Artist: Gram Parsons
Gram Parsons (November 5, 1946 – September 19, 1973) was an American singer, songwriter, guitarist and pianist born Ingram Cecil Connor, III. A solo artist as well as a member of The International Submarine Band, The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers, he is best known for a series of recordings which anticipate the country rock of the 1970s and the alt-country movement that began in the 80s. Parsons was a close friend of Keith Richards and is also credited for turning The Rolling Stones onto country music in their 'Let it Bleed'-era.
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Going Up the Country: The Byrds and Sweetheart of the Rodeo ICE, Aug 2003
THOUGH OPINIONS differ on who recorded the first country-rock album, there is no question that the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo was the first one by a major rock group, and Sony/Legacy is set to debut an expanded two-CD version, with lots of bonus material, on September 2 as part of its new 'Legacy Editions' series.
As long-time Byrds fans will know, the Byrds by the time of Sweetheart of the Rodeo in 1968 were down from five original members to just Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, with singer-songwriter Gene Clark and drummer Michael Clarke having exited on their own and David Crosby a recent victim of a pink-slip for his volatility in the recording studio during sessions for the preceding Notorious Byrd Brothers.
Joining McGuinn and Hillman in the new lineup were Hillman's cousin Kevin Kelley, formerly the drummer in Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal's Rising Sons, and Gram Parsons, then the leader of the little-known International Submarine Band, on keyboards. The album that resulted failed initially with both rock and country fans, the former put off by the twangy content and the latter by the band's long hair, but has since become a certified classic and the foundation for Parsons' role as a cult hero to alt-country musicians.
Disc 1 of the new Legacy Edition, supervised by Bob Irwin and mixed by Vic Anesini, starts with the 11 songs on the original Sweetheart of the Rodeo LP, including those where McGuinn re-recorded lead vocals originally done by Parsons but dumped after the latter was discovered to be under contract to another label, Lee Hazelwood's LHI Productions.
These tracks are then followed by the outtakes and alternates, including those with Parsons' vocals, that first surfaced on the out-of-print 1990 Byrds Box Set - 'Pretty Polly,' 'The Christian Life,' 'You Don't Miss Your Water' and 'One Hundred Years from Now,' '(You've Got a) Reputation' and 'Lazy Days.' Also added to the first disc the previously unavailable Kevin Kelley vocal version of 'All I Have Is Memories,' which Irwin recently discovered in the vaults, plus the Columbia radio spot advertising the album that appeared as bonus on the 1997 expanded Sweetheart reissue.
Disc 2 then offers up a motherlode of unreleased and often revelatory alternate takes, along with several rare Parsons tracks that pre-date his short stay from January to July 1968 in the Byrds.
The disc opens with 'Sum Up Broke' and 'One Day Week,' the A and B sides of the International Submarine Band's lone single on the Columbia label. Parsons and John Nuese co-wrote and sing on 'Sum Up Broke,' while Parsons has the microphone to himself on his solo credit 'One Day Week.' Both tracks are in mono, as is the subsequent 'Truck Drivin' Man,' the B side of another ISB single done for the short-lived Ascot company. The A side, a prosaic instrumental tie-in for the cold war film comedy The Russians Are Going, The Russians are Coming, is not included.
Stereo recordings then kick in with three tracks - 'Blue Eyes,' 'Luxury Liner' and 'Strong Boy' - taken from the International Submarine Band's one full-length album, Safe at Home. "We had the original two-track stereo masters for these," Irwin tells ICE. "With these tracks we wanted to show what Gram's history was before he joined the Byrds and indicate what he and Chris Hillman (who had country roots also) brought to the table - the musical palate they offered," Irwin adds.
The disc then delivers 14 previously unheard rehearsal and alternate takes from Sweetheart sessions. They begin with a very funky version of 'Lazy Days,' driven by Jaydee Maness steel guitar.' Irwin mentions the harmonies on the track as reminding him of what Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were doing during Let It Bleed period. Parsons and Hillman, after they regrouped as the Flying Burrito Brothers, recut the song for Burrito Deluxe in 1970.
Disc 2 continues with an alternate version of the Parsons-written, but McGuinn-sung, 'Pretty Polly,' this time without the double-tracked McGuinn vocal used on the Box Set. This is followed by a take of Parsons' 'Hickory Wind' recorded during the band's week-long stay in Nashville before the Byrds became the first rock group to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.
Irwin next serves up two rehearsals each, with bits of studio chatter and occasional false starts, of Parsons fronting the band on the Louvin Brothers' 'The Christian Life,' Merle Haggard's 'Life in Prison,' Parsons' own 'One Hundred Years from Now' and the old George Jones hit 'You're Still on My Mind.'
The disc closes with a pair of instrumental run-throughs of Kelley's 'All I Have Is Memories' and a rehearsal of 'Blue Canadian Rockies' featuring Hillman handling the vocal. Altogether the second disc clocks in at 61 minutes of rare and previously unreleased material.
Irwin singles out original producer Gary Usher for his crucial role in crafting Sweetheart. 'He was a member of the new school of producers as opposed to some of the older guys who would rein in the younger musicians back in the '60s. He pretty much let them go and shape their music the way they wanted to and then offered very smart musical guidance . . . Roger McGuinn has great things to say about Gary. Certainly they feel that he fostered their creativity."
Irwin also praises McGuinn, "A lot of credit has to be given to Roger's openness and willingness to listen to the people he was playing with. I think that's something that is often overlooked - the strength of Roger's contribution. Even though the band was feeling the influences of this new music, Roger was still very much the main driving force behind the band when it came to shaping the music. You can hear on the studio chatter that he and Gram are calling the shots, but Roger is structuring the songs."
Asked about Sweetheart, Hillman tells ICE, "I think it was a noble experiment for the time. There are some great songs, including two of Gram's best, 'One Hundred Years from Now' and 'Hickory Wind.' He was like a young colt let out of the corral, rearing to go, and that was good for Roger and me. I think we opened a lot of doors for people who otherwise would never had listened to that kind of music."
But Hillman does qualify his praise for Sweetheart. "I don't think it was the best Byrds album we made. When I listen to things like 'Life in Prison,' sung by a trust-fund kid, it doesn't quite gel. That was sort of a bad pick of material, [with] Gram singing 'I'll do life in prison for the wrongs that I've done,' unless it was more of an insightful, abstract look at his own problems - 'life in prison' being suffering emotionally in his own mind."
But having Parsons in the band, he says, was great for him. "I love country music, and now I had an ally, and we sort of nudged Roger along. Roger never really liked that kind of music, and to this day I don't think he likes it."
Gram Parsons: Another Side of This Life (Sundazed) Mojo, Feb 2001
Unheard mid-60s folk recordings taped in Florida by Grams pal Jim Carlton.
BEFORE HE YOKED country to rock, Gram Parsons was just another wannabe minstrel on Americas far-reaching folk circuit. In fact, before the trust-funded Florida kid was a wannabe folkie he was just another wannabe smalltown rocknroll singer. As with so many rock greats it took a few stabs at selected musical genres before Gram found his true metier.
The recordings on Another Side of This Life stored for 35 years by Parsons pal Jim Carlton show a great artist drifting towards his moment of musical clarity. Cut on a Sony reel-to-reel in the singers hometown of Winter Haven between March 1965 and December 1966, they give us a Greenwich Village Gram who could have been a second-division David Crosby or Tim Buckley; a post-Harvard Parsons on the cusp of his adventures with the International Submarine Band. Not a whole lot that the Sierra album The Early Years 1963-65 didnt already give us, but nice to have anyway.
There are creditable versions here of Tim Hardins rockin 'Reputation' and (presciently enough) Buffy Sainte-Maries dopesick classic 'Codine'; of Hamilton Camps folk staple 'Pride Of Man' and Tom Paxtons 'The Last Thing On My Mind'. Depends how well you think that rather earnest hootenanny style has dated. The title track is, of course, the famous Fred Neil song, sung in a bluesy drawl in December 1965. Another Side of This Life also features 'November Nights', the Gram song Peter Fonda covered on Chisa, and the very Crosby-esque 'Zahs Blues'. Not to mention an early version of 'Brass Buttons', the first hint of the longhair country to come.
What you wont hear on Another Side of This Life are the keening country-gospel strains Gram brought to Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Theres little real bite to his singing on this grab-bag set-list of coffeehouse staples none of the cracked, wavering pain weve come to worship. But so what: its good to hear Gram when he was still a freshfaced young buck, before there was death in his larynx. It is, after all, another side of his life.
Jim Carlton talks to Barney Hoskyns
Gram obviously sounds very different on this album to the fragile country rocker of Grievous Angel. What was he like in 1965?
JC: He was just coming into his own as an artist, I think, and it blows me away to hear how mature he was at age 20. And at that time he was starting to hold his own in the Village, and he could see his effect on an audience. He was a very magnetic, charismatic fellow.
Did you ever feel like he was wrestling with the whole issue of coming from a privileged background?
JC: No. In my liner notes on the album, I quote from 'Zahs Blues' "I wore my youth like a crown" because he was very comfortable with that, but he never lorded it over anybody. Stanley Booth tells stories about Grams walking into any given reception for the Rolling Stones, and Mick Jagger would be holding court and Gram would walk in, virtually unknown, and all of a sudden he was the cynosure of all eyes. And Jagger would just be irked by that. But Gram would not do it in an overt way.
'Brass Buttons' was an early song that Gram later recorded on Grievous Angel. How much country music was he listening to at this period?
JC: Not a lot. It was Jim ('Spiders and Snakes') Stafford who said, Hey, Gram, theres no longhairs doing country. Poor guys kinda gotten pegged as this novelty artist, but Gram really, really idolised him, and Stafford cut his teeth on country music. So Gram said, Well, okay, this folk music thing is starting to die out anyway, why dont I give it a shot. But I think he found his soul there.
Were you still in touch with Gram when during the Byrds and Burritos era?
JC: Yes, indeed. I remember calling him and he was so proud of being a Byrd. And he came home and told me stories about Roger McGuinn having a Moog synthesizer half the size of a sofa!
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From "Grievous Angel" (1974)
This is a live version and an alternate take. Sounds better than the studio version,IMHO. © This from Rhino Entertaiment Company."Gram Parsons and the Fallen...
Gram Parsons -- "Return of The Grievous Angel" Recorded, 1973, not long before Parsons lost his life to a drug overdose. Gram Parsons saw an Elvis Presley co...
April 16, 2012 - Counting Crows performing Gram Parsons's "Return of the Grievous Angel" at the Fox Theater in Oakland, CA. Mean Creek opened for them. Mean ...