Category Archives: 1971

The Essentials: The Flying Burrito Brothers – self-titled

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fullsizeoutput_1353The first Flying Burrito Brothers album I purchased was the two-LP Close Up the Honky Tonks compilation that covered the band’s prime 1968-72 years. It collected tracks from their first two albums with Gram Parsons, b-sides and a few rarities. The fourth side featured songs from the post-Parsons era of the band – though, oddly, nothing from their first post-Parsons album. But I enjoyed that material so much that, a few days later, I picked up their self-titled third album, which was originally released in June 1971.

fullsizeoutput_1358Music historians and critics often note that, on the eponymous set, the band continued along the country-rock path charted with Parsons on the first two LPs while smoothing out the music’s rougher edges. Aside from Rick Robert’s “Colorado,” which was covered by Linda Ronstadt on her 1973 Don’t Cry Now album, the songs are said to be serviceable, little else. Allmusic.com’s Brett Hartenbach, for example, summarizes the album as “solid if unspectacular.”

He, and other critics, couldn’t be more wrong.

To my mind, Chris Hillman is one of the most under-appreciated figures in the annals of rock and country-rock history. A founding member of both the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, he helped carve the grooves through which much modern rock, country-rock and country music has since flowed. Go back to his country-flavored contributions to what is arguably the Byrds’ best (or second-best) album, Younger Than Yesterday, for proof; and check out this album, too (Though long out of print on both vinyl and CD, the songs themselves are available, in order, on the Hot Burritos! The Flying Burrito Bros. Anthology 1969-1972.) 

In some respects, the music is a forerunner of Hillman’s work with the Desert Rose Band, which had a good run in the country charts in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. (Diane and I saw them twice in those years. Great shows.) Whereas Parsons injected R&B and gospel into the mix, Hillman introduced bluegrass – and, too, surprisingly plaintive vocals. Newcomer Rick Roberts, who’d go onto Firefall and “You Are the Woman,” is in fine form, as well, contributing some wonderful songs and vocals.

The album’s highlights include “Colorado,” the Gene Clark-penned “Tried So Hard,” “Just Can’t Be” and “All Alone.”

The songs:

  1. “White Line Fever” (Merle Haggard) – 3:16
  2. “Colorado” (Rick Roberts) – 4:52
  3. “Hand to Mouth” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 3:44
  4. “Tried So Hard” (Gene Clark) – 3:08
  5. “Just Can’t Be” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 4:58
  6. “To Ramona” (Bob Dylan) – 3:40
  7. “Four Days of Rain” (Rick Roberts) – 3:39
  8. “Can’t You Hear Me Calling” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 2:23
  9. “All Alone” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 3:33
  10. “Why Are You Crying” (Rick Roberts) – 3:02

Under Arabian Skies, Part 2

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Most days, by mid-afternoon, stepping outside of our air-conditioned villa on the Raytheon compound in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, felt like stepping into a furnace. Sweat seeped from the pores even before one did anything. The sand, cement homes and asphalt roads acted like a magnet for the rays of the sun, which blazed overhead in a near-cloudless sky, and even a gentle breeze wasn’t so gentle – the lilting wind lifted grains of hot sand from the ground and pelted your skin with them.

That’s my memory of what the weather was like during our initial days and weeks in Saudi, at any rate, but I was very young – all of 5 years of age – so I’m sure that what I recall is more impressionistic than not. That said, we arrived in August 1970; Wikipedia states that the average (daytime) high in Jeddah for that month is 99 degrees and the average (nighttime) low is 80.8, with the following months easing up a tad. But, back then, all I knew was one thing: It was hot.

(For a view of what the compound looked like, click here to watch a two-minute excerpt from a home movie that I uploaded to YouTube.)

As I inferred above, because of my age, a fair chunk of what I remember is a jumble. Some of what I recall is crystal clear, however, though many memories are missing three things: the day, month and year. That’s par for the course, I’ve read, for how the brain develops – time is an abstraction when one is young, and outside of birthdays and holidays, the days themselves matter less than the events contained therein.

And, yes, that’s a roundabout introduction to a specific incident. Whether it occurred in 1970 or ’71, I can’t say. I just remember heading to the beach with my brother Ken, who’s a few years older than me. Perhaps our mother shooed us outside – we got rather rambunctious on occasion – or maybe we were simply being adventurous. Whatever the reason, we set out on what wasn’t a particularly hot day – though that part may be wrong. The sun shone overhead.

If you read Part 1, you’ll remember that the compound was a walled community that sat on the Red Sea. (To borrow a line from The Wonder Years pilot, kids could wander the streets without fear of winding up on a milk carton.) Our home, House 14, was mere blocks from the beach, so it didn’t take long to get there. We strode with purpose across the coarse sand toward the jetty that jutted into the sea, or maybe our destination was simply the water’s edge to collect shells. Whichever, a dog barked, followed by another, and then another. In the distance, a cloud of sand kicked up and cleared, revealing a pack of barking dogs charging toward us.

“Run!” Ken shouted, and we took off, the distance between the two of us expanding while the gap between me and the dogs shrunk. He made it to one of the beachfront villas, and climbed its patio wall to safety. Me? I glanced over my shoulder; there was no chance I was going to make it. I faced the thundering horde, raised my hand above my head and prepared for the worst.

Within seconds, the lead dog slid to a stop at my feet, spraying my legs with sand – and raced away. The others chased after him, barking and yelping all the while.

Salukis, greyhounds, other assorted breeds and mutts, a mix of wild and castoff canines – that was the makeup of the pack. Some were likely raised to race by well-off Saudis, then tossed aside, others may have been left behind by departing Raytheon personnel. And more than a few, like our future pet poodle Jacques would in a few years, simply left their people for a spell to be with their own. The call of the wild has pull.

In retrospect, I doubt those dogs meant us harm. (I can’t imagine that I scared them.) Maybe they were out for a run, saw two kids alone on the beach and decided to have some fun. Perhaps they only wanted to play tag.

At least, that’s what I’d like to think.