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A Dirty Dozen with CHRIS P JAMES from THE BURRITO BROTHERS – April 2020

| 30 April 2020 | Reply


According to a recent press release: “The Burrito Brothers celebrate an illustrious past while serving up fresh contributions for a bright future. They continue to climb the branches of the “many tall pines” first planted in 1968. Trace the winding paths of Country and Rock & Roll back, you’ll find them there. Anyone who had a heart and ears can tell these guys are world-class musicians and songwriters with one listen. Here they are in the years, carrying on the tradition of classic late-1960’s and early 70’s ‘Hippie Country-Rock’ music, expanding its boundaries, always exploring new horizons. Country Rock’s big bang came in Los Angeles in the late 60’s. In 1968, Ian Dunlop and Barry Tashian started The Flying Burrito Brothers. Then in 1969, with Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman at the helm, the group released their classic first LP, The Gilded Palace of Sin. Since then the band has carried on, always evolving. This year marks the 50th anniversary of that classic LP.  Gram Parsons’ original vision for the band is still going strong. At the beginning of the 1980’s the band moved their base of operations from LA to Nashville. At that point the name was shortened to The Burrito Brothers. The band has remained in Nashville ever since.  Now, The Burrito Brothers are right on track.” We get Chris P to discuss new music, influences, and much more…

1. Tell us a little about your latest release.  What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through?  Are there any hidden nuggets you put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?

Our new album, The Notorious Burrito Brothers (SFM Records, England) is filled with things that a listener might not catch the first couple times they listen to it. We constructed it as an old-school concept album. It is intended to best be heard as a complete piece of work from start to finish. The opener, “Bring It,” is the welcoming invitation to come on in and join the party. The last song, “Wheels of Fire” is absolutely the finale that ties everything up, completing the journey. It includes references not only to the songs before it but many significant songs and artists in Rock history. Yes, it’s likely that only ‘diehard fans’ will get all of those. On our website,, in the Blog section, there is a Song-By-Song breakdown with all the backstory info. We gave a lot of thought to the pacing that makes the proceedings flow nicely. There’s a ten minute suite, “Love Is A River,” that adds to the idea of the album being a complete work. This is not just a result of having recorded enough material to fill a CD and slapping it out as “an album”. Far from it. As for “hidden nuggets”? Absolutely! That is illustrated perfectly by the song, “Acrostic.” An acrostic is a poetic tool in which the first letter of each line in the lyric spells out a message. I wrote this homage to my recently deceased mother using that idea. I don’t think anyone has done an acrostic in songwriting before. At least not that I know of. What you do is: read 1st letters down the left hand side of the printed lyrics to find the hidden message. Another thing the listener might not realize the first or second time through is how stellar the musicianship is in this current lineup of The Burrito Brothers. Tony Paoletta, Bob Hatter and Peter Young are world class, virtuoso musicians. They regularly do sessions in Nashville (and elsewhere). It’s a treat to work with players of this rare, highest caliber. With today’s often throwaway music markets, I don’t think the casual listener tends to lean toward a proper amount of respect for guys like them who’ve honed their craft through years of sensitive attention and experience. Other musicians know. The challenge is to appeal to the surface level listeners who don’t know the difference, while at the same time satisfying ourselves and those who do know. Tricky. But if it can be done, this album should be a shining example.

2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?

I’d have to say my father, Alfred James III, is the reason I got into music. He was/is a superb, tuned in, Jazz musician, a trumpet player. All four of his sons are musicians. Good ones too. My brothers Fred, Peter and David James all made names for themselves in music. Dad was always encouraging us. He never was against us becoming professional musicians. He simply insisted that if we were going to do it, we should be responsible and dedicated. I remember he brought Fred and I, the eldest two, into the living room on Pinecrest Street in Wichita, Kansas, to watch The Beatles’ debut on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. We weren’t aware of it beforehand. Dad just knew it was going to be something we’d like. It was right around that time that we started buying records. The first groups I got into besides The Beatles, were The Byrds, The Monkees, Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Animals, Gary Lewis & The Playboys… the ones aimed at kids my age. But these groups are still regarded as good ones. It was an amazing era in popular music. I recall being absolutely spellbound by “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” The ‘moment I realized I wanted to be a musician’ was in my senior year of high school. I was and always have been a late bloomer. Though I collected and listened avidly to music, I didn’t start playing until I was seventeen. One day I just went to the piano and started picking out simple chords, triads. I wanted to sing “Let It Be.” Like a revelation I discovered I could do it. Not very well but it was a start. The key ingredients were the realization that I had a good sense of time. I could tap my foot in rhythm. And I had a good ear. I could find those notes to make the chords. Then I’d play the root note down in the lower keys, spreading my left hand wide to hit an octave, rocking that back and forth in time with the right hand chords. Bing bang, stomp stomp, I was making music! My father gave me the best bit of advice for pursuing it I’ve ever received. He said that you never learn how. You’re always learning. Anyone who thinks they know it all is wrong. So just climb onboard the train and keep adding to your repertoire. That was liberating.

3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?

Well, I suppose that Beatles performance on Ed Sullivan’s show was pivotal. It was for almost everyone who saw it. The first couple concerts I saw as a kid were The Animals and Paul Revere & The Raiders. Those had an impact. It was so cool to watch those guys doing it. As strange as it may sound, I actually was into Gram Parsons, The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers from an early age. I had those albums when they were new. The Byrds Greatest Hits, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, The Gilded Palace of Sin, Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde, Burrito Deluxe. In Kansas there was a tendency for Rock music that involved rootsy “country” elements to be well received. That was the beginning of the era of all those hippie country rock groups. Along with the ones I mentioned, there were Pure Prairie League, Poco, New Riders, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, even Grateful Dead, Crosby Stills & Nash. The list goes on.

4. Who would be your main five musical influences?

That’s a tough one to only name five. OK. The Beatles, The Byrds (by extension including the Burrito Bros.), Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and The Doors.

5. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?

Gram Parsons. If you mean living or dead, it has to be Gram. It would be all well and cool to say John Lennon or Paul McCartney. Or Jimi or Dylan or someone like that who looms large in history. But realistically it’s pretty hard to picture those collaborations. With Gram, I can imagine connecting on a song idea and following it through. I’ve always believed we have similar talents. He was a keyboard player more than any other instrument, as am I. Guitar was/is a second instrument that’s handy for standing out front of the band and singing. He loved to sing. Me too. I could imagine him and me having a nice songwriting give-and-take. Now, if you’re talking about someone alive who would be at the top of the list, it would have to be one of the architects of The Flying Burrito Brothers. Carrying on this great legacy group, that’s been a dream all along. To co-write a song with Chris Hillman, Rick Roberts, Bernie Leadon, Barry Tashian, Ian Dunlop or Gene Parsons, would be a gift from heaven. Keith Richards? Man, that’d be pretty dang cool too.

6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?

We make thoughtful, creative music that involves poetry and artful ideas. It’s intended to be enjoyed as catchy, infectious songs while at the same time having deeper levels to dig into that come from the experience and capabilities of dedicated lifetime professional musicians. I’d ask them to just listen, let it wash over you, don’t try to label it beforehand or rationalize anything. It’s a great band. The worst thing I read by a reviewer was a claim that The Notorious Burrito Brothers was middle of the road music. Wrong! He doesn’t have a clue to what he’s talking about! That couldn’t be further from the truth. This band is ultimately inventive, creative, pushing the envelopes. It’s a shame when non-musical people pass judgments in reviews. There isn’t another band currently making new music that’s anything like us. We’re not in the middle. That guy was fooled by the ease and smoothness with which we present much of our artistry. I’m sure he just skipped through, then wrote his usual know-it-all garbage. I wonder what he regards as good. The next worst thing I read was a reviewer writing that our album was good, but then ruined that by saying it would be fine if it was ‘just anybody’ (whatever that means). He claimed he expected more from the group calling itself The Burrito Brothers. What a load of crap. I’ll bet he hasn’t heard anything by this group in decades. He was egotistically holding us up to an imaginary standard from fifty years ago. The truth is we hold up well in comparison to any previous Burrito Brothers lineup. More importantly, our current signing with Brian Adam’s SFM Records in England is a major deal with worldwide distribution and promotion. This moment in time is an upswing compared to any for The Burritos in the past thirty-five years. There might be a couple times they were in a similar neighborhood but none that topped this. It’s heady stuff. I’m thrilled to be a part of it. Thank you, Bob Boiling and Brian.

7. When your band is hanging out together, who cooks, who gets the drinks in, and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?

When we get together (which is halted at present by the pandemic) it’s usually at my place. I make sure to have food and drinks for everyone. My wife, Sherrie gets into that too. We either fire up the grill, make sandwiches or get pizza. Seems to me it’d have to be Bob Hatter who’s a bit more inclined to “throw down” something on guitar. We all do it, though. Even Peter Young. He doesn’t only play drums.

8. When was the last time you were starstruck and who was it?

I suppose I felt a bit that way getting to spend an afternoon with Todd Rundgren. I was writing an article about him for Shake! Magazine. He granted an interview. What a major dude in music history. He was with The New Cars at the time. They had a gig at The Wildhorse in Nashville. Kind of felt that way about meeting Jimmy Webb too.

9. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?

The best thing about being a musician is to truly, absolutely, be doing the thing I love all the way down deep in my soul. I think that’s true for musicians more than almost every other line of work. We get to feel those intense, transcendent moments. If I couldn’t play music anymore I’d turn to being a music journalist, which I’ve already done a bit.

10. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?

You’ve asked great questions here in this interview. I’m not missing a query I wish someone would ask. I’ve gotten some dumb ones that show how little the interviewer knows. That’s not the case here. I believe after all the years of dedication that Tony Paoletta, Bob Hatter, Peter Young and I have put into our careers in music, we deserve a little bit of respect. It’s weird to me when some hotshot reviewer thinks he knows more about music than us. There are so many examples of classic artists having received stupid garbage reviews in their day. Many writers don’t know anywhere near as much as they act like they do. I can’t think of a question I’m tired of answering. I haven’t been hounded by interviewers all my life. There’s a lot more of it right now than I’ve experienced before. Remember, I said I’m a late bloomer. It feels like I always get along with the interviewer and we work together to record an exchange. It all goes nicely when we actually have human interaction. The only couple times things went south were early ones when a review got written by someone who didn’t get the background material we now send with the music and/or I didn’t talk to them.

11. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over,” even if it didn’t change your current situation?

There might be one. When I was 22 years old in the late 1970’s I was invited to New York by Arista Records because they liked the demo I’d sent them. This was a big chance for a major record deal. I was young and naive and probably could have handled it better. You know – “if I knew then what I know now.” What happened was, the guy who was interested was gay. I reacted madly. I was pissed off that he was just trying to get that and wasn’t interested enough in the music first and foremost. I told him off and angrily split. Looking back, I wonder if I could have more tactfully let him know it wasn’t going to happen and still kept the line open to the record deal.

12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?

Well, that would have to be The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It’s the most monumental album, moment, in Rock history. It had more influence and cultural impact than any other LP. Knowing it looms so large forever makes that a slam dunk for my choice to answer this question.

Thank you for having me do this interview with you. I appreciate it very much. It’s been sweet, a true pleasure. Stay safe. Stay warm. Be cool. Peace. – Chris P Burrito





Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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