Posts Tagged ‘Gram Parsons’

The Flying Burrito Brothers The Gilded Palace Of Sin album cover web optimised 820

When The Gilded Palace Of Sin was released, on 6th February 1969, sales were initially not good but their debut album by The Flying Burrito Brothers has since earned its status as one of the defining albums of country-rock and Americana music. named it as one of the 500 essential albums all music lovers should own.

Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman formed the The Flying Burrito Brothers after both leaving The Byrds. They brought in bassist Chris Ethridge and pedal steel guitarist Pete Kleinow to complete the line-up, appropriating the band’s name from a group of Los Angeles musicians who gathered for jam sessions.

“We’re a rock’n’roll band that sounds like a country band,” said Gram Parsons, a Harvard theology student drop-out who was 22 when the album was made. The singer-songwriter, guitarist and keyboardist is acclaimed as one of the most innovative forces in country music, becoming a huge influence on musicians as diverse as Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams and Lucinda Williams.

There are 11 songs on The Gilded Palace Of Sin, including the haunting classic ‘Sin City’, which was co-written by Hillman and Parsons, and which included allusions to contemporary figures such as Robert Kennedy (“A friend came around/Tried to clean up this town”), who had been assassinated in June 1968.

Hillman said he woke up one morning with the lines “This old town’s filled with sin/It’ll swallow you in” swimming in his head. He roused his flatmate Parsons and they completed the song in about 30 minutes. “It was just before Christmas and it was about to rain; and we were living in the San Fernando Valley in a tract type home,” Hillman recalled. ‘Sin City’ has been covered by scores of musicians .

There was a spontaneity to the album’s production that helps make The Gilded Palace Of Sin sound fresh half a century later. Chris Ethridge said, “I told Gram I had a couple of old melodies from back when I was growing up. I played them for him and we wrote the two songs that day, ‘Hot Burrito #1’ and ‘Hot Burrito #2’, and then that night went into the studio and cut ’em.”

As well as being full of modern Americana classics – including the achingly beautiful two-part harmonies on songs such as ‘Juanita’ and ‘Wheels’ – there were also innovative cover songs. Hillman said that Parsons opened him up to new musical experiences by setting the challenge of taking great soul songs – such as ‘The Dark End Of The Street’ – and reinventing them.

Hillman said, “We also took the interesting song ‘Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’, which was Aretha Franklin’s big soul song at the time, but we did it country. That was the genius of Parsons. He got me into looking beyond the country parameters.” They brought in David Crosby to sing backing vocals on that track.

Drummer Jon Corneal, who had worked with a teenage Parsons in The International Submarine Band, and went on to work with Loretta Lynn, played on five tracks and was one of four drummers used on the album.

One of the qualities that underscores the whole album, right from the energetic opening track, ‘Christine’s Song’, is the brilliant playing of “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow’s pedal steel guitar. In 1969, the Burritos didn’t really have a lead guitarist so a lot of the solos fell to Kleinow. Parsons used to call him “The Maharishi Of Country Music”, and Kleinow became one of the most sought-after session musicians in the business.

‘My Uncle’ (the only track to feature Hillman on mandolin) and ‘Hippie Boy’ are counterculture songs of the time about the Vietnam draft and the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots in Chicago, which Parsons described as “the toughest challenge on the album”.

The album’s artwork is also special. It was overseen by Tom Wilkes, who had joined A&M after being the art director of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Parsons had arranged for custom-made Nudie suits to be created by the acclaimed designer Nudie Cohn. Parson’s one, which featured red poppies and marijuana leaves, hangs in the Country Music Hall Of Fame. Wilkes said: “We decided to take them out to the desert and do something kind of surreal with the Nudie suits, shot by Barry Feinstein. And they looked great anyway. They looked funky and kind of country western and kind of rock.”

Gram Parsons, who was aged 26 when he died, in 1973, left a marvellous legacy, including The Gilded Palace Of Sin, which helped draw the blueprint for both 70s country-rock, Americana and the alt.country sound.

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Gram Parsons’ Last Ride

With the benefit of hindsight, Cecil Connor III, rather better known to us as Gram Parsons, was always a candidate to live fast and die young. The hedonistic lifestyle of the man from Waycross, Georgia had hit his health badly even during his brief few years of brilliant creativity. But it was still a tragedy when the news emerged that Gram’s last ride, to the Joshua Tree National Monument in California, had led to his death on this date 42 years ago, on September 19, 1973.

The excursion to one of his favourite spots was planned as rest and recreation before the start of a new tour. He’d played live earlier in the year, including a show in Boston in April, where he performed some of the songs with which he had helped to create the very genre of country rock, such as ‘Drug Store Truck Driving Man,’ ‘Sin City’ and ‘That’s All It Took.

But only two days into the trip, Parsons was found unresponsive in his bedroom and after all attempts to revive him failed, was pronounced dead at Hi-Desert Memorial Hospital at 12.15am. The official cause of death was an overdose of morphine and alcohol. His coffin was stolen by his then manager Phil Kaufman and former Byrds roadie Michael Martin and taken to Cap Rock in the California desert. There, as per his own wishes, the body was set alight. Gram Parsons was later buried at the Garden of Memories Cemetery in Metairie, Louisiana.

But Parsons’ musical legacy is a rich one, in earlier days with the International Submarine Band, after he arrived on the West Coast in 1967, and his brief but pivotal time with the Byrds; then with Chris Hillman in the Flying Burrito Brothers and finally on his two solo albums, 1973’s ‘GP’ and the posthumously-released ‘Grievous Angel.’

When ‘GP’ was released, Rolling Stone described Parsons as “an artist with a vision as unique and personal as those of Jagger-Richard[s], Ray Davies, or any of the other celebrated figures.”

In its report on his death, the Village Voice quoted former Byrds drummer Mike Clarke, who said: “Man, I don’t think Gram ever met a drug he didn’t like. I guess there’s an object lesson there somewhere.”

Sweetheart Of The Rodeo

On this day August. 30th in 1968: The Byrds released their 6th studio album, ‘Sweetheart Of The Rodeo’, on Columbia Records; it was the sixth album to be released by the band The Byrds , recorded with the addition of country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons, it was influential as the first major country rock album by an established act and represented a stylistic move away from the psychedelic rock of the band’s previous album ,The Notorious Byrd Brotherssteered by the passion of the little-known Parsons, who had only joined The Byrds in February 1968, by the time the album was released in August, Parsons had left the band

It was massively influential as the first major country-rock album by an established act; the group had occasionally experimented with country music on their four previous albums, but ‘Sweetheart Of The Rodeo’ represented their fullest immersion into the genre; the album elicited a great deal of resistance & hostility from the ultra-conservative Nashville country music establishment, who viewed The Byrds as a group of long-haired hippies attempting to subvert country music – making “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo”, arguably, the first true ‘alt country’ record…

You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
2:41 I Am A Pilgrim
6:27 The Christian Life
9:01 You Don’t Miss Your Water
12:56 You’re Still On My Mind
15:26 Pretty Boy Floyd
18:06 Hickory Wind
21:44 One Hundred Years From Now
24:46 Blue Canadian Rockies
26:54 Life In Prison
29:45 Nothing Was Delivered

On the original album, Gram Parsons is featured singing lead vocals on the songs “Hickory Wind”, “You’re Still on My Mind”, and “Life in Prison”. Due to legal threat from Lee Hazlewood (who contended that the singer was still under contract to his LHI record label), Gram’s vocals on the three songs “The Christian Life”, “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, and “One Hundred Years from Now” were replaced by Roger McGuinn. Parsons’ original vocals were finally released on The Byrds box set in 1990 (as well as Sacred Hearts & Fallen Angels: The Gram Parsons Anthology in 2001).

Let’s not forget Chris Hillmans contributions, when we think of the Byrds, the Burrito Brothers..Parsons and Hillman were a formidable writing team, and contributed to the sounds of American music just as much as any thing Lieber and Stoler contributed. And when we’re grovin on Gram’s stuff , let’s also remember, Sneaky Pete Klienow the incredible steel pedal player who gave the burritos that, what I would call hippie trippie country sound.

In 1969, The Flying Burrito Brothers welcomed listeners into their “Gilded Palace Of Sin”.  The album, released on Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss’ A&M label, heralded a new style of music – one which co-founder Gram Parsons would famously dub “Cosmic American Music.”  Indeed, the sounds emanating from this Palace were, at the same time, surprisingly traditional and completely radical.  For the Burritos melded the harmonies of the Everlys or the Louvins with the gutbucket soul of the deep south, the instrumentation of classic Nashville, and the experimentation of psychedelia.  The sound created on The Gilded Palace of Sin would come to be known as country-rock, and influence a generation of performers, perhaps most notably the Eagles but also bands from Poco to Wilco.  Intervention Records has recently given the deluxe audiophile treatment to this landmark cult-classic album, with a new 180-gram vinyl pressing.  (A hybrid stereo SACD edition will follow later this year, as well.)  Intervention’s reissue is both faithful to the sound of the original LP while actually improving on it.

That this was no ordinary country record, or rock record, was evident from the very first track.  “Christine’s Tune” was written and sung by Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman, both late of The Byrds. (Parsons had also been a member of The International Submarine Band, itself a progenitor of the country rock genre.)  The band was rounded out by Chris Ethridge on bass and “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow on steel guitar, while the drum seat was occupied by a number of musicians including “Fast” Eddie Hoh“Christine’s Tune” has a classic country-and-western storyline about a woman who’s a “devil in disguise,” but underneath the harmonies and Parsons’ acoustic style was Hillman’s psychedelic electric guitar on the verge of a freakout, and Kleinow’s offbeat steel playing – both captivating and disconcerting.  (Bernie Leadon, who served in the group as of its second album and went on to join the Eagles, noted that Kleinow usually played an eight-string Fender cable pull steel tuned to B6 instead of the expected C6.  He played in a jazz style that others might typically have used an E9 tuning for, and utilized a fuzzbox and played his instrument through a rotating Leslie speaker, to add unusual effects.)  Kleinow’s presence was a reprieve for the steel guitar, an instrument that had been largely eschewed by Nashville in the wake of the lush, pop-oriented Nashville Sound.

Parsons and Hillman’s cautionary tale of “Sin City” was another classic country lament (“This old earthquake’s gonna leave me in the poorhouse/It seems like this whole town’s insane…”) but with striking religious imagery, as well.  Parsons and Hillman weren’t pulling any punches in bringing the rootsy country sound they loved – one which had been largely pushed to the side in the countrypolitan era – and fusing it to a youthful rock-and-roll sensibility.

A number of the Parsons/Hillman originals were very much of their time.  “My Uncle” juxtaposed a jaunty bluegrass melody with the narrator’s story of “heading for the nearest foreign border” to evade the draft, very much a specter lingering over young men in 1969.  “Wheels,” too, was transporting – a typical country song in its longing and plea to “come on wheels, take this boy away,” but also with a spiritual streak and likely drug references, as well.  Chris Etheridge’s barroom piano lends another happily unexpected grace note to the track.  Hillman recites the spoken-word “Hippie Boy” which ends the album on a note of sadness and tragedy.  (It was a direct reflection on the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots.)

Ethridge teamed with Parsons to write two of the album’s standout tracks, “Hot Burrito No. 1” and “Hot Burrito No. 2.”  Elvis Costello retitled the former “I’m Your Toy,” reasoning that the original title was dignified enough for this beautiful ballad which underscores the influence of southern soul writers like Dan Penn on the Burritos.  Both “No. 1” and the more driving “No. 2” feature quavering, tender leads from Parsons, joined on “No. 2” by Hillman and Ethridge on background vocals.  Barry Goldberg stepped in to co-write “Do You Know How It Feels” with Parsons, grafting a melancholy, classic country lyric to catchy melody ripe for a saloon sing-along.

The Gilded Palace of Sin‘s two covers were significant reminders of the R&B and soul underpinning, too.  Both were written by Dan Penn and Chips Moman: “Do Right Woman” and “Dark End of the Street.”  Though the songs undoubtedly belong to Aretha Franklin and James Carr, respectively, Hillman, Parsons and the Burritos traced a direct line from Memphis to Nashville – via Los Angeles, where the album was recorded.  (Note that “Dark End” is credited on the album to Penn’s most frequent writing partner, Spooner Oldham. This is not an error on Intervention’s part, but rather is just faithful to the original LP sleeve.)

Parsons only lasted for one more album with the Burritos, while Gilded Palace turned out to be Chris Ethridge’s debut and swansong with the band.  By the time of the band’s fourth album, released in 1972, Chris Hillman was The Last of the Red Hot Burritos.  Since then, various iterations of the band have formed and re-formed, and one such splinter group called The Burrito Brothers still tours today.  Gram Parsons died in 1973, having furthered his musical mission with a pair of solo records featuring Emmylou Harris – the second of which was released after his untimely death.  The Gilded Palace of Sin is still the most cohesive record of Parsons’ career, on which he crystallized his ambitions and talents into a singular piece of art.  Though few originally bought the record, its reputation quickly grew among artists and collectors alike, and its influence from pop to alt-country can hardly be understated.

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Intervention’s splendidly detailed remaster of The Gilded Palace of Sin maintains the almost woozy, psychedelic ambiance of the album produced by the band, Larry Marks, and Henry Lewy, while bringing vivid detail and clarity to the stinging guitars, tight harmonies, and especially Chris Ethridge’s bass which anchors the LP with resonance.  Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio has remastered (100% AAA analog, notes the label) from a 1/2″ safety copy of the original stereo master tapes as housed in the Universal vaults.  This RTI pressing, on heavyweight vinyl, lives up to its promise of being “dead quiet” and makes a powerful case for the warmth of its analog sound.  The LP, boasting period A&M labels, is housed in a protective sleeve within a sturdy Stoughton-printed “tip-on” jacket, replicating the original artwork.

thanks To The Second Disc

So where would that leave the legacy of a cult artist like Gram Parsons, who died in 1973 at the age of 26 with but a small, yet influential body of work, as the 21st-century marches ever onward? If you are of a certain age, and presuming that you are a pretty big music fan, you no doubt have heard and hopefully appreciate the “cosmic American music” of this golden-voiced country rock progenitor/genius. To be sure, I think that there’s still a pretty strong cult following of Gram Parsons fans , but in 2017 its members tend to be know-it-all aging boomers with graying ponytails who want to give you their opinions of whatever album you happen to be looking at in a record store.

Only in Southern California, always a stronghold of Flying Burrito Bros. fandom, does there seem to be an organic all ages awareness of the great Gram Parsons. This has much to do with the desert and how inextricably intertwined the desert trip is with the mythos of Parsons’ death by OD in room 8 of the Joshua Tree Inn and how his body was subsequently stolen and given a drunken cremation near Cap Rock by his manager, Phil Kaufman.

It’s a SoCal rite of passage to do magic mushrooms in Joshua Tree and trip out under the desert stars listening to “The Gilded Palace of Sin” by the Flying Burrito Bros. as there is simply no greater soundtrack for this sort of activity in that particular place . Its a specifically a desert thing. .

Which is why the word needs to get out about this release by Intervention Records who recently released vinyl and also SACD re-issue of “The Gilded Palace Of Sin”. Mastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio, this is one of the best-sounding slabs of wax that I’ve heard , which is exactly what you would want someone to say if you’re a new boutique record label catering to the jaded (and easily disappointed) audiophiles. Think you’ve heard it all? Wait until you’ve heard this! That beautiful young man’s quivering, vulnerable, plaintive voice, those harmonies with Chris Hillman and the exquisite chime of Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s buzzing, warmly-distorted almost psychedelic steel guitar, it’s all there in the grooves as never before, like they coaxed some extra music particles off the low generation analog tapes it was mastered from. Since I first heard The Gilded Palace Of Sin in the early 70’s .

I’ve listened to it hundreds of times, but this is something else entirely. Always an exhilarating—and well-recorded—album to begin with, this absolutely sparkling pressing by Intervention represents the apex of the state of the art analog “triple A” production (no digital anywhere in the workflow) going today. They even make a new vinyl stamper after every 5000 uses . If you’re looking for some primo vinyl to throw at your turntable, this is as good as it gets, a record you will find yourself flipping over and playing again and again and again. (And although I’d bet this is their showpiece, Intervention Records have also released exquisite editions of classic albums by Joe Jackson, Big Audio Dynamite, Stealers Wheel and they’ve announced some upcoming Judee Sill releases. Everything I’ve heard from them is crazy-ly good, 10/10 stuff. Every audiophile should keep an eye on what they’re releasing.)

Although there are several books, bootlegs, live albums and compilations, plus a great feature length documentary , there are precious few examples of Gram Parsons on film or video. Less than a handful for sure. This performance, provenance unknown to me, is the Flying Burrito Bros. doing one of their very best numbers—and perhaps Parsons’ greatest ever vocal performance—the oddly named heartbreaker “Hot Burrito #1” (It and “Hot Burrito #2” were both written on the same day and both recorded that very same evening.) If there can only be a few clips of Gram Parsons in action, this is the best.

Did Gram Parsons wrote “Wild Horses.”

Or at least maybe he co-wrote it. maybe he gave the lyrics to Keith. Whatever, I don’t care. Is it Gram’s style of songwriting, we also know the Stones‘ style, both before and after meeting Gram (and musically, Ry Cooder).

Now in the February ’13 issue of Uncut we have Mick’s brother saying it was a Gram Parsons’ composition (“not that he ever got anything for it”). And we have an old quote from Mick himself, “I remember we sat around originally doing this with Gram Parsons…” Etc. Really Mick, you “remember” that much… in ’71? And knowing Gram, I imagine he wasn’t doing anything? Just sitting around, watching?.

No, there’s no proof. Unless you believe in the analysis of art and life as proof.Is it possible that the original lyrics, written by Gram and perhaps modified slightly by the Rolling Stones, were written about/for Gram’s sister Little Avis. Gram Parsons felt tremendous responsibility for Avis after their parents’ death, and overwhelming guilt at times for leaving her. And, no doubt, some guilt over what was happening to him, and that he would also soon be leaving her for good. “Faith has been broken, tears must be cried.” His letters to Avis mirror the thoughts and feelings in the song. The notebook, with the lyrics and chords to Wild Horses wtitten in Grams handwriting that people point to as “evidence” that Gram wrote the song actually points to the opposite conclusion. The lyrics are all written out exactly as they are on the record. When you compose a song you scribble out lines, try new ones and write stuff in the matgins. It looks messy. The version in Gram’s notebook looks more like it was transcribed from another source.

Keith Richards has stated in interviews and in writing that he began writing the song for his son, Marlon, as he was about to leave on tour. He showed the roughed out lyrics to Mick and Mick turned it into a love song. What reason would Keith have to lie about it? He has always gone out of his way to sing Gram’s praises. Mick and Keith are two of the most prolific song writers in the history of popular music history and have more big hits under their belts than you can count. They also have a history of doing lots of covers and giving the writers of those covers their due.

Childhood living is easy to do
The things you wanted I bought them for you
Graceless lady you know who I am,
You know I can’t let you slide through my hands

I watched you suffer a dull aching pain,
Now you’ve decided to show me the same
No sweeping exits or offstage lines
Can make me feel bitter or treat you unkind

I know I dreamed you a sin and a lie,
I have my freedom but I don’t have much time
Faith has been broken, tears must be cried,
Let’s do some living after we die

Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.

Originally published in Gram Parsons InterNational blog, 2013

Gram Parsons. © Jim McCrary/Getty Images

The 1960s were coming to a close when rising country rock musician Gram Parsons posed next to Nudie Cohn, the celebrated Western-wear designer more than three times his senior. Raeanne Rubenstein shot their portrait for Show: The Magazine of the Arts at Nudie’s Los Angeles workshop. Over a smooth bare chest and midriff, the twenty-something Parsons wore the suit Nudie designed for him for the cover of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ debut album, The Gilded Palace of Sin. Made of white cavalry twill, it was embroidered with crudely rendered naked ladies, rhinestone-studded marijuana leaves, and sequin-dotted poppies. Tuinal and Seconal capsules and sugar cubes laced with LSD decorated the sleeves. On the back shined a giant, gleaming cross. Flames licked the sides of both bell-bottom legs. Rubenstein’s shutter clicked, capturing the near-familial warmth and affection between the two men, neither of whom would have predicted that the suit, which went on to help make Parsons a legend, also foretold of his death.

Nudie, who came to Hollywood in the 1940s and hung his hat as the “Rodeo Tailor,” was legendary for creating what we think of today as an iconic American look: flashy Western high style. Born Nuta Kotlyarenko to a Jewish family in Kiev, then part of the Russian Empire, he immigrated to America in 1913, when he was eleven, and a customs agent on Ellis Island renamed him “Nudie Cohn.” He went on to dress the preponderance of Hollywood’s cowboys—Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, John Wayne—as well as country music’s biggest stars, from Hank Williams to Johnny Cash. Nudie’s first designs depicted classical Western motifs in rhinestones: cactuses, covered wagons, hearts, and roses. In 1957, he designed Elvis’s most famous outfit: the gold lamé suit the King wore on the cover of 50,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong. (The suit cost Elvis $10,000, equivalent to $85,000 today.)

Image of Custom Nudie Suit - Made to Measure

Many consider Parsons’s “Nudie suit” to be the designer’s masterpiece. Nicknamed “Sin City,” after a song on the Burritos’ album, the suit has been called “the Sistine Chapel ceiling of cowboy attire” by Guardian critic John Robinson. It is a study in dualities: vice and sanctity, irony and earnestness, and country music style and rock & roll sensibility. Aesthetically, it is the perfect visual expression of Parsons’s music, which melded country to rock and gave rise to an entirely new sound. Bands such as the Eagles, the Doobie Brothers, and later-generation artists Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown, Old 97’s, and Steve Earle—and the entire Americana and alt-country movements—would be inconceivable without the example Parsons set. Contemporary musicians such as Jack White and Jeff Tweedy continue to wear Nudie- and Parsons-inspired looks to this day.

Ingram “Gram” Cecil Connor was born into a family of wealth, thanks to his grandfather’s citrus empire. In his native Waycross, Georgia, he often traveled in chauffeured Cadillacs and journeyed to Florida in plush, private train cars. At age nine, Gram saw Elvis Presley open for Little Jimmy Dickens at the Waycross City Auditorium, an experience that changed the budding musician’s life. In Twenty Thousand Roads, a biography of Parsons, David N. Meyer quotes Gram’s nanny, Louise Cone: “Gram was a sweet child as long as you let him be Elvis Presley.”

Parsons also knew suffering. Two days before Christmas of 1958, when Gram was twelve, his alcoholic father, Ingram Cecil “Coon Dog” Connor, committed suicide with a bullet to his head. Gram moved to his grandparents’ family compound in Winter Haven, Florida, with his mother, Avis, and little sister. A few months later, Avis married a smooth-talking, slickly dressed man named Robert Parsons, and Gram Connor officially became Gram Parsons.

When he was fifteen, Parsons performed in a band called the Legends—they wore matching red blazers and traveled to gigs in a customized VW bus detailed with the band’s name. Parsons, whose family had hired a manager for him, traveled to Greenville, South Carolina, to a solo gig on the Coca-Cola Hi-Fi Club Hootenanny, where he met and joined the Carolina-based, Journeymen-inspired Shilos. The band spent the summer after Parsons’s junior year in New York City playing the legendary folk clubs Café Wha?, Café Rafio, and the Bitter End. Back in Florida, on the day of Parsons’s high school graduation in 1965, his hard-drinking mother died from cirrhosis of the liver.

It was a pivotal year for Parsons, who headed to Harvard, and for American music. That summer, Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival, a move that kicked folk back to the dustbin. Country was readily accessible across the U.S., but as Parsons’s eventual bandmate, guitarist John Nuese, told biographer Meyer, “Nobody was listening to what they’d call redneck country-western shit.”

Parsons dropped out of Harvard after one semester, moved to New York City with his musician friends, and formed the International Submarine Band. While he’d had a strong formative exposure to country in Georgia and Florida, it was Nuese who introduced the band to contemporary twang, including the genre’s older, more obscure ballads and songs. “We were discovering the depths of how impassioned that music is,” said ISB bassist Ian Dunlop. “It’s magnetic and terrifically poetic. It’s the human condition exposed.”

The band spun and studied modern albums by Bakersfield musicians Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, as well as George Jones. Though Parsons didn’t know him yet, Nudie had already dressed all three of these men; as his designs matured, he made special stage suits for artists in celebration of their greatest hits. He embellished a black suit with moonshine bottles and lightning bolts for Jones’s first No. 1 country single, “White Lightning.” For Webb Pierce’s hit version of Jimmie Rodgers’s “In the Jailhouse Now,” Nudie covered the front of a suit with jailhouses and on the back embroidered a picture of Pierce strumming a guitar behind bars.

By the spring of 1967, the ISB moved to Los Angeles, where things finally began to come together musically for Parsons. In 1968, the ISB cut an album, Safe at Home, that had a unique, countrified rock sound informed by the band’s deep study of Americana. But before the album was released, Gram left the group to join the most popular band in the country: the Byrds. He lasted only six months. Still, it was long enough for him to lead them to completely change their sound for Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which Country Music Hall of Fame writer Peter Cooper described as “the gateway drug to country.” Cooper also stated, “Gram turned the Byrds from America’s most popular rock band to one of America’s least popular country bands.” Audiences didn’t yet know what to make of the marriage of the two genres. Parsons called it “Cosmic American Music.”

The divide between rock and country held true in fashion, as well. Pianist David Barry, who was active in the L.A. music scene, said, “People like me wore jeans and boots, which is exactly what real country stars didn’t want to wear because it suggested they came from country’s poor white roots.” The “real” country stars “looked like a Las Vegas joke.”

In the late 1960s, Nudie’s son-in-law and head tailor Manuel Cuevas met Parsons and enticed him into Nudie’s shop. In addition to working for Nudie, Manuel, who goes by his first name professionally, was working on crafting the Grateful Dead’s skeleton-and-roses insignia and designing the suits for the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album. Soon after, Parsons began sporting Nudie’s outlandish creations as the visual corollary to his unique sound. Nudie would hop in his custom Western-themed Cadillac convertible, with pistols for door handles, a hand-tooled leather dashboard covered in silver dollars, horseshoe hood ornaments, and steer horns jutting forth from the front grill, and drive to the clubs to hear the band play. Parsons had started a new band called the Flying Burrito Brothers with Chris Hillman, another ex-Byrd. “Nudie loved seeing Gram up on the stage, sparkling and looking so beautiful in his designs,” said photographer Raeanne Rubenstein. When it came time for the Burritos to record their debut album, The Gilded Palace of Sin, Nudie was the obvious choice to help put together their look.

Band member Chris Hillman generously donated the suit he wore on The Gilded Palace of Sin to the Autry in 2002. With the passing of Chris Etheridge earlier this year, Hillman is the only surviving band member.

Nudie and his staff made outfits for all four of the Burritos, each to their own tastes and whims. Chris Hillman, who played guitar and shared vocals and songwriting credits with Parsons, opted for a lush cobalt blue suit with peacocks on the front and a giant sun on the back. Peter “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow, the band’s pedal steel player, requested a suit embroidered with a pterodactyl and a tyrannosaurus rex. Bassist Chris Ethridge asked that his Edwardian frock coat and pants be covered in a classic motif of red and yellow roses. “We talked for months and months before we put it together,” Manuel told me. He stitched the embroidery on Parsons’s suit himself because Rose Clements, Nudie’s chief embroiderer, refused to sew the pictures of drugs and naked women.

Parsons may have been going for an authentic country look, but his suit was equally tongue-in-cheek, like some of his songs. The rhinestones and cross are in homage to classic country culture, while the marijuana gave a blatant middle finger to that world. The suit cut the other way, too, celebrating hippie drugs in high redneck style. Nudie’s designs conveyed a subtler narrative—that of the Southern innocent forever corrupted by urban life. In country music, the narrator often ends up calling the past his home, but Gram Parsons’s past offered no solace.

Though now considered a classic, The Gilded Palace of Sin sold dismally. Rolling Stone critic and fellow Waycross native Stanley Booth gave it a rave review and Dylan said the album “instantly knocked me out,” but the Burritos’ music was still too rock for country audiences and too country for the rock set.

At the time, the album’s greatest success belonged to Nudie—four months after Gilded’s release, he was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone. Before long, John Lennon, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Sly Stone, and Bootsy Collins, among others, would all wear his styles, inspiring Western wear’s popularity in the 1970s. But in early 1968, the Burritos caught flack for their bedazzled attire. “Just because we wear sequined suits doesn’t mean we think we’re great,” Parsons said. “It means we think sequins are great.”

Nudie Cohn on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1969:

The drugs that decorated “Sin City” eventually began to catch up to Parsons; he had started using barbiturates and heroin. In April of 1970 he released a middling second album with the Burritos, Burrito Deluxe. Two months later, Chris Hillman, who was growing tired of Parsons’s “rock-star games,” fired him on the spot when he showed up late and high to a gig. Afterward, Parsons went to hang out with Keith Richards, with whom he’d developed a friendship solidified by drugs and music, at Nellcote, the French villa where the Stones were recording Exile on Main Street. Today, many attribute the band’s new direction on that album to Parsons’s influence, particularly its twangier numbers, even if the Stones did boot him from their idyll.

Eventually, Parsons got clean enough to cut a solo album, GP, featuring the harmonies of Emmylou Harris, then an unknown. Rolling Stone reviewer Bud Scoppa saw Parsons and Harris perform during their tour, and wrote: “That night—for me, at least—Gram Parsons was transformed into a latter-day Hank Williams: an innovator still revering the past and proud to be bound to it, an anguished genius daring to use his pain as the foundation of his art, no matter what the consequences. He was beautiful, but there was danger in the beauty.”

Hank Williams had been a client of Nudie’s, and the two had grown close before Williams’s tragic death at twenty-nine. Likewise, Parsons and Nudie developed a strong bond. “Nudie took him under his wing like he would a son,” according to the designer’s granddaughter Jamie Lee Nudie. But, she remembers, Nudie’s wife, Bobbie, often said that there was simply something deeply sad about Parsons.

After the tour for GP, Parsons was arrested for getting into a drunken, drug-inspired bar fight, and Nudie bailed him out—but no one, not even Parsons’s closest friends, could save him from himself. “Nudie saw what was happening, and it devastated him,” said Jamie Lee.

In 1973, at twenty-six, Parsons died of an overdose in Joshua Tree, California, right before the release of his follow-up solo effort, Grievous Angel. Gram had traveled far in his short life, but ultimately could not escape the illness that also claimed his parents’ lives: addiction.

Though Parsons is not a Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, his Nudie suit is on display at the museum, where it celebrates Parsons’s and Nudie’s respective revolutionary approaches of conjoining two otherwise opposing aesthetics: country and rock. Filling a glass case between two guitars, the suit also stands as a compelling sartorial portrait of Parsons the man and musician, the sinner and seeker. Like much of his Cosmic American Music, it is made all the more haunting for its irony and beauty, and the story of its grievous angel whose life was shot through with loss.

http://www.nudiesrodeotailors.bigcartel.com/

many thanks to Elyssa East

Gram Parsons biographies. HipQuotient.com

 

When Gram Parsons’ name is mentioned, it is often done so in association with those more well-known artists he influenced, such as The Byrds, who took Parsons’ lead during his brief tenure in the band for their groundbreaking album “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo”, or The Rolling Stones, whose admiration for Parsons shined through in their own forays into country music in the early ’70s.

Yet the recorded evidence of Parsons’ genius is frustratingly finite. As Keith Richards wrote in a tribute for Rolling Stone about his buddy, “I think he was just getting into his stride when he died. His actual output — the number of records he made and sold — was pretty minimal. But his effect on country music is enormous. This is why we’re talking about him now. But we can’t know what his full impact could have been.”

Luckily, in addition to his work with the Flying Burrito Brothers, Parsons made a pair of stellar solo albums before he died in 1973 that make clear why he is so revered. From “Grievous Angel”, the second of those albums which was released posthumously in 1974, came “$1,000 Wedding,” which stands as one of the saddest songs in history even though nobody is quite sure what transpires in it. Enigmatic though it may be, it demonstrates Parsons’ ability to add idiosyncratic touches to traditional material and perform it in mesmerizing fashion.

With a solemn piano tiptoeing in to begin the arrangement, Parsons starts his tale about a groom left standing at the altar under mysterious circumstances. All the narrator offers is that “the young bride went away.” Parsons makes things even more difficult to parse by switching haphazardly from third-person to first-person narrative. He hints at the protagonist’s friends perhaps joining him in some deception (“And he felt so bad when he saw the traces/Of old lies still on their faces”), but he never lets us know just what.

Most confounding of all, the narrator seems at times to be at the scene of a wedding gone awry and at others to be in the midst of a funeral. Certainly Parsons is toying with our expectations here and the fact that the most celebratory day in one’s life is held in the same location as the saddest. Parsons also takes country clichés like the mean mother-in-law and the preacher spewing fire and brimstone and balances them with the honest and raw sadness of the narrator, evident in his woeful delivery of the song’s closing couplet: “Supposed to be a funeral/It’s been a bad, bad day.”

For the record, this writer’s opinion is that the events being described are two separate occasions which the narrator jumbles into a single song. She initially did leave him at the altar, likely due to some sort of indiscretion he committed, hence his regret and wish to be put to sleep like the beasts in the preacher’s sermon. He’s there also for the girl’s funeral, perhaps not as fully attended as the wedding, which explains his concern that there isn’t the proper fanfare to mourn her.

Of course, you can take that interpretation with a grain of salt and blow it all into the Hickory Wind. What’s so great about “$1,000 Wedding” is that you can feel it plenty even if you don’t fully understand it. And what’s great about  is that he left us songs that are somehow as potent and vast as the shadow he cast on the music world.

rollingstones wild horses

The song was recorded in 1969 but wasn’t released until 1971 due to the band’s legal tussle with their manager. The band’s normal piano player bowed out of the session because he didn’t like playing minor chords. And the track was originally intended by the guitarist to be a song about missing his newborn son, only to be hijacked by the lead singer, who turned it into a depiction of a burned-out relationship.

For The Rolling Stones, such drama has always been par for the course. That they overcame all of that and turned out a gem like “Wild Horses,” the song saddled with all of the aforementioned obstacles, is a testament to their talent, chemistry, and unfailing ability to rise above all the chaos, self-induced and otherwise.

For three days in December 1969, the Stones stopped into Muscle Shoals studios in Alabama and managed to lay down three songs, one of which was “Wild Horses.” (“Brown Sugar” was one of the other two, ) The composition of this plaintive ballad was begun by Keith Richards, whose first child was born in August 1969, causing Keith regret about going out on the road and leaving the boy behind.

“It was one of those magical moments when things come together,” Richards wrote in his 2010 autobiography Lifeabout the song’s genesis. “It’s like ‘Satisfaction.’ You just dream it, and suddenly it’s all in your hands. Once you’ve got the vision in your mind of wild horses, I mean, what’s the next phrase you’re going to use? It’s got to be couldn’t drag me away.”
So Richards wrote the music, using a 12-string acoustic guitar to really draw out the melancholy in those chords, and the chorus. He then handed the song off to his songwriting partner-in-crime Mick Jagger to complete the verses. And that’s when the track took a turn away from Marlon, the name of Richards’ little boy, and perhaps veered toward Marianne, as in Faithfull, Jagger’s on-again, off-again lover of that era.

Jagger recalled his contributions to “Wild Horses” in the liner notes to the 1993 Stones’ anthology Jump Back: The Best Of The Rolling Stones. “I remember we sat around doing this with Gram Parsons, and I think his version came out slightly before ours,” Mick said. “Everyone always says it was written about Marianne, but I don’t think it was; that was all well over by then. But I was definitely very inside this piece emotionally. This is very personal, evocative, and sad.
That heaviness hangs in the air throughout the song. You can hear it in the lazily-strummed guitars of Richards and Mick Taylor, in Richards’ just-right electric solo, in Charlie Watts thudding fills. Jim Dickinson filled in on the tack piano when Ian Stewart famously begged off playing the sad chords. As for Jagger, he holds back the histrionics and plays it straight,
The opening lines hint at a simpler time in the couple’s life together: “Childhood living is easy to do/ The things you wanted I bought them for you.” As time passes, however, they become inseparable in anguish as well: “I watched you suffer a dull aching pain/ Now you’ve decided to show me the same.”As bad as things get though, the narrator’s loyalty never wavers. “You know I can’t let you slide through my hands,” Jagger sings at the end of the first verse. Perhaps alluding to the drama in her life, he uses the metaphor of the stage to describe his steadfastness: “No sweeping exits or offstage lines/ Could make me feel bitter or treat you unkind.” And there’s that chorus, Richards joining in for high and lonesome harmonies with Jagger.

Gram Parsons’ version with the Flying Burrito Brothers does indeed predate the Stones’ release of the song on Sticky Fingers by a year, giving rise to unsubstantiated rumors that he deserved some songwriting credit. Among the many cover versions of the song that have been done through the years, The Sundays of “Here’s Where The Story Ends” fame checked in with a particularly memorable take, thanks to the ethereal vocals of Harriet Wheeler.

The final chorus of the song ends with Jagger changing the kicker line. Instead of the horses dragging him away, he sings, “We’ll ride them someday.” Some might say it’s a hopeful ending, but it also sounds like the kind of thing someone would say as parting words to a loved one they won’t be seeing again. This kind of poignancy isn’t what we often consider when we think of The Rolling Stones.

Gram Parsons passed away on this day September 19th in 1973, American singer songwriter pianist and guitarist, Best known for his work in the Country Rock genre, besides being a solo artist he worked with several notable bands The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Byrds, his short career blending country and rock made him a influential artist,
Parsons joined the Byrds in 1968 playing a pivotal role in the making of “Sweetheart Of The Radio” album.

220px-TheByrdsSweetheartoftheRodeo

After leaving the Byrds later that year he and fellow Byrdsman Chris Hillman formed the Flying Burrito Brothers releaseing their classic debut “The Gilded Palace Of Sin” then a second album “Burrito Deluxe”.

theflyingburrito

Parsons was then fired from the band and signed to A&M and recorded sessions for a projected solo album, He then went to live in France at Ville Nelcote with Friend Keith Richards. Returning to America he befriended Emmylou Harris who provided backing vocals on his first solo album GP,and a further solo album Grievous Angel. Drug abuse seriously affected his health and he was found unresponsive in his hotel bedroom suffering Morphine and alcohol poisoning, he died in September 1973 at the young age of 26. he would spend time and weekends away in the Joshua Tree National Park