With Nashville the epicenter of country music for decades, surprisingly enough it was Los Angeles that became a magnet for 1960s-era musicians devoted to bringing country music into a modern rock context. Buffalo Springfield and The Byrds both flirted with country music early on, as had other rock musicians to a lesser extent, but it was The Flying Burrito Brothers who dove completely in. They initially followed the lead of primary songwriters and lead vocalists Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman, two ex-Byrds, whose musical vision was a virtual blueprint for all country-rock bands to follow. They also had a secret weapon in the form of "Sneaky" Pete Kleinow, whose pioneering approach to pedal steel guitar would redefine the role of the instrument. Although their records sold modestly, the Burritos' musical legacy left an indelible mark, and their influence is profound.
By 1970, founding members Gram Parsons and Chris Etheridge had departed. This substantial void was filled by singer-songwriter Rick Roberts, and future Eagle guitarist Bernie Leadon. With these two talented guitar-playing singers now on board, Chris Hillman switched back to playing bass onstage, his primary instrument in The Byrds, and came into his own as a vocalist. As a professional touring band, they were arguably better than ever, with fewer erratic performances and an ever growing repertoire from which to choose.
With Leadon and Roberts, the band was certainly applying more emphasis on vocal arrangements than they had before. With Sneaky Pete adding distortion effects to his pedal steel, there is proof that the new group could rock out better than ever.
This lineup would last another year, record one more album, and then splinter apart, leaving Roberts and Clarke to carry on with new recruits. Chris Hillman would soon co-found Manassas with Stephen Stills, Kleinow would become one of the most in-demand session musicians in the business, and Bernie Leadon would become a founding member of The Eagles, a band that would take the Burrito's unique formula straight to the top of the charts.
Sadly, Parsons, who is seen by many as one of rock's greatest talents, passed away in 1973 of a drug overdose in a Joshua Tree, California hotel room at the age of 26.