Gram Parsons

(1946 – 1973)

When it comes to the melding of Country and Rock, no figure looms larger than Gram Parsons, whose small but accomplished body of work — encompassing landmark recordings as a member of the Byrds, the International Submarine Band and the Flying Burrito Brothers as well as a pair of now-classic solo albums – exerts an influence that outstrips any popularity Parsons achieved during his short lifetime.

A North Carolina native, Parsons began pursuing a Rock-Country melding while attending Harvard University, founding the International Submarine Band in 1966. Parsons favored the term “Cosmic American Music” to describe his vision, a hybrid that incorporated not only Rock and Country, but also Soul, Folk, and R&B. The International Submarine Band relocated to Los Angeles in 1967 and recorded an album, Safe at Home, but disbanded prior to the LP's release. Parsons joined the Byrds in early 1968, and his passion for traditional Country music exercised a major influence on the band's next album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

But Parsons abruptly quit the Byrds after the album's release —his refusal to tour in segregated South Africa was the stated reasons, though it’s been speculated that he may also have seen better career opportunities elsewhere, possibly in his developing friendship with Rolling Stone Keith Richards, on whom Parson exerted an influence that showed up in Country-inflected Stones songs such as “Dead Flowers” and “Country Honk.”  

Enticing his former Byrds bandmate Chris Hillman to join him, Parsons launched the Flying Burrito Brothers, whose 1969 debut The Gilded Palace of Sin was as much a Country Rock landmark as Sweetheart of the Rodeo had been. The album wasn't a commercial success, however, nor was its follow-up Burrito Deluxe, and in 1970 Parsons' drug-related unreliability got him fired from the band he'd founded. After some false starts, Parsons finally launched a solo career in 1973 with GP, which introduced a then-unknown Emmylou Harris on vocals.  The album was not a hit, nor was its follow-up, Grievous Angel — which was released a few months after Parsons' drug-related death in September 1973.