and singer-songwriter from Winter Haven, Florida, who father was a
decorated World War II pilot and whose mother was an heiress to an orange
playing piano when he was nine years old and whose musical curiosity was
piqued when he went to see Elvis Presley in 1957. This may have inspired him to pick
up the guitar and start up his own band, The Pacers, at the age of
serve as an oasis for him during difficult times. His father killed himself and his
mother re-married a couple of years later. Gram poured himself into his music,
band-hopping between rock bands and folk outfits such as The Legends, with
Kent Lavoie and Jim Stafford.
In 1963, he
joined The Shilos, and they played anywhere and
everywhere, including coffee houses, high schools, and hootenannies. They even scored some dates at The
Bitter End in New York, New York.
On the day of his graduation, his mother passed away from cirrhosis
of the liver.
The Shilos disbanded and he went to Harvard for a short
time, although the highlight of his collegiate career was founding The
International Submarine Band.
They relocated to L.A. and landed a cameo in a movie and recorded
one album, Safe at Home, in
1968. By the time it hit the
shelves, ISB was no more.
recruited by Chris Hillman to join The Byrds in
time for their 1968 album, Sweetheart
of the Rodeo. It was Gram’s
idea to uproot the group and lay down tracks in Nashville, although the
final sessions were recorded in L.A.
Then Lee Hazelwood, his producer, raised a stink about him appearing
on the Columbia label while he was still legally bound to LHI Records. It did not preclude Gram from
performing vocals on “Hickory Wind”, “Life in Prison”,
and “You’re Still on My Mind”, however.
short-lived tenure with The Byrds came to an end
during the summer, when he disagreed with the band’s plan to perform
in apartheid-torn South Africa.
Instead of touring with The Byrds, he acquainted
himself with the Rolling Stones, becoming good mates with Keith
Richards. His influence on the
Stones resulted in several country-flavored tracks, such as “Wild
In 1969, he and
Chris reunited to co-found The Flying Burrito
Brothers, along with Chris Ethridge and Sneaky
Pete Kleinow. Their first album, The Gilded Palace of Sin, reached a
modest #164 on the Billboard album chart. Its follow-up, Burrito Deluxe, missed out altogether. Before its release, Gram had already
quit the band.
In 1971, he
wed Gretchen Burrell, an actress, and their marriage would prove to be
almost as short-lived as his time with FBB. He inked a deal with A&M
Records, but his first solo album did not materialize until 1973. It was simply called GP, and it benefited from the guitar
playing of James Burton and the harmony vocals of Emmylou Harris. Emmylou and Gram were fast friends
and toured in support of the album, while laying the groundwork for its
follow-up, Grievous Angel. None of this sat well with his new
bride, and after their house burned down in 1973, they went their separate
already on the rebound before they separated, however, as he got back
together with his girlfriend from high school, Margaret Fisher. She was with him the weekend that he
died of a drug overdose at The Joshua Tree Inn, on 19th September
1973. Alcohol, heroin, and
morphine were found in his system.
attempted to have him buried in Louisiana, but Gram’s wish was to be
cremated and to have his ashen remains scattered atop Cap Rock. A couple of friends managed to finagle
their way out of the Los Angeles airport with his casket and incinerated it
at Joshua Tree. In 1974, Grievous Angel was posthumously
released. It barely graced the
Billboard Top 200, peaking at #195.
Joshua Tree has since become a mecca for
Gram Parsons fans, and for ten years, an annual Gram Fest was held in honour of their fallen angel.
lives on in CD form on re-packagings such as The Complete Reprise Sessions, Cosmic American Music, and Sacred Hearts & Fallen Angels: The Gram Parsons Anthology.