Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Cecil Ingram Connor, 5 Nov. '46, Winterhaven FL; d 19 Sep. '73, Joshua Tree CA) Singer, songwriter, bandleader; played guitar, keyboards. A primary inventor of country rock. Grew up in Waycross GA; his mother's family were wealthy; father was Coon Dog Connor, a ranch-hand, singer-songwriter (committed suicide when Parsons was 13); his mother married a man named Parsons and died of alcoholism on the day Parsons graduated from high school. Sang in folk trio with Jim Stafford and Kent Lavoie; first pro group was quartet the Shilos (later Gram Parsons: The Early Years 1963--65 on Sierra). Entered Harvard as a divinity student ('I think I was there about four hours and fifteen minutes'), formed the International Submarine Band in Cambridge to make 'Cosmic American Music': album Safe At Home '67 prod. by Lee Hazlewood (later Gram Parsons on Shilo) with sleeve notes by Duane Eddy, Glen Campbell, Phil Everly (who called it the first classic of 'white soul'). This band contributed a song to soundtrack of film The Russians Are Coming. Parsons was asked to join the Byrds; he quit after three months, refusing to tour South Africa, but helped them to make history as the first rock band to play the Grand Ole Opry and with their most important LP Sweetheart Of The Rodeo '68, a signpost to the impending fusion, soon followed by Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline, the work of Kris Kristofferson; also infl. the Eagles, Poco, the 'outlaw' movement incl. Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. With ex-Byrd Chris Hillman he formed the Flying Burrito Brothers, his LPs with them their finest moments (see their entry). He hung around with the Rolling Stones, infl. on Jagger/Richards's songwriting heard on 'Dead Flowers' and 'Wild Horses' from Sticky Fingers '71, 'Sweet Virginia' from Exile On Main Street '72 (sang backup). Parsons quarrelled with Jagger over songwriting credits; a Richards/Parsons LP was mooted but didn't happen. His own GP '73 featured duets with Emmylou Harris (who'd been rediscovered by Parsons and Hillman), also guitarist James Burton, Glen D. Hardin on piano, bassist Rick Grech, Parsons songs 'She', 'How Much I've Lied', 'The New Soft Shoe'. He was an alcoholic, estranged from his wife and his house had burned down when he was recording a second LP with Harris; he died in a motel of heart failure caused by burning the candle at both ends. He did not get along with his family, had expressed a wish to be cremated and his ashes strewn at Cap Rock, a nearby natural monument; his road manager Phil Kaufman with friend Michael Martin stole the body and carried out these wishes. (Since there was no law against stealing a dead body they were fined $750 on some other charge.) The Return Of The Grievous Angel '74 incl. Parsons songs 'Grievous Angel', 'Hickory Wind', 'Las Vegas', 'In My Hour Of Darkness', others by Tom T. Hall, the Louvin Bros, Everly Bros. Gram Parsons And The Fallen Angels Live 1973 was released '82. Harris said, 'There's something in my voice that just wasn't there until I sang with Gram'; she went on to become the queen of country rock, making albums that are utterly timeless. Tributes to Parsons incl. her 'Boulder To Birmingham' on her debut Pieces Of The Sky '75, Bernie Leadon's 'My Man' (on the Eagles' On The Border '74), Richie Furay's 'Crazy Eyes' (title track of '73 Poco LP). Linda Ronstadt, Tom Petty, Dwight Yoakum, Elvis Costello all admit his influence; Costello wrote a sleeve note for The Best Of Gram Parsons '82, incl. Parsons songs in his Almost Blue '81. Book Gram Parsons: A Music Biography by distant relative Sid Griffin told the story (Griffin made four acclaimed albums with the Long Ryders '80s, worked with the Coal Porters in London, made excellent solo debut Little Victories '97 on Prima). (Quotes in this entry from Tom Russell's article in Omaha Rainbow, summer '82.)