The Acoustic Storm Interviews
Garth Hudson and “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow are alumni of two legendary groups: The Band and The Flying Burrito Brothers. Hudson played keyboards and sax for The Band. Originally the back-up group for Bob Dylan, The Band went on to record several classic albums of their own. Besides Garth Hudson, The Band consisted of Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel. Pete Kleinow played steel guitar for The Flying Burrito Brothers, a group that was at the forefront of country-rock, featuring the late Gram Parsons.
In 2002, Hudson and Kleinow helped to form Burrito Deluxe, a country-rock group that has recorded two albums, including their most recent release, “The Whole Enchilada.”
The Acoustic Storm spoke with Hudson and Kleinow at Omni Sound Studios in Nashville in October of 2004.
ACOUSTIC STORM: The name Burrito Deluxe obviously goes back to the Flying Burrito Brothers.
GARTH HUDSON: What year was that, Pete?
KLEINOW: In the 60’s, I think.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Not that long ago, in 2002, you formed Burrito Deluxe. How did the group come about?
HUDSON: It came together with a young fellow Tommy Sperlock, and Sneaky Pete Kleinow and uhh…
KLEINOW: and Garth Brooks
HUDSON: no, no…
KLEINOW: …-Sorry ‘bout that
HUDSON: Well you know, I often wondered where his mother got that name.
ACOUSTIC STORM: It sounds like you guys are having fun with Burrito Deluxe. Are you taking this new album out on the road?
HUDSON: Yes, we’ve been working in Ireland; in the mid-South in the Kudzu Basin we had a great time and a terrific reception, and we’re playing B.B King’s tonight in Nashville, Tennessee. We’re doing what young fellows do in their encounters with technological disparity. We’re putting together our equipment for the show, and yes, I can still lift and carry my own equipment.
KLEINOW: Wow, I envy you that.
HUDSON: You can lift your steel still. How about those big amps you used to come into the club with, what was that, Pete?
KLEINOW: Still got ‘em, gig heavy amps, that’s what it was.
HUDSON: I’ve seen you carry two, one under each arm
KLEINOW: Yeah, but the fans wanted something a little bit more than that. We just got to add a few things on to it yet. We’re working on that and soon people will be knocking on our door.
HUDSON: Yeah, we’re working on new sounds.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Where are you based these days?
HUDSON: I live in upstate New York, far enough away from Woodstock that I don’t have to go there every day.
KLEINOW: I live in San Francisco, California and I do go there every day.
HUDSON: I wish we were all there now.
KLEINOW: I do, too.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Both your previous groups had country influences. How have those styles inspired Burrito Deluxe?
HUDSON: I think that all started in the 80’s when Pete and I played with an eight-piece country group in the Valley, that’s the L.A. Valley.
KLEINOW: The Shut Outs.
HUDSON: The Shut Outs, yes Greg Humphrey and the Shut Outs. We played the Palomino many times. You know the Palomino that’s no longer there apparently, and was an old club. Didn’t we open for Jerry Lee Lewis?
KLEINOW: Oh yes.
HUDSON: Those were the days…(laughter) Pete and I played every gig with Joel Sonier, a master accordion player and the best of the Cajun singers.
KLEINOW: We still see him once in a while don’t we?
HUDSON: Yeah, Joel. I talked to him on his cell phone. So we’re all moving ahead with our adventures with the technology here. Any questions about technology?
KLEINOW: Oh no I know it all, so why should I ask?
ACOUSTIC STORM: Talking about technology…as a sidebar-Sneaky Pete, I didn’t realize you had such an accomplished career in film animation.
KLEINOW: Yeah, it was a fun time, we got a lot of work in that way, we did the music.
ACOUSTIC STORM: A couple of the projects you worked on are classics, what about “Gumby” – what was that like?
KLEINOW: It was messy, you got clay all over your fingers and everything like that, but at the end of the day I could just stomp on him and feel better.
ACOUSTIC STORM: And “Terminator”-what did you do on “The Terminator”?
KLEINOW: Oh, I animated “The Terminator” as he’s raging down the hallway and all his skin is torn off and burned and so forth and so on, I did all that. A large miniature of animation, they don’t do it that way anymore. You’ve heard about digital I hope. (laughs)
ACOUSTIC STORM: You were doing both music and animation concurrently, so you’re kind of a “renaissance man” in that respect.
KLEINOW: Well you could say that. I guess that’s a little flowery, but yeah, we did do a lot of work like that with all those animated effects I worked on for many years with various people. It was a lot of fun and I stopped when digital came in with a big huff and a puff. I didn’t want to do digital anymore. I turned back on to music and doing all these things simultaneously. It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Sneaky Pete, how did you get that nickname?
KLEINOW: I didn’t create that name. People started using that when I had an old band where everyone had a nickname of sorts and I got that name hung on me, and I’m sorry I did. I tried to shake it off but they won’t let me, so I still have it.
ACOUSTIC STORM: It’s so memorable, but you wouldn’t describe yourself as being sneaky?
KLEINOW: No, no I was never sneaky. I was very forthcoming and spoke my mind. No I wasn’t sneaky at all.
ACOUSTIC STORM: I guess Sneaky stuck. You both share a good sense of humor. How do you think that translates to the music of Burrito Deluxe?
KLEINOW: We’re just a bunch of jovial guys and like to have a lot of fun. You know you don’t want to walk in there all sober and sorry, so we start cracking jokes. They’re not funny jokes, but they’re just jokes.
HUDSON: We make them up as we go…every day there’s about seven or eight new jokes.
KLEINOW: That’s right.
ACOUSTIC STORM: I read a comment in the liner notes of “The Whole Enchilada” that Burrito Deluxe is not about labels and categories. With so much music these days being compartmentalized, it’s refreshing that you’d rather not be burdened with any particular category. Would you agree with that assessment?
HUDSON: I think now that we’ve invested a lot of time and energy into the project, we’re really interested about marketing and meeting the folks that do that work out there in the field, and we’ve been honored to have a terrific staff. I want to say that we would rather actually love to be categorized at this point. Certainly there are some fine people, good workers in all areas of the music industry, and you see that here in Nashville, and I think that’s what we’re witnessing here at the convention here at the Americana Music Awards. Pete and I were in there last night with the fellows in the band, my wife Maude, and we met with some great people there. Had a chat with Mavis Staples and I think everyone was deeply touched that she could move the hall with only a guitar player. She moved the hall.
KLEINOW: I wish I could sing like that, really.
HUDSON: So we are searching for a category, or perhaps there will be something new-another area.
KLEINOW: Maybe an animated character.
HUDSON: Yes, of course.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Let’s go back to the earlier phases in both your careers. Sneaky Pete, can you talk a little about the Flying Burrito Brothers. What are some of your memories of Gram Parsons, and his contributions to the group?
KLEINOW: I remember Gram as a smiling, happy guy, who made many people happy and I appreciated his music. I was very glad to have him for a mate in the band. Gram was just a very sweet guy, and it was too bad we lost him so early.
ACOUSTIC STORM: I understand you’ve kept in touch with Polly Parsons, Gram’s daughter.
KLEINOW: Yes, it’s been quite a while since the last time I saw her. We chatted and had a lot of fun with that and we were very happy to meet up again after all the years.
HUDSON: Did you tell her some of our jokes?
KLEINOW: Uh yeah, some of them that were pretty snappy. We didn’t really dare come out and say what we wanted.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Pete, how did you start playing steel guitar?
KLEINOW: I was brought to the steel guitar by hearing some lap players, people that had lap guitars, and I started off doing that but I was very amateurish and I just gradually got to the point where I had my own steel guitar. It was quite a long time ago, that I started to reach out and try to develop some style of my own. I think we kind of succeeded in that, we learned how to create better sounding music and having Gram Parsons in the band and all the others was just a wonderful experience.
ACOUSTIC STORM: You’ve played many sessions over the years with some well-known people. Which artists did you enjoy playing with most?
KLEINOW: Oh golly, Linda Ronstadt comes to mind right off the bat. We did a lot of work with Linda. Gosh, there are so many of them, I can hardly count on my hands how many people we worked with.
ACOUSTIC STORM: You played with John Lennon, right?
KLEINOW: Oh yeah, with John Lennon in New York and also did various sessions with him in Los Angeles.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Garth, how did you get into music?
HUDSON: Oh when I was a kid, before I left for Detroit, I heard this radio station from Lake Erie, probably 90-100 miles away, it was Cleveland-Akron and it was The Alan Freed Show, from 5-6 p.m. every day, “The Moondog Matinee.” It was something like Dixieland jazz to me. You know, I was a kid and it wasn’t like Be-Bop and I could also tell that some people over there were having a lot more fun than I was, so I got into the music, I played tenor sax. I admired Clifford Scott, Red Prysock, Joe Houston, and of course, Illnois Jacquet and back to Ben Webster. How’s that for a concise hip card?
ACOUSTIC STORM: How did your professional music career get going?
HUDSON: Well to start with, I had a group in Detroit from 1958 to ’62. We’d go across the river from Windsor (we’re from Canada), with Paul London and the Capers. That’s where we learned a bit about the music business. Then I joined Ronnie Hawkins and that was a wild bunch. The music couldn’t be followed. Apparently, the word on the street was that you couldn’t follow Ronnie on one of these tours or shows. Then we left Ronnie, and worked as Levon and the Hawks, and I might mention that there’s a boxed set coming out of recordings gathered by Jan Haust of other people’s music from before Bob Dylan, so this would be a Hawks boxed set and it’s going to be something else. Jan has looked all over southern Ontario, down to Oklahoma and Texas for recordings made on cassettes or whatever and with new technology has made it into a tremendous collection. Now, when we sat over there on the east coast listening to our records, The Band was inspired I think, by Dylan to continue writing our own songs, he visited with us and we recorded his songs and watched him type them out or write them on the legal pad, prolific.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Besides Dylan, what other music was The Band listening to in the late ’60s?
HUDSON: We listened again and again to certain things we’d been listening to for years, the 45’s that we collected from the Delta area of the country, and also Chicago Gospel 45’s. We had all that. Rick, Richard, Levon, Robbie and myself-were still listening to them when the phenomenon began, the psychedelic wars, or whatever we called it as a joke, a very important period in history. The only West Coast groups that I can remember we had records of were The Dead and The Jefferson Airplane. There were others but we focused on them for some reason.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Let’s talk about a couple of classic songs by The Band, for instance, “The Weight.”
HUDSON: The main thing about “The Weight” was trying to do a rhythm on the piano. That’s about the only tune I played piano on, “The Weight,” also “Rag Mama Rag.” Richard (Manuel) played for every other Band song I believe, a magnificent rhythm energy player. If you’re in the session business or playing with groups, Richard’s work is a study piece. I would suggest you listen to the piano playing on “Sleeping.” His ballad work- Listen how he keeps that going through a slow tune, Richard is great. Richard Manuel.
ACOUSTIC STORM: What does “The Weight” mean to you?
HUDSON: It is what you would call a vehicle and on that vehicle I am privileged to play keyboard every time we do it. We do it with the Burritos and every time I play it, it’s different, so that goes on and on. I think Pete thinks the same way I do, we never really play the same notes every night as some fellows do, I honor them, those that can remember exactly what to play, like the Vegas piano players.
ACOUSTIC STORM: How about “Stage Fright”?
HUDSON: “Stage Fright”- by the way, I played it many, many times, but certainly with
“Stage Fright” you think of Rick Danko and his great, wonderful spirit, unlike anyone else on this earth, and that’s about all I can say on that.
ACOUSTIC STORM: I read somewhere that on the song “Up on Cripple Creek,” you came up with the idea of playing a clavinet through a wah wah peddle.
HUDSON: Well, I can’t really begin to discuss it because I don’t know whether I was first at doing that. Now if I was the first one to ever think of that and record with it, then we’d have something to talk about, wouldn’t we?
ACOUSTIC STORM: What do you think it was about The Band that differentiated the group from everyone else in the 1960’s?
HUDSON: In every one of The Band’s songs, we tried to come up with sounds that conjured up feelings or the words and scenario in each song. We had a variety of topics and I tried to come up with a different sound for every song.
ACOUSTIC STORM: What is your former Band-mate Levon Helm up to these days?
HUDSON: Now, Levon is still writing and I might suggest listening to “Move to Japan,” it’s a funny piece of work. Levon is writing and playing. His daughter, Amy is with Olabelle, and Olabelle’s doing very well.
ACOUSTIC STORM: So what’s ahead for you?
HUDSON: I have a project that my wife Maude and myself recorded at the Wolf Concert Hall in London, Ontario my hometown. We did that about two years ago. Maude is here with us in Nashville urging us on. With the Burrito family here, we’re all songwriters all over again and think about it I’m sure daily. That’s the story, now can you think of anything I left out?
-Transcribed by Nancy Ianuzzi