Posts Tagged ‘Gram Parsons’

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Country music’s influence on rock ’n’ roll is nearly as old as rock itself, a dominant gene in rockabilly and vocal touchstone for seminal artists from Elvis to Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. in 1968 the rise of a school of artists consciously bridging those genres, accelerating the pace that two of the sub-genre’s defining albums would overlap in conception even as the bands creating them buckled under internal strain.

The Byrds had enjoyed first mover advantage in recording “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”, spurred on by Gram Parsons, a 21-year-old singer-songwriter whose deep love for Southern country and R&B found a kindred spirit in bassist Chris Hillman and pragmatic support from lead guitarist Roger McGuinn. Country influences were already in the air, not only in originals and covers from the Beatles, the Lovin’ Spoonful, Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds themselves, but also in up and coming artists like Bobbie Gentry and Linda Ronstadt.

Before “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” hit stores in late August, Parsons had bolted from the band on the eve of South African dates and veered into a bromance with Keith Richards that injected the Rolling Stones with country influences while fanning Parsons’ own dreams of rock glory. After hanging out in London with Richards, Parsons returned to Los Angeles in early August weighing his next move.

The Flying Burrito Brothers’ original line up: Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Gram Parsons, Chris Ethridge and Chris Hillman. The recording line up had yet to add a drummer

Meanwhile, Chris Hillman had left the Byrds’ coop after increasing tensions with management. Despite an earlier falling out with Parsons, Hillman reconciled with the Florida-born, Georgia-raised musician. The erstwhile combatants once more bonded over music and even became roommates, writing the bulk of what would become the original material on the debut for the Flying Burrito Brothers. Chris Ethridge was recruited as bassist, freeing Hillman to play guitar and mandolin, and the duo tapped Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel guitar.

The chance to snag a new band with two Byrds quickly drew competing bids from Warner Bros. and A&M Records, with A&M winning the battle. In contrast to the sessions for Sweetheart, shepherded by a seasoned producer and crack session players, the Burritos entered the studio with a big advance, a lot of ideas, a fledgling co-producer who was no match for the strong-willed Parsons and Hillman, and no drummer. The Burritos would share producer credits with A&M’s Larry Marks and engineer Henry Lewy, reflecting a more chaotic studio environment that would find them going through a collection of drummers.

Gram Parsons had envisioned the Burritos as “his” band, but The Gilded Palace of Sin, released in early February of ’69, underscores the partnership between Parsons and Hillman, who co-wrote six of the album’s eight originals. The opening track, “Christine’s Tune,” finds them sharing lead vocals and driving acoustic rhythm guitars, with harmonies built on classic thirds that harken back to the Louvin Brothers, the Everlys and other high, lonesome harmony singers. An overly ripe bassline evidently designed to emphasize rock power loses its edge to muddiness, but Sneaky Pete’s pedal steel commands centre stage with an aggressive, fuzz-toned attack and his own unorthodox tunings.

A stop-motion animator and special effects craftsman, Kleinow provides a potent departure from the more traditional steel parts heard on Sweetheart, leaning here into the rock side of the sub-genre’s equation. Kleinow unleashes that power elsewhere on Gilded Palace while proving his skill with more traditional accents on the ballads, starting with “Sin City,” a country waltz that trades in the sin and salvation polarity central to Parsons’ vision for an amalgam of country, rhythm ’n’ blues and rock.

Its synthesis of country soundscape with urban modernism strikes an apocalyptic tone. “On the thirty-first floor, a gold-plated door won’t keep out the Lord’s burning rain,” the duo sings in a prophesy that warns “this old earthquake’s gonna leave me in the poor house.” They could be singing about L.A. or Las Vegas; heard today, it’s hard not to envision the gilded escalators in Trump Tower.

The R&B component in Parsons’ “cosmic” Southern synthesis leads him back to Memphis, source for Sweetheart’s countrified R&B cover (“You Don’t Miss Your Water”). this time yielding two superb ballads sharing lyrics from Dan Penn. “Do Right Woman,” written with Chips Moman, was a sensuous Aretha Franklin cut demanding equal sexual satisfaction from her man, a contract that survives its gender flip as another gliding country waltz. Instead of changing the mood or their compass bearings, the Burritos follow with the darker sexual torment of “Dark End of the Street,” a Penn collaboration with Spooner Oldham. Parsons dominates the vocals with an audible anguish over a locked battle between passion and guilt for two lovers “hiding in shadows where we don’t belong,” resigned to the inevitability of discovery and shame in a tableau of illicit love familiar in both country and soul tropes.

For two self-referential album tracks, Parsons wrote with Chris Ethridge. “Hot Burrito #1” is another soulful ballad that dispenses with any hint of sexual guilt to remind an ex-lover that “I’m the one who showed you how/To do the things you’re doing now” in frank sexual metaphors. With “Hot Burrito #2,” Ethridge grounds the track in a strutting bassline as Parsons rants about a lover’s quarrel with an eyebrow-raising opening “Yes, you loved me and you sold all my clothes.” If the lyrics verge on incoherence, the track itself is a lively standout.

Elsewhere, Parsons and Hillman nod to the tension between their music’s Southern roots and their countercultural instincts. On “My Uncle,” Hillman takes the lead on vocals and mandolin as a young American pondering the draft who’s “heading for the nearest northern border” against a fleet bluegrass backdrop. And on the closing “Hippie Boy,” Hillman reverses roles for a poker-faced, spoken word sermon as a redneck whose encounter with a hippie brings something like peace, love, understanding and the sage advice to “never carry more than you can eat.”

With the album completed, the Burritos recruited a third Byrd, drummer Michael Clarke, but chaotic behavior sabotaged supporting tour dates as they burned through the label’s advance, missing a crucial New York date. The Gilded Palace of Sin stalled on the Billboard chart, considerably worse than Sweetheart’s disappointing tally months earlier. The addition of Bernie Leadon would strengthen them musically, but Gram Parsons was already restless. He would leave “his” band after the Burritos completed a scattershot follow-up, Burrito Deluxe.

Thanks Sam Sutherland

Co-founded by former Byrds members Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons, the Flying Burrito Brothers formed their own massive country-rock family tree: Rick Roberts, the band’s guitarist in the early ’70s, later fronted Firefall; guitarist Bernie Leadon left for the Eagles; and pedal-steel guitarist “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow recorded with just about any pop or rock artist who craved a little twang. The Burritos only released one album in the ’60s, but it’s enough to warrant their inclusion: 1969’s ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’ is a high watermark of the genre, adding elements of psychedelia and gospel to their country core.

On the heels of recent releases including the first-ever reissue of Gene Clark’s classic A&M album White Light, Intervention Records has turned its attention once more to a group of California legends with ties to The Byrds: The Flying Burrito Brothers.  Following its previous release of the Burritos’ debut “The Gilded Palace of Sin” on both hybrid SACD and deluxe vinyl, Intervention will reissue the band’s sophomore LP, “Burrito Deluxe”, in those formats.  The 180-gram vinyl LP will arrive by October, .

Burrito Deluxe marked the second and final album by the country-rock pioneers to feature founding member Gram Parsons.  Drummer Michael Clarke, late of Gene Clark’s duo with Doug Dillard, came on board along with another Dillard and Clark alumnus, guitarist Bernie Leadon.  Chris Hillman, who played guitar on Gilded Palace, moved over to bass to replace Chris Ethridge.  Pedal steel guitarist “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow continued to round out the roster.

The sad story of the Flying Burrito Brothers is that they were always far, far ahead of their time. Hillman “We had always hoped the band would become as successful as the Byrds were, but it never happened. We never had a hit single . . . just a lot of ups and downs. It was a magical, very productive period in my life. But nobody was really ready for us. Now, even the new Flying Burrito Brothers are doing all right. I do really suspect their motive, though. It’s like me hiring four other guys and calling myself the Byrds. My point, though, is what we were doing is real popular now. For God’s sake, I watch these groups with their rhinestone suits on, singing out of tune, playing shitty, and they’re being accepted. It breaks my heart. “We all worked so hard with that band. Goddamn it, we deserved success.”

Like most bands in their position, the Flying Burrio Brothers splintered out of desperation. Chris Hillman was helping Stephen Stills with his third solo album at the time of the final breakup. When Stills promptly offered him a partnership in Manassas, it seemed a comfortable solution to post-Burrito depression. “We were always more of a band than people thought,” Hillman recalls fondly. “Stills wouldn’t have been the same without us, that’s for sure. Stills was playing a concert in Cleveland with the Memphis Horns. I was sitting in the audience, going, ‘Jesus Christ. They’re making 25,000 bucks and they’re shitty. The Burritos are better than this.’( Rolling Stone ’72)

Like the first album, Burrito Deluxe blended both band originals and cover versions – this time including Bob Dylan’s “If You Gotta Go (Go Now),” Harlan Howard and Wayne Kemp’s “Image of Me” (most closely associated with Conway Twitty), the southern gospel standard “Farther Along,” and most notably, Mick Jagger and Keith Richard’s “Wild Horses” – a year before The Rolling Stones released it themselves.  The opening track, Parsons’ “Lazy Days,” also had history as it was previously recorded by both The International Submarine Band and The Byrds, though neither version had been released at the time.  Just two months after the release of the album in April 1970, Parsons was fired from the group he founded.  He would be replaced by Rick Roberts for the band’s next LP.

Intervention’s 180-gram vinyl LP reissue has been remastered by Kevin Gray from original analog tapes (a 1/2-inch safety copy of the original stereo master), and has been pressed at RTI in an old-school Stoughton-printed “tip-on” jacket.  The artwork has been restored by Tom Vadakan and features red foil accents on the front cover.  Look for this country-rock classic on vinyl in October.

The Flying Burrito BrothersBurrito Deluxe (A&M SP-4258, 1970 – reissued Intervention Records IR-022, 2018)

Intervention Records is thrilled to announce The Flying Burrito Bros. classic 1970 sophomore effort Burrito Deluxe on 180-gram vinyl.

Burrito Deluxe is the second and final hot Burrito made while the band was still led by former Byrds member Gram Parsons. The Flying Burrito Bros. are widely viewed as the inventors of country rock and are one of the most influential bands of all time. “Burrito Deluxe” is another classic full of great tunes written and sung by Parsons and Chris Hillman.

The original LP art is restored by IR’s Tom Vadakan and the old-style, “tip-on, brown-in” LP jacket is printed by Stoughton and features super deluxe red foil accents on the front cover. For years now, we’ve touted Intervention Records’ superlative work in the vinyl reissue front.  The team’s attention to detail, impeccable artwork, and stellar sonics across genres have given them a reputation in the reissue world as one of the best.  Their established quality in the LP world happily extends to the digital realm, as well.

Is this the album that made country cool? Former Byrds Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman picked up where they left off with Sweetheart of the Rodeo with this stunning masterpiece of a debut album by The Flying Burrito Bros. While Parsons had already pushed rock in a country direction during his brief stint with The Byrds and The International Submarine Band, The Gilded Palace of Sin is why the Burritos are widely viewed as the inventors of country rock. Indeed with this album, Hillman and Parsons carved a substantial place in music history as one of the most influential albums and bands of all time.

The Gilded Palace of Sin was 100% Analog Mastered by Kevin Gray at CoHEARent Audio from the best source available- a phenomenal sounding 1/2″ safety copy of the original stereo master tapes. All of the top-end energy and “snap” of the original A&M LP is preserved, while the bass foundation is fully restored to make this new Intervention reissue the definitive listening experience for this classic LP! , For their sophomore album, the band’s original songs were joined by a country classic (“Image of Me,” popularized by Conway Twitty), a gospel standard (“Farther Along”), and tunes by Dylan (“If You Gotta Go”) and the Stones (the first recording of “Wild Horses”). “Burrito Deluxe” featured Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow, Bernie Leadon, and Michael Clarke plus guests including Leon Russell (tickling the ivories on Leadon and Parsons’ “Man in the Fog” and the Glimmer Twins’ “Wild Horses”).  It would prove Parsons’ final album with the group.

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 sound. On November. 6th in 1973: road manager Phil Kaufman & friend Michael Martin were charged & fined $300 each for the theft of a coffin containing the body of country rock singer-songwriter Gram Parsons; the court heard that the two men were merely carrying out Gram’s wishes to be cremated in the desert; the pair had stolen the body & driven it to Joshua Tree in a borrowed hearse, where they attempted to cremate it by pouring five gallons of gasoline into the open coffin & throwing a lit match inside, resulting in an enormous fireball…

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.

many thanks to Elyssa East

Gram Parsons biographies.


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.