Today, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum celebrated the reunion of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ four iconic “Nudie suits” for the first time in more than half a century. The late Chris Ethridge’s long-lost suit has been found and was unveiled today alongside the three other suits currently on display in museum’s major exhibition, Western Edge: The Roots and Reverberations of Los Angeles Country-Rock.
Ethridge’s white suit with roses was reported stolen from a car in 1969 shortly after it was featured on the cover of the band’s influential album The Gilded Palace of Sin. Recently, it was discovered that the suit was returned to Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors shop the same year, and rising pop star Elton John bought it off the shop’s rack the following year. John can be seen wearing the suit during his 1971 “Top of the Pops” television performance and on the record sleeve of his 1972 Rocket Man single released in the U.K.
Necia Ethridge, Chris’ daughter, recently purchased the suit after it was spotted in an online auction. She has loaned it to the museum for its Western Edge exhibit, which opened in September of last year and runs through May of 2025.
“This is an incredible moment for the Ethridge family and our museum,” said Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “To think that such an iconic piece of cosmic cowboy couture took a ride with the ‘Rocket Man’ and made it back home is almost unbelievable. But it happened, and we share that story in the exhibit. The Flying Burrito Brothers’ innovative country-rock sound and bold style continues to influence artists to this day. We’re ecstatic to be able to present all four suits together for the first time since they were seen onstage in 1969.”
Necia spoke at today’s suit unveiling event, which acknowledged her father’s musical legacy. Best known for his R&B-inspired bass playing in the Flying Burrito Brothers, he was also a talented songwriter and in-demand studio musician, playing on recordings by Linda Ronstadt, Randy Newman, Jackson Browne and many others. Ethridge also spent nearly eight years in Willie Nelson’s touring band, and played on one of Nelson’s most famous recordings, “Whiskey River.”
“His rhythmic bass lines added depth and richness to sessions and showcased his ability to effortlessly switch between different musical styles, helping to erase the cultural and musical divide between country and rock,” said Necia of her father.
During the event, Chris’ granddaughter Emma Atkinson sang “She,” a song Chris wrote with Gram Parsons from Parson’s acclaimed GP album. She was accompanied by longtime Ethridge family friends Adam Box, drummer for Brothers Osborne, and Patrick Sansone, multi-instrumentalist for Wilco, along with Box’s fellow bandmates Jason Graumlich (guitar) and Pete Sternberg (bass).
Following the unveiling of the suits, Sansone capped the event with a stirring performance of “Hot Burrito #1,” a song Ethridge wrote with Parsons for the Flying Burrito Brothers’ album The Gilded Palace of Sin.
Also in attendance were Manuel Cuevas, who was head designer at Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors in L.A. and created the famous suits, and Phil Kaufman, who was road manager for the Flying Burrito Brothers and reported the suits stolen from his station wagon. Michael Gray, the museum’s vice president of museum services and co-curator of the Western Edge exhibit, provided remarks on the historical context around the suits and the Flying Burrito Brothers.
Ethridge’s custom Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors suit is embroidered with red and yellow roses and rhinestone accents. The design was a nod to Ethridge’s southern roots and was inspired by his love of the Hank Snow version of the song “Yellow Roses,” written by Kenny Devine and Sam Nichols.
Other suits on display include Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s black velvet suit with embroidered dinosaurs outlined with rhinestones; Gram Parsons’ suit with chain-stitched marijuana leaves, poppies, pills, pinup girls and a radiant cross; and Chris Hillman’s blue velvet suit, decorated with peacocks, seahorses, the Greek god Poseidon and a shining sun.
Parsons’ suit is on long-term loan to the museum, Kleinow’s suit is on loan from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (courtesy of the Kleinow family), and Hillman’s suit is on loan from the Autry Museum of the American West.