Remembering the Grievous Angel: Gram Parsons

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Cecil Ingram Connor III (November 5, 1946 – September 19, 1973), known professionally as Gram Parsons, was an American singer, songwriter, guitarist, and pianist. Parsons is best known for his work within the country music genre; he also popularized what he called “Cosmic American Music”, a hybrid of country, rhythm and blues, soul, folk, and rock. 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 relatively short career 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.”

“A VOICE THAT WOULD break and crack but rise pure and beautiful and full of sweetness and pain.” – Emmylou Harris describes her friend and musical soul mate, Gram Parsons, in the liner notes for 1976′s Sleepless Nights.

Just 26 when he died in September 1973, the man born Cecil Ingram Connor III in Winter Haven, Florida on November 5, 1946 packed a lot into his quarter century. His commitment to blending his beloved country music – this was the man who taught Keith Richards the difference between the Nashville and Bakersville sounds – with the world of rock saw him work his way through The International Submarine Band, The Byrds and, most significantly, The Flying Burrito Brothers, before recording two solo albums that have become touchstones for those seeking the full-powered hit of mythic American music.

He may not have had the best voice in the business, but with master musicians like Chris Hillman and Emmylou Harris at his side, the ache, tenderness and vulnerability of the country boy with the hippie threads can really be something to behold.

Parsons And The Rolling Stones

You can hear, in songs like “Luxury Liner,” the country rock sound that would become his signature, so it was a perfect match when Gram hooked up with Chris Hillman and the Byrds in Los Angeles in the late 60s. They recorded a seminal album called “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” in 1968.

It was around this time that Gram Parsons found another soulmate in Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. They bonded over their mutual love of music and unfortunately drugs.

Stones biographer Robert Greenfield calls them the psychedelic version of Don and Phil, the Everly brothers. Parsons was hanging out with Keith in France in 1971, while the Stones recorded “Exile on Main Street,” and while he doesn’t play on that record, his stamp is all over it, especially the steel guitar sound on songs like “Torn and Frayed.”

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