Chris P James
THE NOTORIOUS BURRITO BROTHERS - Song by Song
“Bring It” This is the overture. To pace and program an album as a cohesive piece of work it must start with a high energy introduction. The lyric and playing invites the listener into the experience. Here we go!
Sometimes You Just Can’t Win The Burrito Brothers’ father, mentor, the one responsible for the original concept of the group is Gram Parsons. It is important to include something of him in every album. Another notebook song, this one incorporates the idea of The Rolling Stones with an adapted lyric of Fred Neil’s found in Gram’s handwriting. Hence the dedication: Gram Parson/Fred Neil/The Burrito Brothers. “The Gram Parsons Notebook” is a CD that was released in 2000 authorized by Gram’s estate. It featured new songs composed from GP’s lyrics (from his notebooks) by a selection of Nashville songwriters. Chris P James was involved. This song was started at the time but not finished for inclusion in that album.
Love Is A River The Burritos decided to do a major work, a suite. This was constructed from song ideas that Bob Hatter and Chris James came up with in Mr. Hyde along with Tony Paoletta’s instrumental motifs. This is a “progressive rock” piece. It’s different. Middle of the road? Not hardly. It’s an epic, the cornerstone of the album.
Dark End Of The Street Tony wanted to record this song. He felt the early Burritos version got too many things wrong. He’d seen the writer, Dann Penn, sing it and realized they’d strayed from the original composition. This is the only cover tune on the album. The rest of the songs are originals. It is wildly incorrect to perceive this song as a cover from the Flying Burrito Brothers 1st LP, “The Gilded palace of Sin”. It is actually a classic R&B tune by James Carr. Aretha Franklin also recorded it. The version sung by Gram was a cover in the first place.
Do Right Man This song was written by Ronnie Guilbeau/Chris P James/Rick Lonow. Ronnie sings lead as the only guest on “The Notorious Burrito Brothers”. He is an alumni. He was in the group, alongside his father Gib Guilbeau, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was Ronnie’s idea to write a song as a sort of answer to the classic, “Do Right Woman”.
Acrostic Here we go. This highly poetic song expects the listener to dig deeper than simply surface level listening. Most people don’t know the definition of this word. Acrostic: Definition: (noun) a poem or lyric in which first letters in each line form a word or words. The message is right there to decipher. The band made sure the lyrics were printed in the album artwork.
My mother told me, son
Another train’s gonna come
Keep eyes wide open
Educate, have fun, yeah
Use good sense if you have to fight
Stay strong yet loosely tight
Feel your way through life
All good things transpire
Mama says, “it’ll come your way”
Our father preaches, “let us pray”
Use these words, brother, may they
Serve you well today
Weather the storms
Even the scores
Never give in, don’t dread
Ever the world can trip the head
Elevate thought, be kind, oh
Deliver the soul and the mind
Time is a healer
Or is it a stealer?
Evil will leave here
Have you heard the sound of God?
Every word, the staff and rod
All the little children sing out proud
Ring them bells, “get off o’ my cloud”
Dance ‘neath the diamond stars
Open up your heart, and
Gravity It is important to The Burrito Brothers to never leave behind their roots. This bluegrass number adds nicely to the changing flow of the album. It was written by James with Carlton Moody, the leader of the “Burrito Deluxe” version of the group which lasted for nearly ten years starting in the late 1990s. Tony Paoletta plays mandolin on the track. It’s “old school”.
Hearts Desire Many years ago Bob Hatter and Chris James wrote a song adapting a sketch by Skip Spence called “If I’m Good”. They revisited and decidedly improved the piece. It became “Hearts Desire”. And yes, that is what hearts do. Skip was the wild card, the special x factor of the great group, Moby Grape. His creativity was undeniable. The present day Burritos feel strongly about keeping alive the memories of people like him. It’s not just Gram Parsons, it’s a whole golden era ethic and its sensibilities. The BBs carry the torches.
Wheels Of Fire This is the album’s grand finale. The song is chocked full of references to classic greats in music history as well as the songs that precede it in this album. It’s another strongly poetic piece quite unlike usual norms in songwriting. The references are many.
The song’s title is a classic LP by Cream.
It’s also a song by The Band, The Byrds and others.
There is social commentary about horrible people in power.
“couldn’t give a rat’s ass” came from Johnny Depp.
“shall be released” is Dylan.
“There’s a hole in the hard case” is an obscure Beatles bootleg recording.
“Mother Mary” is Beatles again (though Christianity in a broad sense).
“getting ourselves clear” is Leonard Cohen. So is “Hallelujah”.
“Walk the golden Shire” is Tolkien.
“Wings of Fire” is Mahavishnu Orchestra.
“The walls of hateful men”… who do you think it is?
“Break on through” is The Doors. So is “Know we couldn’t get much higher”
and also “No safety nor surprise”.
“new mama” is Neil Young.
“A dream within my spirit” is a reference to the group Spirit.
“Fear the Wendigo in the house of white” references a horrible person via
Algernon Blackwood’s classic short story.
“Honky Tonk Citadel” is an obvious Rolling Stones reference (they’re named).
“Baby James” is James Taylor.
“Wheels of roulette, ooh yeah” is McCartney & Wings.
Also every song title in “the Notorious Burrito Brothers” album gets referenced in this finale. There is even a nod to a forthcoming song, “Let’s Roll” (written by Guilbeau/James/Lonow). It will be on the next album.
Finally the album title is a play on The Byrds’ classic 5th LP. The story goes that Gram Parsons had already hit things off with Hillman and McGuinn. “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” was the album immediately before “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” (that included Gram as the newest member of the group). Parsons was at a session or two for “Notorious”. The name itself came from the guys joking about calling the album “The Flying Burrito Brothers”, which at the time was a loose aggregation of local LA musicians headed up by Barry Tashian and Ian Dunlop playing bar gigs. The name was intentionally silly. Gram was a semi-regular sit-in with them. This was more than a year before “The Gilded Palace of Sin”.
So, while tossing around “The Flying Burrito Brothers” as a title for the Byrds’ album, it morphed into “The Notorious Byrd Brothers”.
The current Burrito Brothers’ album title is a tip of the hat with great respect for those guys and the fact that they are the mentors. It’s an “inside” reference for those in the know. It also has the added aspect of recognizing that The Burrito Brothers are controversial to some people. Hence, “Notorious”.