This is your weekend music post. Enjoy!
Continuing from the last post on the potpourri of the innovations in country comes this week’s post. Remember, we asserted last time that the Byrds were more important than the Beatles, and the Stones because they (not any other band or solo act) created (founded) a new genre of music. A member of the Byrds who had nearly defined his own style and blend of music, joined the Byrds, and took their underpinnings, and made it more countryfied. His name was Gram Parsons.
This is THE man who started it all in the alt country scene. No single person contributed to this new genre as he did. Parsons came from money, attended Harvard, and wanted to live the fast life. He not only brought a new country sound, but a new country attitude to the scene. He was the first country influence to live like a rock-n-roller. That proved to be his undoing.
The guy, and his death, is stuff of legends–including the theft of his dead body from an LA morgue, and the ensuing burning of said body in the dark, dead, night of the desert in Southern California. He, along with two band mates, discovered Emmylou Harris and, it seems, they loved one another deeply–though they really never got a chance to tell one another that, for Parsons overdosed before their next meeting. Parsons went to his death never hearing the words Harris so wanted to tell him.
Parsons blended something of rock and something of country together. He also pushed the lyric barrier into a more despondent, anxious, realm. This new form of country was for adults and rejected the bubble gum emotives of pop. But, Parsons could play edgy guitar riffs, and then play a stone cold traditional country song–all in the same album, and sometimes all in the same song. It was something different for sure, and traditional country fans loathed it–thinking his band of hippies were an odd bunch that were not representative of the Grand Ol Opry and the legends of said genre. Parsons, and his the Flying Burrito Brothers were not accepted in the mainstream country scene. Because of this musical innovation, edgy country radio stations that did not play the country Top 40 sprung up organically across the West. The Radio Rangers of KICE (in Bend, Oregon), and the legendary KFAT (of Gilroy California and Corvallis Oregon), and finally, the equally legendary KPIG (California again), dedicated their play lists to Parsons, Flying Burrito Brothers, Commander Cody, New Riders, Poco, The Outlaws, Molly Hatchet, The Allman Brothers, The Marshall Tucker Band, Grinderswitch, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Buffalo Springfield, and finally, the Pure Prarie League. Not that these stations did not play some of the trendy country–Waylon Jennings, etc–but they were not exclusively country top 40. A person could hear a song by Dolly Parton or Loretta Lynn (like Coalminer’s Daughter), and the next song could be Cinnamon Girl by Neil Young. That was the early to mid 70s playlist on these radio stations. It was pretty wild and open format stuff, but without Parsons, it would never have been acceptable. Today, a variation of these radio stations still exist–the most influential is KGSR in Austin. The most important music fest dedicated to the alt country genre is the immensely popular SXSW.
Parsons also pushed the style barrier by making the famed country nudie suits (see above picture) more likened to a hippy concert with hippy themes. Parsons was not completely original in this respect. There were several bands blending long hair and other lifestyle trends with traditional country sounds–the Outlaw version of Charlie Daniels, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Commander Cody, etc., all fit this description. But it was Parsons who seemed to blend country with a more rocking element the best. It is no wonder that Parsons is responsible for being a part of the new alt country genre as many bands and artists after him took ahold of the banner and built upon his foundations in the late 70s to 80s–Jason & the Scorchers, the Longryders, etc., are but a few who fit that mold. Even though guitarists like Bearnie Leadon (of the Eagles-the band that killed country rock almost on its own), came and went, it was really Parsons (with a lot of help from band mate Chris Hillman) who solidified a genuine new way of looking at American Music.
Ok, enough words, to the music:
A retrospective of Parsons
Graham Parsons, House Full of Sin
Not Parsons, a tribute.
Flying Burrito Brothers with the Byrds Influence (1970)
Wilco does a Parsons song. His reach is vast and wide, and still affects us today (The Wilco reference is important and will become evident much later in this series):
Parsons discovered Emmylou Harris. Weeks before his death, she was determined to tell him she was deeply in love with him. He never made the appointment. He dies in the desert of an overdose, and Harris has regretted to this day the missed opportunity.
How he met Emmylou. My personal opinion, is that Parsons was smitten by Emmylou, as was she, almost at first sight:
Hippy Rockers and country converges. 1969, Altamont:
Hot Burrito #1
After this, how can anyone deny Parsons (and Harris) are the father and mother of Alt country? Gram Parsons died at 26 yrs of age.