The Flying Burrito Brothers - “Do Right Woman”
From The Guilded Palace of Sin (1969)
The first time I remember hearing the name Gram Parsons was way back when I was in high school, and I had just come across a copy of Stanley Booth's classic The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones in the local library. I didn’t know who Booth was, and I didn’t really know who Gram Parsons was; but I was going through that magical first brush with the Stones, getting to sink my teeth into the music (the music beyond just hearing “Satisfaction” and “Start Me Up”, that is) for the very first time. I must’ve been about 15 or 16, and hearing songs like “Midnight Rambler" and "Gimme Shelter" just opened up a whole new world for me. It was exciting. The sounds just had so much more life to them than anything I was then hearing on the radio.
Naturally, I wanted to read about the people behind the music, so I devoured as many books and articles about the Stones as I could get my hands on; if there had been much of an Internet to speak of back then, I’m sure I would’ve been online researching the band all hours of the day and night there, as well (this was just before the world went digital, though, so how much information could I really have found on a dial-up connection??)…
This quest for reading material on the Stones ultimately led me to Booth’s book, which chronicled the band’s American tour in 1969. That was the tour that infamously ended in horrific violence; it was also the tour where the band spent a fair amount of time hanging out with country-rock musician (and one-time Byrds member) Gram Parsons. At the time, Parsons was launching his new band, the Flying Burrito Brothers, with fellow ex-Byrd Chris Hillman, and they were flying high with their now-classic debut album, The Guilded Palace of Sin. Throughout the book, whenever Booth writes about the band playing, he paints this picture of soulful, pristine country sounds cutting straight through the filth, sleaze, and muck of the times or the circumstances, almost like beams of sunshine escaping through dark grey storm clouds. Yet I must admit that, not being a big fan of country music, I was not initially inclined to check this band out.
But as I read and re-read (and re-read some more) the book over the years, and as I constantly absorbed Stanley Booth’s high praise of the Burritos, I finally had to check them out. I believe the first track I ever heard that really hooked me was their version of “Do Right Woman.” I’d heard and loved the original gospel-flavored version released by Aretha Franklin in ‘67 - classic soul with that unbeatable Muscle Shoals sound - but the Burritos slowed the song down, gave it a hazy, Southern feel (for some reason, I always picture acoustic guitars being lazily played on a front porch on a hot summer’s day), and infused it with a completely different, equally satisfying vibe. It’s rare when I can hear a cover of a song that I love as much as the original, but this was one of those times.
The ache in Parsons’ vocals, the close harmonies on the chorus, and the way Parsons slowly, passionately drawls out the “They say that it’s a man’s world/But you can’t prove that by me/ So as long as we’re together baby/You better show some respect for me” line just hits that sweet spot. Ever since I heard this song for the first time, I’ve been a fan. And now, with the hot weather of summer coming back, this song has been making a comeback to my playlists in a big way….