When Gram Parsons led the Flying Burrito Brothers, his emotive, haunting songs and the band's classic C&W-based virtuosity set the standard for California country rock. After he left, followed by cofounder Chris Hillman, the band quickly devolved into an uninspired follower of the style it had started. Eventually, ex-Burritos went on to greater commercial success in the Eagles, Firefall, and the Desert Rose Band.
Parsons had joined Chris Hillman in the Byrds for Sweetheart of the Rodeo before the two started the Burritos in L.A. As the lineup gelled (four different drummers played on the band's first album), they recruited ex-Byrd Michael Clarke as drummer. The first album, The Gilded Palace of Sin (#164, 1969) only sold about 40,000 copies. The band developed a rabid local following, however, including members of the Rolling Stones (recording in L.A. at the time), who arranged for the group to play at Altamont.
Parsons, who began spending most of his time with Keith Richards, had already lost interest in the Burritos by the recording of the second album. In 1970 Parsons left the band for a solo career [see entry] and was replaced by Rick Roberts, who'd recorded with the Byrds. When Bernie Leadon left to join the nascent Eagles [see entry] and Hillman and Al Perkins were recruited by Stephen Stills for Manassas, Roberts became de facto leader. After Manassas, Hillman joined the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band for two LPs, released a couple of solo albums, and started his own group, the Desert Rose Band, which scored several C&W hits.
Roberts recruited members of bluegrass-rockers Country Gazette for a 1973 European tour (when Live in Amsterdam was made), but disbanded the Burritos late in 1973. Roberts then left to form Firefall [see entry]. In 1975 Kleinow and Ethridge revived the name with ex–Canned Heat bassist Joel Scott Hill and fiddler "Gib" Gilbeau, but Ethridge left in 1976. Various aggregations of Burritos (minus any original members) periodically make recordings and hit the honky-tonk club circuit.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).