Saturday, April 28, 2007

Gram Parsons (1994)

Although the idea that The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo was the first country-rock album is not entirely accurate, the concept of Gram Parsons as the father of the genre may very well be true. To that end, it could be argued that Cambridge, Massachusetts is the birthplace of country-rock.

While studying theology at Harvard, Parsons met John Nuese, Ian Dunlop and Mickey Gauvin, and together they formed The International Submarine Band. Shortly thereafter, Parsons dropped out and the band moved to New York, before eventually settling in Los Angeles. Still, the ISB are quite possibly the band that truly started it all, as their one and only album, Safe at Home, was the precursor to Sweetheart of the Rodeo and Parsons' post-Byrds work.

I had read about Parsons' career beyond The Byrds, but hadn't really dived into the music, until listening to a mixed tape that Anders made for Scott, which included "Return of the Grievous Angel". That particular mix also contained a fine selection of Anders' own four-track recordings and a song named "I Got Drunk" by a band called Uncle Tupelo.

My first purchase of Parsons' post Sweetheart-era Byrds catalog was Farther Along: The Best of the Flying Burrito Brothers, followed by the 2 albums on 1 cd version of GP and Grievous Angel. The latter would be the only two solo albums Parsons would release prior to his legendary morphine and tequila induced death in Joshua Tree, California in 1973. Both of these albums were absolute masterpieces, and not only launched the career of Emmylou Harris, but also influenced countless country and rock acts that followed.

I give the most credit for opening my ears to country music to Parsons' two solo albums, and for allowing me to bond with my father over music for the first and only time. I spent countless hours following this new interest by digging into my father's collection of music by the pioneers of country music, discovering such artists as Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams Sr. and, my personal favorite, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.

Perhaps the best tribute album ever released, in my opinion, was 1999's Return of the Grievious Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons, which included interpretations by two of Gram's most important collaborators, Emmylou Harris and Chris Hillman. Still, on the album's closer, The Rolling Creekdippers' version of "In My Hour of Darkness", Mark Olson, Buddy Miller, Victoria Williams and Julie Miller eerily channel the magnificence of Parsons and Harris, in as fitting a tribute as I've ever heard.

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