly gifted pedal steel player. He’s fully versed in the Sneaky Pete oeuvre. And, essentially, every other steel player who came before him. Tony brings unlimited creativity to the table. Peter Young is a consummate drummer. The familiarity these fellows have with each other’s musicianship is near-perfect. “Everything’s fine because Pete’s holding down the time. He’s been doing it for a long, long time.” In various combinations, these guys have recorded more sessions together than you could count. Pete sings a really nice harmony too. And Chris P. James is their front man. He plays keyboards, guitar and harmonica. Writes songs too. He wound up with the Burrito Brothers in 2009. He was offered a record deal to make a new album in 2010 by the group that would trademark and continue as The Burrito Brothers. Or he could decline. What kind of choice is that? Of course, the Burrito Brothers are alive! And that is definitely a good, good thing.

So with all that in mind, here we have a country rock feature for you all, with Chris P. James as our guide. After a brief word or two about how he would love to bring the guys to the UK and have that photo on the Abbey Road street crossing, we began by asking whether he felt connected to those original guys in the 60’s who got the motor running; or is it more pride in the new music and having a fresh identity?

Chris: I see it both ways, actually. I feel a connection to the past, and I want there to be a connection to the past. It is special to be carrying on the Burrito Brothers, and we want to carry on the legacy of great music and the guys who made it all those years before. What a beautiful idea that it gets to continue! But, on the other side of the coin, we exist on our own legs and terms, making all new music. Some bands without original members carry on and just play the famous songs from the golden era of that band. We are a different animal, and that is partly because the original band had well-known albums but not big single hits that we could choose from; there was never a big single to tie everything to. 


There was “Wild Horses”? Because Parsons and Keith Richards were good friends, “Burrito Deluxe” contains the first-issued version of the Mick Jagger/Keith Richards-written song “Wild Horses,” released almost a year before The Rolling Stones own take on it appeared on “Sticky Fingers.”

Chris: That would come closest to qualifying, yes. Although Jagger and Richards insisted that it couldn’t be released as a single for them to give permission. It is well known, but because of that, it is not a charting hit single. After that, you would be hard-pressed to think of an instant song known by the general public. So, it’s more about belief in the legacy and the general music they made. But we have confidence and belief in what we are doing now—making good new music that doesn’t stray far from the original idea. I see it more as a musical hybrid that owes a lot to the past of the group.

Talking generally now, and not about the Burrito Brothers for a moment, but it’s strange, perhaps, how people can get worked up about the importance of an original band; sometimes, that translates through to the band too, who almost seem to become their own tribute band at times (no names mentioned). It’s so obvious that is not the case with the Burrito Brothers. 

Chris: That has absolutely not happened with us. There are occasions when we come against social media who will insist that ‘these are not the real guys’ or whatever, and I have seen the tribute band comment. But a tribute band is, as you outlined, a band that may not be the people who originally made the music but goes out to perform that music, possibly dressed as the originals (The Bootleg Beatles, for example). A tribute band is not a band that continually makes new albums every couple of years and is going forward creatively with new music on a regular basis. We are not, and never have been, a tribute band. We do some of the older songs in concert, but we have more than enough material to introduce. Some of the older bands will still retain an original member, they have that connection with the past. This group already had no original members in its fifth year! That’s fifty years ago. New people come and go, and freshen things up. It is a reconstruction, with a new dynamic, every time. 

You could note that in other employment, it can be felt that keeping the same team year after year allows things to go stale. With a sports team, fans want new signings and new blood every season to keep that cutting edge. Music is often different, and fans sometimes obsessively want to keep things the same.

Chris: I feel strongly that the situation of member changes in this group has kept it vibrant and alive more than if it were a bunch of old guys who have been doing it for fifty years. They can get set in their ways or simply get bored of playing the same song for fifty years. This group, every time it gets reconstituted, gets a new thrust, and the new members want to prove that they are the right people for the job. There is that hunger to put out a great next album, it keeps it always moving forward creatively, it can’t get stale as new blood is coming in.

We listened to the new album and enjoyed it. The opening track vocally reminded us of George Harrison in his solo years.

Chris: Thanks. I was more thinking of Tom Petty, perhaps! With that slightly punky California attitude, that is what I was seeking to emulate!

Well, any song is in the ear of the listener. Who owns a song, the listener of the creator? We got a bit of George Harrison mysticism in “Misery,” but we can all hear different things in a song.

Chris: That is great, and I can see this equated to the guitar riffs played by Bob Hatter (who sadly passed away recently from cancer), his guitar work was often Harrison like.

One of our favourite tracks on the album was ‘The Streets of Santa Rosa’, and we wondered about the background to that one. Will it make the live set?

Chris: I’m sure that will be included in the live show. It is special. It is the final tribute to Bob Hatter. He and Peter Young, our drummer, were on a road trip. They were in Santa Rosa, California, and they started this song and they got it far enough written. It was the last trip that Peter Young went on with Bob before Bob started his battle with cancer. Of course, we sadly lost Bob during the making of this album. Peter remembered that he had started this song with Bob and I encouraged him to finish it if he could, to bring it to the rest of us. Essentially, this is the last song Bob Hatter wrote; it’s a memory that has Bob’s humour to it, and, more than anything else on the album, it has that quintessential California rock sound. It has an early Eagles sound and touches of The Byrds. Pete is the lead singer on that one. I sing bits; I am generally the lead singer, but I certainly don’t insist on that, I like an album to take turns and keep people interested by breaking things up. I very much encouraged `Pete to sing it and I think he’s done a splendid job. So it is a song with a real story.

For us, it was a standout track on the album. And its great to see a band committed to making albums in an era where so many of the artists we talk to have an interest in the singles rather than the albums due to the way we now consume music. This is an album band.

Chris: It is our vision of how to be creative. We are older and we come from the world of albums, and so, I think, do the majority of our fans. The albums have a chance of being a work of art, a thematic achievement, as opposed to random songs here and there. Plus, there is the album cover, which always adds to things. I like the album credits; I like to see who did what; and I love the cover art. An album is satisfying on many levels. We think in those terms. Anyone can just dip in and choose to listen to or stream an individual song; you don’t have to listen to the whole thing. I don’t obsess over changing to get the single; we have our niche as a band, and albums are where it is with us! It goes back, for me, to the Beatles release of Sgt. Pepper. And the original Flying Burrito Brothers may not have had hit singles, but the album was everything for them, and some of the biggest groups, like Pink Floyd, Zeppelin and so forth, had big albums, but name the singles!

And there is so much importance in the running order. Look at Sgt. Pepper, I can hear any of those songs, and my mind is already ready for the next one.

Chris: There was a strong concept and vision in that album, from the artwork, which added a new level of presentation, to the sequencing of songs and how some of them ran into each other. It was all thought out as a stream; it opens with that obvious introduction and closes with that grand finale. It is clear there may not be a story line, but it all holds together. With our album, I already had my thoughts and outline. We knew the songs we were recording, and we had a song order in mind. We stuck to it with the exception of “Boiling Point.” That was an in-joke, as our European representative is Bob Boiling, and we told him nothing about the song, so we wanted to surprise him! Then, also, “Streets of Santa Rosa” popped up during the album, so it was not in the initial plan. But, “Misery” had to be the opener, and I knew the finale as well.

 What was the last album Chris listened to from beginning to end, and did he enjoy it?

Chris: I listened to David Crosby, “If I could only remember my name.” I just got from Amazon the two disc expanded version. I like these. We made an expanded version of ours too, it is a curiosity of demos, outtakes and so on. A single album, really, with a bonus shedding light behind the scenes. I had always loved the Crosby album, as long as I remember. I got it initially for my birthday in the 1970s, and I never knew about the Deluxe version, and it just came. So just by chance, I have listened to it. It’s a beautiful work, a nice album.

And which performer that you never saw in concert would you most like a quick time travel back to catch?

Chris: Jimi Hendrix live in the portion of his early career in London. I was just reading Pete Townshend’s book, and he was saying how amazed he was by Hendrix and how spellbinding he was if you never saw him live. I would also like to have seen The Beatles, they changed the world. There is music before The Beatles, and there is music after The Beatles. They are up there on the mountain. 

And we hope you liked the feature, dear reader! If you did, please check out the other pages of the magazine; we have many great features, merchandise, editorials, and even poetry! We work hard for you, and if you want to show some appreciation and support what we do, then do use the Support Us link below! Always appreciated.

Please use the following links below to access all things The Burrito Brothers, including photos, bios, and a discography.

The Burrito Brothers website:  www.TheBurritoBrothers.netgh

Link to the The Burrito Brothers Facebook page:

Link to the band’s complete history and discography: to The Burrito Brothers videos:

By Mark C. Chambers


Lorraine Foley

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