Music Recall Magazine recently had a chance to speak with Chris P. James of The Burrito Brothers. James goes in-dept with his past, present and future. Please read our exclusive interview below.
MRM: Where are you “calling” from?
CPJ: Nashville, TN
MRM: How are you holding up in these crazy times?
CPJ: My wife, Sherrie and I are staying in our house, not going out unless we absolutely have to do so. I count my blessings. We don’t have it as bad as many. I’m able to do interviews like this. We got our great new Burrito Brothers album out before the “big shut down”. It would have been terribly disappointing if we’d gotten most of the way to the release date only to have it put on hold. Thankfully that didn’t happen.
MRM: Is it cool if we talk about your past, present and future?
MRM: Where did you grow up?
CPJ: I was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas. I attended journalism school at Kansas State University. After graduating, I moved to Nashville to pursue a career in music.
MRM: How did you first get involved in playing music?
CPJ: It was a part of life in our house. My father is a Jazz trumpet player. He was always in bands. Musicians would be there often. I also have three brothers, Peter, David and Fred, who all are musicians. Dad was very supportive and encouraging of it. I don’t think that’s a common situation for most young kids.
So, when I was young, I just started finding chords on the piano. I’d tap my feet in time and sing songs. It grew from there. No formal training. Dad gave a great piece of advice when he told me that you never “learn how”. You’re always still learning. Anyone who thinks they know it all is wrong. There’s always more to learn. So just get onboard the train and keep adding to your knowledge and abilities.
MRM: Who are your influences?
CPJ: Besides my father… BEATLES, BYRDS, DYLAN, STONES, THE BAND, GRAM PARSONS, PROCOL HARUM, HENDRIX, MILES DAVIS, FRANK SINATRA, MARVIN GAYE — BASICALLY THE LATE ’60s AND THE 1970s.
MRM: Could you describe what bands you were in before The Burrito Brothers?
CPJ: MR. HYDE – This group got a record deal on Taxim in 2000. It was me, Bob Hatter, Rick Lonow and Boomer Castleman. Mr. Hyde is very much a part of The Burrito Brothers’ family tree. Bob and I are in the BBs today. Rick was in the group for many years too. Boomer was known for writing songs that the Monkees and others did. His also invented the palm pedal guitar string bender.
To us the name of the group was derived from the classic LP, “Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde”. I’m proud of that album. It holds up very well. It’s now an expensive collectors’ item.
THE JAMES BROTHERS – The first real group (with potential) that I was in was this one with my brothers, Fred & David. We had a single released, produced by John Loudermilk, in the early 1980s (“Just Like A Girl”) and a fair amount of interest in the band that never quite panned out. We ended up suffering from sibling rivalries that we couldn’t overcome. Fred, the eldest, insisted upon being in charge and doing all the lead vocals. David & I were not willing to be that subordinate. He and I continued for a couple years as a duet version of The James Brothers (along the lines of The Everly Brothers). David Fontana and Rich Eckhardt were in the performing version of that band. But it came apart when David decided he wanted to be a solo star.
THE LOST SIDESHOW – In the early 1990s I was in a progressive Rock band called “Blue Meteor”. That was a cool, creative group. It led to me passing an audition to play Jim Morrison in a stage play in LA. It had very short run. I met Manzarek, Kreiger and Densmore. When I was back in Nashville I began playing Doors songs with Michael Webb, Rick Lonow and Bob Hatter. We called that group “The Lost Sideshow” from a line in one of Jim Morrison’s poems. He was referring to a girl with whom he had a one night stand. That group was lots of fun. To this day we still occasionally perform when asked (and offered decent money).
THE LONG PLAYERS – This is an ever-changing lineup of Nashville musicians and singers, organized by Bill Lloyd (Foster & Lloyd). The band specializes in performing a classic Rock LP from start to finish at each performance. They’ve done Beatles, Dylan, Stones, Kinks, The Band, The Byrds, The Monkees, CCR, The Doors, CSN&Y and many others. I’ve enjoyed performing with this group many times over the years.
THE GRAM BAND – I’ve taken part in many Gram Parsons tribute shows through the years. The first one was 1986, a Nashville Tribute organized by the late Argyle Bell. That was the first time I played with the Burrito Brothers. The next year’s show was recorded and came out as an LP called “Wheels”. That became the first time I’m on an album by the BBs. I also played on the reunion CD of the International Submarine Band, “Back At Home” in the late 1980s. And “The Gram Parsons Notebook” in the late 1990s.
Sometime in the 1990’s I started putting together one-shot bands for the sole purpose of performing that year’s GP tribute. I called them “The Gram Band”. It eventually occurred to me to make an album of rare Gram Parsons material and call it The Gram Band. I put the studio project together that became our “Blue Eyes” album just before becoming a full time member of The Burritos. I got Barry Tashian, Al Perkins, Roland White, Walter Egan, Mike Webb, Kenne Kramer, Chip Abernathy, Brian Pepo and Sherrie Kay to join in. It came out nicely. I love that album. It was a direct line for me from there to The Burrito Brothers.
I’ve played many jobs, more than I can count or remember, as a backup player for various artists. The list includes, Bobby Bare, The Rascals, The Sluggers, Steve Young, Mac Gayden, Walter Egan, Carlene Carter and Billie Jo Spears.
MRM: How did you end up joining the The Burrito Brothers?
CPJ: After so many years of being sort of “in the wings”, knowing a lot of the guys in the band, I was finally asked to become a full member in 2009. The leader of the incarnation known as “Burrito Deluxe”, Carlton Moody had decided he’d had enough after seven years.
My entry was a result of a man named Del Taylor, the head of SPV Records in England, wanting The Burrito Brothers for a new album. Del had contacted my brother, Fred, who is an established record producer in the Blues field, asking if he knew The Burrito guys. Fred told Del that I knew them and referred me. Del asked if I was willing to organize a new incarnation of Burritos. I was thrilled with the idea. He required me to obtain US trademark rights to the name. I did so.
Taylor asked who I had in mind. We first approached Chris Hillman, the only surviving member of the first FBB lineup. He would have been band leader, in charge. But he declined. He liked his career the way it was. And he stated that if he were to go for rekindling past glories it would be with The Byrds, not the Burritos.
So “plan B” went into action. I got Walter Egan, Rick Lonow and Supe Granda to come onboard. All three had been in the previous Burrito Deluxe. Supe ended up changing his mind about it. I asked Ronnie Guilbeau (who guest sings one song on our new album), but he was too involved with his other job. Next was Michael Curtis, who was in for a month or so, But he decided he wasn’t ready for it because he wanted to devote his time to raising his daughter (Curtis returns to the picture later). Finally we asked my brother Fred because he already had a rapport with Del Taylor. That was the group that made the “Sound As Ever” album released in 2011.
MRM: Could you tell us who else is in The Burrito Brothers and some of their accolades?
CPJ: TONY PAOLETTA – PEDAL STEEL GUITAR, DOBRO, MANDOLIN.
BOB HATTER – GUITARS & BASS.
PETER YOUNG – DRUMS, PERCUSSION, VOCALS.
All three of these guys are long established virtuoso level musicians who regularly work sessions in Nashville (and elsewhere). Tony has the longest tenure in the band of the three. He came in around 2012 or ‘13. He knew Sneaky Pete and completely understands the man’s approach and style. He’s incredibly versatile and inventive (as are both the others). Hatter was in Mr. Hyde and The Lost Sideshow with me (Chris P). He’s the best guitar player I know. Sensational touch, heart and musical vocabulary. Peter Young is perfect on drums. His grooves are always just right. He’s a real good harmony singer too. And add to all that, Pete manned the board as engineer of our new album. He joined the group in 2014.
I can’t imagine anyone being more right for this group at this point in time than these guys. I hope it stays this way…
MRM: Could you tell us about making the phenomenal new album “The Notorious Burrito Brothers”?
CPJ: Thank you for praising it. We are real proud of it. I think it’s the best album I’ve ever been a part of. It’s the best Burrito Brothers records in a long, long time. It’s the biggest deal for the group in decades. SFM Records, England, headed by Brian Adams, is a major label with worldwide distribution and promotion. Wow! A dream come true.
Brian (not the same guy as the Canadian rockstar) loved our last, self-produced, album “Still Going Strong” so much that he requested we make sure and send him our next stuff. Our representative in England, Bob Boiling (same initials as Burrito Brothers – I love that), got us this record deal when we were only half done recording it. Amazing! Seems against all odds.
But we knew we had something special. This album really came together and stayed on point throughout. We have the perfect chemistry in the group now. We all respect and love each other’s talents and personalities.
We began conceiving the album as a cohesive work. It stands up nicely as an artistic statement to be heard in its entirety. It’s not just nine songs that make up enough time to fill an album.
After collectively writing and organizing our plan, it was pretty quick work to record it. That took place at Mark Richardson’s Alchematic Studio in Franklin, TN. It’s a superb studio. Mark used to be at Electric Ladyland in New York. There we got the warmest, best sound I’ve heard on a Burrito Brothers record. Of course Peter Young’s engineering deserves credit for that too.
The opening track, “Bring It”, is very much the introduction. It invites the listener to come in and join the party. The last track, “Wheels Of Fire”, is absolutely the finale. It ties everything up with references to what happened before. The pacing from song to song is well thought out. There’s an eleven minute suite, “Love Is A River’, that lends itself to the whole idea of a concept album. There’s even a song with a secret message, “Acrostic”. That word is a poetic tool in which the first letter of each line in the lyric spells out the message.
MRM: Once everything clears up, are you all heading out on the road?
CPJ: Yes. We sure would like to do that. We’re not into getting out on the road and staying out there, though. We prefer shorter, well organized jaunts. Ten days to two weeks at a time would be ideal. Our main goal for live work is to perform overseas. I think audiences in other countries have a tendency to be more receptive and respectful of who we are. That’s why we aimed our record deal hopes at England in the first place. But we’ve enjoyed many nice concerts here in the states as well. We’re happy to work anywhere we’re asked to do so, as long as there’s enough in the budget to make it happen.
MRM: I know we are limited on time, anything else you would like to add?
CPJ: Please check out our website: www.TheBurritoBrothers.net.
I suggest people see the TIMELINE. There you can read about over 50 years of “who’s who” in this ever-changing band. Gram Parsons said to interviewer Chuck Casell in 1972, when asked about the group carrying on without any of the original members: “The idea’ll keep going, whether I do it or anyone else does. It’s gotta keep going”.
I also recommend THE BLOG. There you can read the “backstory” of each of the songs on “The Notorious Burrito Brothers”. They’re not surface level lyrics. A lot of thought went into these tunes.
MRM: Thanks for the interview!
CPJ: You’re absolutely welcome. Thank you so much for letting me do it. Stay safe and well in this terrible time of plague. Hope to catch you again on the other side of it.