If anyone knows the meaning of loss, it's Necia Ethridge. Her dad, bass guitarist Chris Ethridge, was an early founding member of the late '60s band The Flying Burrito Brothers, which was the first to introduce rock and Southern soul to country music. He toured with the likes of Linda Ronstadt and Willie Nelson.
Chris Ethridge died of cancer 11 years ago, and Necia said she possessed nothing tangible from her dad's successful career. "Most of what I know about him during that time is from his personal stories, from photographs, from amazing footage that has come up over the years," she said. "Experiencing so much loss and losing my father, there actually was a time where I could say that I was pretty down."
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But where this story truly begins can be seen on the band's first album cover, "The Gilded Palace of Sin," released in the winter of 1969. The band used a portion of the album's advance to purchase embroidered rhinestone-covered suits made by Nashville's famed designer Nudie Cohn.
But that rhinestone-clad suit would have a short shelf life for Ethridge. In 1969 that suit was stolen from the car of Phil Kaufman, who was road manager for the Burritos at the time.
According to Kaufman, he had left the band's suits in a car in Silver Lake. "I got up the next morning, I had a station wagon, they were laying out, and next day it was gone," he said.
Ethridge's suit was the only suit stolen that day. Unfortunately for Necia and her family, that wasn't the only time the bassist's personal effects were appropriated. "After my father passed away in 2012, the home that our family had owned since 1947 had a lot of his personal items, his memorabilia, his record collection. Pretty much everything – any and all memorabilia that my family owned of my father's – was in that home. And it was plundered. It was stolen."
But the tides would turn for Necia around Thanksgiving 2022, when a call from a family friend, who'd done some Internet sleuthing, discovered the suit had gone up for auction – 53 years after its disappearance.
And its provenance was remarkable: Sir Elton John had purchased the suit in a Los Angeles shop in late November 1970. He even wore the suit on the British TV show "Top of the Pops" on January 14, 1971.
John later sold the suit to a private investor in 1998, and then it went to auction last year.
Necia was able to acquire the suit. "When I received the email that said, 'Yes, how are you going to pay me?' I really just wanted to, like, throw everything up in the air and just go parading down Main Street like, I bought my dad's suit! I bought my dad's suit!"
The Burritos' costume quartet is once again united and on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee – a kind of homecoming that suits Necia just fine.
For more info:
- Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Nashville
Story produced by Roman Feeser.
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