Updated: Aug 28, 2021
Gram Parsons was born Ingram Cecil Connor III on Novemeber 5, 1946 In Winterhaven Florida. He died on September 19, 1973.
Poor Gram. He didn't even make the "27 Club" whose more esteemed members include Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Ron "Pigman" McKernan, Amy Winehouse and Chris Bell amongst many other influential musicians.
Boy, trying to encapsulate Gram in a short blog is pretty challenging. Post Boomers are not likely to know anything about him and even many Boomers are unfamiliar. Let's frame him this way: Without Gram, there would be no "Country Rock". He managed to commandeer the lead role in already established "The Byrds" and the result of this brief takeover resulted in the monumental Byrds album "Sweetheart of the Rodeo". Although Gram had been at work well before this classic 1968 release, his participation resulted in what many consider the ultimate seed album for the "Country Rock" genre.
With Gram, there would be no Eagles, Jackson Browne, Creedence, Linda Ronstadt (one of Gram's backup singers and collaborator), Charlie Daniels, Pure Prairie League and further up the California soft rock scene, Fleetwood Man (the xth generation with Buckingham/Nicks).
"Sweethearts" is such a classic. But Gram had fronted other bands that left their mark on the contemporary music scene then and now. "The International Submarine Band" was really his first entrance onto the Western music scene. He also fronted the phenomenal "Flying Burrito Brothers" who probably deserve a blog of their own.
His influences ranged from Merle Haggard (" I Must Be Somebody Else You've Known" ) to Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Buck Owens not to mention the entire, gigantic burgeoning rock and roll scene that stormed the 1960's.
He wasn't afraid to take risks. Imagine, back in the sixties, some "long hair" walking onstage in a cowboy bar with a sequined and "bedazzled" matching coat and pants depicting every drug on the planet, singing this, at the time, strange mixture of songs all those cowboys knew all the way to something bordering on head scratching is-this-country-or-what? He left many scratching their heads but ultimately gained a loyal following from both the rock and country camps.
His solo career was short. The two albums listed above pretty much comprise his entire catalog. However, here is where the genius of Gram shines. He rehydrates the classic "Hickory Wind" from "Sweetheart", but this time helped by the, then , relatively unknown true sweetheart of the rodeo, Emmylou Harris. I personally think that this time, with Harris, were his masterworks. Titles to hear include the penultimate version of "Love Hurts" which was later a huge hit for the mostly forgotten 70's rock act "Nazareth". George Jones' "That's All it Took" , Parson's self penned "Hearts on Fire", "Return of the Grievous Angel", "Cry One More Time", and the sadly foreboding "In My Hour of Darkness" round out the cream on top the milk. There are more gems too numerous to mention here.
As alluded to at the beginning, Gram died at age 26. Can you imagine? The gigantic influence this man had was during a age many of us would still consider a "boy". What can you say about that kind of genius? Shooting star isn't even appropriate. His influenced continues to haunt the studios of Wilco, Whiskeytown, Son Volt, Black Eyed Keys, Jack White and so many, many others.
Though his death was indeed tragic -alone in a cheap motel room in Joshua Tree, CA- his demise still remains a bit of mystery. Check out this Rolling Stone article from the time: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/gram-parsons-the-mysterious-death-and-aftermath-204652/
What really strikes me about this article, besides the obvious wonderment, is how "gentle" the press was back then. And this was a "left wing-commie-pinko-faggot" magazine in the minds of the public at large. Imagine how they would have ripped poor Gram to shreds today?
Here's an added bonus I really urge you to check out even if you are a casual fan. "Grand Theft Parsons" is a 2003 comedy about the true story of a pact Gram and his road manager Phil Kaufman made. The pact between the two best friends was simply this: Which ever of us dies first will ensure the other is burned upon the majestic landscape of the Joshua Tree National Monument.
The film is a sleeper starring Johnny Knoxville in a surprisingly convincing performance as Kaufman. It's mostly true but you should still have a grain of salt or two on hand. Highly recommended.
Also there is a more standard documentary produced by Spothouse& The BBC called "Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel". It's a freebie on Youtube so just click to watch. It's pretty fascinating.
As I progress in these articles, we shall encounter myriad geniuses. However, I am particularly in awe of this guy. So much creation in so little time... RIP Gram Parsons. What could have been?