Remembering “Sneaky Pete”

Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Remembering “Sneaky Pete”

Eight years ago today, the music world lost one of the key members of the Flying Burrito Brothers and one of the greatest pedal steel guitar players of all time.

Born in South Bend, Indiana, Peter “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow first started playing the pedal steel guitar when he was in high school, but it wasn’t how he made a living right away…or for quite some time, actually. After securing his diploma, Kleinow spent the next decade or so working in maintenance for the Michigan Department of Transportation, and in 1963, he moved from Michigan to California, taking up residence in Los Angeles and becoming a visual effects artist and stop-motion animator. Remember Gumby and Davey and Goliath? He had a hand in those, and he was also involved in The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, The Outer Limits, and The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao.

While working in Hollywood, though, Kleinow was also working his way into the local music scene, playing with groups like The Detours and Smokey Rogers and the Western Caravan, but it was his efforts for The Byrds in 1968 – and his collaborations with band members Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons – that helped him transition into a full-time career as a musician. By the end of the year, Kleinow had officially become a member of The Flying Burrito Brothers, increasing his profile tremendously and providing him with the opportunity to become a productive session musician after his departure from the Brothers’ ranks.

Rather than get complacent, Kleinow soon began alternating between music and visual effects work, and if you didn’t think Sneaky Pete was cool before, consider that there was a time in the ‘70s when he was making music with Harry Nilsson and Stevie Wonder while also working behind the scenes on Land of the Lost.

Come on: that’s cool.

In addition to his ongoing session work, Kleinow was also a member of a few other bands over the years, including Cold Steel and Burrito Deluxe, while occasionally venturing into solo work, starting with his 1978 solo debut, Sneaky Pete. He continued to record and perform through 2005, but after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, Kleinow lived in a convalescent home in Petaluma, California, where he remained until his death in 2007.

To celebrate Kleinow’s life and times, we’ve put together a playlist that spotlights the diversity of the artists who appreciated the guitarist’s work and asked him to perform on their material, from Little Feat to Little Richard…or, if you prefer, from Linda Ronstadt to the Lemonheads. All that really matters is that the guy’s playing is all over the place, and it’s top notch from top to bottom.