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About Gram Parsons
Gram Parsons (November 5, 1946 – September 19, 1973) was an American singer, songwriter, guitarist and pianist. Parsons is best known for his work within the country genre; he also mixed blues, folk, and rock to create what he called "Cosmic American Music". Besides recording as a solo artist, he also worked in several notable bands, including the International Submarine Band, The Byrds, and The Flying Burrito Brothers. His career, though short, is described by Allmusic as "enormously influential" for both country and rock, "blending the two genres to the point that they became indistinguishable from each other."
Born in 1946, Parsons emerged from a wealthy but troubled childhood to attend Harvard University. He founded the International Submarine Band in 1966, and after several months of delay their debut, Safe at Home, was released in 1968, by which time the group had disbanded. Parsons joined The Byrds in early 1968, and played a pivotal role in the making of the seminal Sweetheart of the Rodeo album. After leaving the group in late 1968, Parsons and fellow Byrd Chris Hillman formed The Flying Burrito Brothers in 1969, releasing their debut, The Gilded Palace of Sin, the same year. The album was well received but failed commercially; after a sloppy cross-country tour, they hastily recorded Burrito Deluxe. Parsons was fired from the band before its release in early 1970. He soon signed with A&M Records, but after several unproductive sessions he canceled his intended solo debut in early 1971. Parsons moved to France, where he lived for a short period at Villa Nellcôte with his friend Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones. Returning to America, Parsons befriended Emmylou Harris, who assisted him on vocals for his first solo record, GP, released in 1973. Although it received enthusiastic reviews, the release failed to chart; his next album, Grievous Angel (released posthumously in 1974) met with a similar reception, and peaked at number 195 on Billboard. Parsons died of a drug overdose on September 19, 1973 in hotel room 8 at the Joshua Tree Inn at Joshua Tree, California, at the age of 26.
Since his death, Parsons has been recognized as an extremely influential artist, credited with helping to found both country rock and alt-country. His posthumous honors include the Americana Music Association "President's Award" for 2003, and a ranking at No. 87 on Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time."
Membership in The Byrds (1968) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gram_Parsons#Membership_in_The_Byrds_.281968.29
The Flying Burrito Brothers (1969–1970) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gram_Parsons#The_Flying_Burrito_Brothers_.281969.E2.80.931970.29
Aborted solo effort and residency at Villa Nellcôte (1970–1972) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gram_Parsons#Aborted_solo_effort_and_residency_at_Villa_Nellc.C3.B4te_.281970.E2.80.931972.29
Solo career and touring with Emmylou Harris (1972–1973) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gram_Parsons#Solo_career_and_touring_with_Emmylou_Harris_.281972.E2.80.931973.29
In the late 1960s, Parsons became enamored with Joshua Tree National Monument (now Joshua Tree National Park) in southeastern California. 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 McElroy, Martin's girlfriend.
Less than two days after arriving, Parsons died on September 19, 1973, in Joshua Tree, California, at the age of 26 from an overdose 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 be lethal to three regular users and thus he had likely overestimated his tolerance considering his experience with opiates. Fisher and McElroy were returned to Los Angeles by Kaufman, who dispersed the remnants of Parsons' stash in the desert.
Parsons' body disappeared from the Los Angeles International Airport where it was being readied to be shipped to Louisiana for burial. Prior to his death, Parsons stated that he wanted his body cremated at Joshua Tree and his ashes spread over Cap Rock, a prominent natural feature there; however, Parsons' stepfather arranged for a private ceremony back in New Orleans and neglected to invite any of his friends from the music industry. Two accounts claim that Bob Parsons stood to inherit Gram's share of his grandfather's estate if he could prove that Gram was a resident of Louisiana, explaining his eagerness to have him buried there.
To fulfill Parsons' funeral wishes, Kaufman and a friend stole his body from the airport and in a borrowed hearse drove it to Joshua Tree. Upon reaching the Cap Rock section of the park, they attempted to cremate Parsons' corpse by pouring five gallons of gasoline into the open coffin and throwing a lit match inside. What resulted was an enormous fireball. The police gave chase but, as one account puts it, "were encumbered by sobriety," and the men escaped. The two were arrested several days later. Since there was no law against stealing a dead body, they were only fined $750 for stealing the coffin and were not prosecuted for leaving 35 lbs of his charred remains in the desert. Parsons body was eventually buried in Garden of Memories of Metairie, Louisiana.
The site of Parsons' cremation was marked by a small concrete slab and was presided over by a large rock flake known to rock climbers as The Gram Parsons Memorial Hand Traverse. The slab has since been removed by the U.S. National Park Service, and relocated to the Joshua Tree Inn. There is no monument at Cap Rock noting Parsons' cremation at the site. Joshua Tree park guides are given the option to tell the story of Parsons' cremation during tours, but there is no mention of the act in official maps or brochures. Fans regularly assemble simple rock structures and writings on the rock, which the park service sand blasts to remove from time to time.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic describes Parsons as "enormously influential" for both country and rock, "blending the two genres to the point that they became indistinguishable from each other. ... His influence could still be heard well into the next millennium." In his essay on Parsons for Rolling Stone magazine's "100 Greatest Artist" list, Keith Richards notes that Parsons' recorded music output was "pretty minimal." But nevertheless, Richards claims that Parsons "effect on country music is enormous[, t]his is why we're talking about him now."
The 2003 film Grand Theft Parsons stars Johnny Knoxville as Phil Kaufman and chronicles a farcical version of the theft of Parsons' corpse.
Emmylou Harris has continued to champion Parsons' work throughout her career, covering a number of his songs over the years, including "Hickory Wind", "Wheels", "Sin City", "Luxury Liner", and "Hot Burrito No. 2". Harris' songs "Boulder to Birmingham", from her 1975 album Pieces of the Sky, and "The Road", from her 2011 album Hard Bargain, are tributes to Parsons. In addition, her 1985 album The Ballad of Sally Rose is an original concept album that includes many allusions to Parsons in its narrative. The song "My Man", written by Bernie Leadon and performed by the Eagles on their album On the Border, is a tribute to Gram Parsons. Both Leadon and Parsons were members of the Flying Burrito Brothers during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
A music festival called Gram Fest or the Cosmic American Music Festival was held annually in honor of Parsons in Joshua Tree, California, between 1996 and 2006. The show featured tunes written by Gram Parsons and Gene Clark as well as influential songs and musical styles from other artists that were part of that era. Performers were also encouraged to showcase their own material. The underlying theme of the event is to inspire the performers to take these musical styles to the next level of the creative process. Past concerts have featured such notable artists as Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Chris Ethridge, Spooner Oldham, John Molo, Jack Royerton, Gib Guilbeau, Counting Crows, Bob Warford, Rosie Flores, David Lowery, Barry & Holly Tashian, George Tomsco, Jann Browne, Lucinda Williams, Polly Parsons, The "Road Mangler"- Phil Kaufman, Ben Fong-Torres, Victoria Williams & Mark Olson, Sid Griffin, as well as a variety of many other bands that had played over the 2 or 3 day event. In addition, the Gram Parsons Tribute, in Waycross, Georgia, is a music festival remembering Parsons in the town in which he grew up.
In February 2008, Gram's protégée, Emmylou Harris, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Despite his influence, however, Parsons has yet to be inducted. Radley Balko has written that "Parsons may be the most influential artist yet to be inducted to either the Rock and Roll or Country Music Hall(s) of Fame. And it's a damned shame." The Gram Parsons Petition Project (G3P) was begun in May 2008 in support of an ongoing drive to induct Parsons into the Country Music Hall of Fame. On September 19, 2008, the 35th anniversary of Parsons' death, it was first presented to the Country Music Association (CMA) and Hall as a "List of Supporters" together with the official Nomination Proposal. The online List of Supporters reached 5,500 on what would have been Parsons' 65th birthday and continues to gather signatures, as well as at G3P's annual Gram InterNational concerts and other tribute events each year.
In November 2009, the musical theatre production Grievous Angel: The Legend of Gram Parsons premiered, starring Anders Drerup as Gram Parsons and Kelly Prescott as Emmylou Harris. Directed by Micheal Bate and co-written by Bate and David McDonald, the production was inspired by a March 1973 interview that Bate conducted with Parsons, which became Parsons' last recorded conversation.
In 2006, a Gandulf Hennig directed documentary film titled Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel was released.
In 2012, Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit released the single "Emmylou" from the album The Lion's Roar. The song's chorus is a lyrical acknowledgment of the Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris singing partnership.