Gram Parsons - (2 records)

Gram Parsons (November 5, 1946 – September 19, 1973) an American singer, songwriter, guitarist and pianist. A solo artist as well as a member of both The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers, he is best known for a series of recordings which anticipate the so-called country rock of the 1970s and the alt-country movement that began around 1990. Parsons described his records as "Cosmic American Music". He died of a drug overdose at the age of 26. In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him #87 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.[1]

Gram Parsons - (2 records)
Grievous Angel (1973) and GP (1974)


Parsons immediately signed a solo deal with A&M Records and partnered with producer/scenester Terry Melcher, who had produced The Byrds' Mr. Tambourine Man and worked with The Beatles. With a mutual penchant for alcohol, cocaine, and (by this juncture) heroin, the sessions were unproductive and found the singer in a holding pattern of covering country hits and himself ("Hot Burrito #1"). Eventually losing interest altogether, he checked the master tapes out in 1971. He accompanied the Stones on their 1971 tour in the hope of being signed to the newly formed Rolling Stones Records, intending to record a duo album with Richards. Moving into Villa Nellcôte with the guitarist during the sessions for Exile on Main Street, Parsons remained in a consistently incapacitated state and frequently quarreled with his much younger girlfriend, aspiring actress Gretchen Burrell. Eventually, Parsons was asked to leave by Anita Pallenberg, Richards' longtime domestic partner. Rumors have persisted that he appears somewhere on the legendary album, and while Richards concedes that it is very likely he is among the chorus of singers on "Sweet Virginia", nothing has been substantiated to this day. Parsons attempted to rekindle his relationship with the band on their 1972 tour to no avail.

After leaving the Stones' camp, Parsons married in 1971, for the first and only time, to Burrell at his stepfather's New Orleans estate. Allegedly, the relationship was far from stable, with Burrell cutting a needy and jealous figure while Parsons castrated her burgeoning film career. Many of the singer's closest associates and friends claim that Parsons was preparing to commence divorce proceedings at the time of his death; the couple had already separated by this point.

Parsons and Burrell enjoyed the most idyllic time of their relationship, visiting old cohorts like Ian Dunlop and Family/Blind Faith/Traffic member Ric Grech in England. With the assistance of Grech and one of the bassist's friends, a doctor friend who dabbled in country music, Parsons managed to kick his heroin habit once and for all (a treatment suggested by William Burroughs proved unsuccessful).

He returned to the US for a one-off concert with the Burritos, and at Hillman's instigation went to hear Emmylou Harris sing in a small club in Washington, D.C. They became friends and, within a year, he asked her to join him in Los Angeles for another attempt to record his first solo album.

Having gained thirty pounds since his Burrito days from Southern food and excessive alcohol consumption, it came as a surprise to many when Parsons was enthusiastically signed to Reprise Records by Mo Ostin in mid-1972. GP, released in 1973, utilized the guitar-playing of James Burton (sideman to Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson), and featured new songs from a creatively revitalized Parsons songs such as "Big Mouth Blues" and "Kiss the Children," as well as a superb cover of Tompall Glaser's "Streets of Baltimore."

Parsons, by now featuring Harris as his duet partner, played dates across the United States as Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels. Unable to afford the services of the Elvis band for a month, the band featured the talents of obscure Colorado-based rock guitarist Jock Bartley (soon to skyrocket to fame with Firefall), veteran Nashville sideman Neil Flanz on pedal steel, Kyle Tullis on bass and former Mountain drummer N.D. Smart (once described by Canadian folksinger Ian Tyson as "a psychotic redneck"). The touring party also included Gretchen Parsons—by this point extremely envious of Harris—and Harris' young daughter. Coordinating the spectacle as road manager was Phil Kaufman, who had served time with Charles Manson on Terminal Island in the mid-sixties and first met Parsons while working for the Stones in 1968. Kaufman ensured that the performer stayed away from substance abuse, limiting his alcohol intake during shows and throwing out any drugs smuggled into hotel rooms. At first, the band was under-rehearsed and played poorly, but improved markedly with steady gigging and received rapturous responses at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, Texas (with Neil Young and Linda Ronstadt sitting in) and Max's Kansas City in New York City. According to a number of sources, it was Emmylou who forced the band to practice and work up an actual set list. Nevertheless, the tour did absolutely nothing for record sales. While he had been in the vanguard with The Byrds and the Burrito Brothers, Parsons was now perceived as being too authentic and traditional in an era dominated by the stylings of The Eagles, whose sound Parsons disdained (although he did maintain cordial relations with Leadon, now an Eagle).

For his next and final album, 1974's Grievous Angel, he again used Harris and Burton. The record, which was released after his death, received even more enthusiastic reviews than had GP, and has since attained classic status. Among its most celebrated songs is "$1000 Wedding", a holdover from the Burrito Brothers era which was covered by one of the many groups influenced by Parsons, the Mekons, and "Brass Buttons", a 1965 opus which addresses his mother's alcoholism. Also included was a new version of "Hickory Wind" and "Ooh Las Vegas", co-written with Grech and dating from the G.P. sessions. Despite the fact that Parsons only contributed two new songs to the album ("In My Hour of Darkness", "Return of the Grievous Angel"), Parsons was highly enthused with his new sound and seemed to have finally adopted a serious, diligent mindset to his musical career, eschewing most drugs and alcohol during the sessions.

Before recording, Parsons and Harris played a preliminary three show mini tour as the headline act in a Warner Brothers country-rock package. The backing band included Clarence White, Pete Kleinow, and Chris Etheridge. On July 14, 1973, the legendary White was killed by a drunk driver while loading equipment in his car for a concert with the New Kentucky Colonels. At White's funeral, Parsons and Bernie Leadon launched into an impromptu touching rendition of "Farther Along"; that night, the distraught and drunken musician reportedly informed Phil Kaufman of his final wish: to be cremated in Joshua Tree. Despite the almost insurmountable setback, Parsons, Harris, and the other musicians decided to continue with plans for a fall tour.

In the summer of 1973 Parsons' Topanga Canyon home burned to the ground, the result of a stray cigarette. Nearly all of his possessions were destroyed with the exception of a guitar and a prized Jaguar automobile. The fire proved to be the last straw in the relationship between Burrell and Parsons, who moved into a spare room in Kaufman's house. While not recording, he frequently hung out and jammed with members of New Jersey-based country rockers Quacky Duck and His Barnyard Friends (whose rhythm section included Tony Bennett's sons) and the proto-punk Johnathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, who were being managed by Kaufman. Richman credits Parsons with introducing him to acoustic-based music. According to the road manager of Quacky Duck, Parsons was, despite being frequently drunk, a kind soul who provided business and musical guidance to the younger band.

Before formally breaking up with Burrell, Parsons already had a woman waiting in the wings. While recording, he saw a photo of a beautiful woman at a friend's home and was instantly smitten. The woman turned out to be Margaret Fisher, a high school sweetheart of the singer from his Florida days. Like Parsons, Fisher had drifted west and became established in the Bay Area rock scene as a desirable groupie, bedding the likes of Eugene Landy and Timothy Leary's son. A meeting was arranged and the two instantly rekindled their relationship, with Fisher dividing her weeks between Los Angeles and San Francisco at Parsons' expense.

In the late 1960s, Parsons became enamored with Joshua Tree National Monument. Alone or with friends, he would disappear in the desert for days, searching for UFOs while under the influence of psilocybin or LSD. After splitting from Burrell, Parsons would frequently spend his weekends in the area with Margaret Fisher and Phil Kaufman. Before his tour was scheduled to commence in October 1973, Parsons decided to go on one more excursion. Accompanying him were Fisher, personal assistant Michael Martin, and Dale McElory, Martin's girlfriend. Less than two days after arriving, Parsons died September 19, 1973 in Joshua Tree, California at the age of 26 from an overdose, purportedly of morphine and alcohol. According to Fisher in the 2005 biography Grievous Angel: An Intimate Biography of Gram Parsons, the amount of morphine consumed by Parsons would not be lethal to an addict and that he had likely overestimated his tolerance considering his past experience with opiates. Fisher and McElroy were returned to Los Angeles by Kaufman, who dispersed the remnants of Parsons' stash in the desert.

In a story that has taken on legendary stature, Parsons' body disappeared from the Los Angeles International Airport, where it was being readied to be shipped to Louisiana for burial. Maintaining his promise, Kaufman and a friend managed to steal Parsons' body from the airport and, in a borrowed hearse, drove Parsons' body to Joshua Tree where they cremated it. The site of the cremation is today marked by a small concrete slab and is presided over by a large rock flake known to rock climbers as 'The Gram Parsons memorial hand traverse'.[2]. The two were arrested several days later and fined $700 for burning the coffin, since stealing a body was not a crime.[3] The burned remains were eventually returned to Parsons' stepfather and interred in New Orleans. Kaufman raised the fine money by hosting "Phil Kaufman's Koffin Kaper Koncert", an informal tribute to the singer with music from Dr. Demento, Bobby "Boris" Pickett, and Jonathan Richman. Relabeled bottles of "Gram Pilsner" were also distributed.

A version of these events is depicted in the 2003 comedy Grand Theft Parsons starring Johnny Knoxville as Kaufman, with Kaufman himself in a cameo appearance as a felon in handcuffs. In the 2005 Canadian mockumentary The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico, Kaufman plays himself in frequent interview snippets where he purports to have been the manager of the fictional title character, whose life and musical style is largely based on Parsons' life. When Terrifico is shot onstage, Kaufman says he drove the gravely-wounded singer to the hospital where the car was stolen with Terrifico in back while Kaufman was trying to get him admitted. Terrifico is never seen again. The filmmakers uncover evidence that the apparent death of Terrifico was faked by Kaufman and others. When Kaufman is questioned about the similarity to his stealing of Parsons' body, he scoffs at the comparison. In the 2003 BBC documentary Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel (released commercially in 2006), Parsons' family alleged that Kaufman's cremation was little more than a drunken hatchet job and succeeded only in mutilating roughly 60% of the corpse.


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