Sneaky Pete Kleinow - pedal steel; Bobby Cochran - guitar, vocals; Gib Guilbeau - guitar, violin, vocals; Thad Maxwell - bass, vocals; Mickey McGee - drums, vocals
The epicenter of country music had been Nashville for decades, but by the late 1960s it was Los Angeles that was becoming a magnet for young musicians devoted to bringing country music into a modern rock context. Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds both flirted with country music early on, as had other rock musicians to a lesser extent, but it was the Flying Burrito Brothers who dove completely in. They initially followed the lead of primary songwriters and lead vocalists, Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman, two ex-Byrds, whose musical vision culminated in the groundbreaking album, The Guided Palace Of Sin. Although the album would remain a cult classic, in time it would become a virtual blueprint for all country-rock bands to follow. The group also had a secret weapon in the form of "Sneaky" Pete Kleinow, whose pioneering approach to pedal steel guitar would help redefine the role of the instrument.
By 1970, founding members Gram Parsons and Chris Etheridge had departed. Singer-songwriter Rick Roberts, future Eagle guitarist Bernie Leadon, and the original drummer for the Byrds Michael Clarke, came on board to fill this substantial void. As a professional touring band, they were arguably better than ever, with fewer erratic performances and an ever-growing repertoire from which to choose. Over the course of 1970 and 1971, the group would release two more studio albums followed by a live album in 1972. The live album, Last Of The Red Hot Burritos, which featured Hillman as the remaining link to the original band, augmented by a lineup Clarke, Al Perkins, Roger Bush, Kenny Wertz, and Byron Berline, would signal the initial farewell. Commercial success had eluded the band, but the Burritos musical legacy left an indelible mark.
The strange circumstances surrounding Gram Parsons headline-making death in September of 1973, rejuvenated interest in the FBB. Experiencing heightened interest in the group, A&M records released the double record compilation, Close Up the Honky Tonks in July of 1974, featuring choice cuts from each of the Burritos' studio albums, plus a handful of previously unreleased tracks. Although the group had split up by this point, their former manager, Ed Tickner, was fielding plenty of booking inquiries, which sparked the idea of reviving the group. With Parsons dead and Hillman, Leadon, Roberts, and Clarke all having moved on to other bands, this was a daunting prospect, but Tickner contacted another of his clients, multi-instrumentalist and former Byrds drummer, Gene Parsons (no relation to Gram) to help him assemble a new touring configuration of the group. Convincing original members, Sneaky Pete Klienow and Chris Etheridge to return, this new version of the FBB also recruited former Canned Heat guitarist Joel Scott Hill and a former bandmate of Gene Parsons Cajun fiddler Gib Guilbeu, who had been working in the band Swampwater, to jump on board.
In 1975, this new version of the FBB signed with Columbia and released a new album, Flying Again, that October. Although it never broke the Top 100, Flying Again managed to chart better than any previous FBB album. However, history would soon repeat itself, as Chris Etheridge would soon depart, leaving Kleinow as the only original band member. To replace Etheridge, the group recruited another ex-Byrd, bassist Skip Battin, who had begun working with the New Riders of the Purple Sage. Now sporting two ex-Byrds, the FBB released another album, Airborne in 1976, which failed to chart at all. While touring that album, Gene Parsons broke his wrist, forcing his temporary departure, and drummer Ed Ponder took over for a European tour that Fall. Multi-instrumentalist Parsons would return that November with Ponder remaining as drummer, but by the end of the year, Parsons, Battin, and Ponder would all quit the band.
As convoluted and confusing as the band's family tree had been up to this point, it was only the start of many more personnel changes and even more confusion over the band's future. 1977 would find the remaining members, Kleinow, Hill, and Guilbeau, recruiting a new rhythm section as Swampwater bassist Thad Maxwell and drummer Mickey McGee came on board. This lineup, too, wouldn't last, and upon Hill's departure, guitarist Bobby Cochran, who had been working in a later incarnation of Steppenwolf, joined the group as lead guitarist.
This lineup would sign a new record deal with Mercury and with former Mountain bassist and Cream producer Felix Pappalardi overseeing the project, set about recording another FBB album. This would prove to be a more polished rock oriented affair with all but one of the songs co-written within the group. However, the peak of confusion would surround this album, as when Mercury released the album, in a possible effort to avoid the FBB curse, it was credited not as a FBB album, but under the band name Sierra. Although this album would quickly sink without a trace, this lineup of the FBB was a popular act on the college and club circuit and several posthumous live albums would be issued long after they were gone. Arguably at their best prior to the "Sierra" album sessions, when the future seemed most promising, this configuration of the FBB had a wide range of material spanning the band's legacy, plus plenty of cover material and new originals.
Captured in February of 1977, literally days after Bobby Cochran came on board, this FBB performance at Franklin Pierce College is a fine example of this lineup at their most promising. The set kicks off with a hot cover of Joe Maphis and Rose Lee's "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke," a highlight of the 1975 comeback album, Flying Again, followed by a cover of Merle Haggard's "White Line Fever." The first of three numbers soon to be recorded for the "Sierra" album is next with "You Give Me Lovin," conveying a strong similarity to the Eagles, another Los Angeles group that had taken the FBB blueprint soaring up the charts.
A rocked-up arrangement of "Hot Burrito #2," one of the classics from the debut FBB album comes next. This is a fiery performance from all, especially Kleinow, whose stinging pedal steel work helped to define the band's sound from the start. Guitarist Bobby Cochran next fronts the group on "It's Alright By Me," a new unrecorded song about letting go and living in the moment. Following this, Cajun fiddler Gib Guilbeau leads the way through high energy renditions of Doug Kershaw's "Diggy Liggy Li" and the electrified bluegrass of Charlie (brother of Bill) Monroe's "Rolling In My Sweet Baby's Arms," both soliciting strong positive responses from the audience.
Drummer Mickey McGee fronts the group next on his own, "Don't You Cry," followed by two more numbers destined for the Sierra sessions later that year. The first of these, Cochran's "I Found Love," proves the group adept at playing pure blues and features the most penetrating lead guitar work of the night. The second, "Gina," a melodically catchy love song with a distinct similarity to the basic riff of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," would be chosen as Sierra's single upon that album's release later in the year. Two popular party songs follow, beginning with Guilbeau leading the band on a celebration of music and beer drinking on "Toe Tappin' Music," followed by one of the more popular cocaine-fueled songs of that era, "Take A Whiff," which the Byrds had recorded several years earlier during Gene Parsons tenure in that group.
Again proving that Sneaky Pete Kleinow was often the foundation of the group's unique sound, they deliver another classic from the debut album in the form of "Christine's Tune" (aka "Devil in Disguise"), one of the finest Chris Hillman/Gram Parsons songwriting collaborations ever. They bring the set to a close with two songs that never fail to wind an audience up, Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode," which features another excellent solo from Cochran, followed by Dave Dudley's classic truck driving song, "Six Days on the Road," leaving the New Hampshire college audience howling for an encore.
When the FBB return to the stage, they keep the momentum going with another classic road anthem, "Truck Drivin' Man," which then segues directly into the ultimate crowd pleaser for fiddle fans, "Orange Blossom Special," with Guilbeau leading the way toward the show's high velocity conclusion. While other FBB lineups would prove more influential in the band's long convoluted legacy, this short-lived lineup also had plenty to offer. One of the earliest gigs to feature these musicians, this recording captures the FBB at yet another pivotal moment, continuing the legacy of one of the most influential bands in all of country rock.