Gram Parsons has been called “the father of country-rock.” STE Writer Radley Balko argues that “Parsons may be the most influential artist yet to be inducted to either the Rock and Roll Country Music Hall(s) of Fame.” WK He was only 26 when he died on September 19, 1973 from an overdose of morphine and alcohol. However, he left behind an immensely influential body of work with his two solo albums as well as work with the International Submarine Band, the Byrds, and the Flying Burrito Brothers.
The circumstances surrounding his death make for one of rock and roll’s more unusual stories. Before launching his tour in support of his second solo album, Grievous Angel, he went to Joshua Tree National Monument in California. The spot was a frequent getaway and he’d even told his tour manager, Phil Kaufman, that when he died he wanted his ashes spread there. The resulting chain of events maded for an unbelievable and comic story; it was even turned into the 2003 movie Grand Theft Parsons starring Johnny Knoxville.
Parsons’ stepfather intended the body to be shipped from Los Angeles International Airport to New Orleans for a private ceremony. With a borrowed hearse, Kaufman and Michael Martin, a former roadie with the Byrds, stole the body from the airport and headed to Joshua Tree. Once there, they poured five gallons of gasoline into Parsons’ coffin and threw a lit match inside. It made for an enormous fireball, but not a successful cremation. Kaufman and his friend were arrested several days later and fined $750 for stealing the coffin, but there was no law against stealing a dead body. They were also not prosecuted for the 35 pounds of charred remains they left behind in their failed effort. WK
Parsons came from a wealthy but troubled family. He was born in 1946 to “Coon Dog” Connor, a World War II flying ace, and Avis, the daughter of John Snivley who owned about one-third of Florida’s citrus fields. STE Both parents were alcoholics. Two days before Christmas in 1958, Coon Dog committed suicide. WK Avis moved in with her parents in Florida and a year later married Robert Parsons. STE Tragedy struck again when, on the same day Gram graduated from high school, his mom died from alcohol poisoning.
Musically, Parsons was smitten with music at 9 years old after seeing Elvis Presley perform at his school. As a teen, he was a member of several bands. In his solitary semester at Harvard, formed the International Submarine Band. They released an album, Safe at Home, in 1968 but the group was already defunct by its release.
Parsons met Chris Hillman, the bassist of the Byrds, and was brought into the group. He only lasted one album – 1968’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo, but it is considered one of the most important in the development of country-rock.
He then formed the Flying Burrito Brothers with Hillman. They released two albums, 1969’s The Gilded Palace of Sin and 1970’s Burrito Deluxe. During this era, Parsons became close friends with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. He also dove deep into substance abuse.
After a failed attempt in 1971 to record his first solo album, Parsons released G.P. in late-1972. A second album, Grievous Angel, was released after his death.
- the top 1000 music makers of all time
- top 1000 albums of all time (the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, The Gilded Palace of Sin, G.P., Grievous Angel)
- Grammy Hall of Fame (Rodeo)
- Top 20 Country Albums of All Time (Rodeo, Gilded, G.P., Angel)
Resources and Related Links:
- the DMDB page for Gram Parsons
- Gram Parsons’ DMDB Encyclopedia entry
- STE Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide
- WK Wikipedia