Li'l Gram in the 4th Grade- photo by Chrissy Wilson, courtesy of Stanley Booth
by Jason Gross (July 2001)
Much as I admire this Georgia native, I have to take exception to his' invention' of country-rock. If people want to blame him for the Eagles, Poco and such, that's fine with me as someone should have to answer for these horrendous crimes. But to say that he cooked up the idea is a slap in the face to Buck Owens, Hank Thompson and most every Western Swing band of the '30's, who all used electric guitars and drums even though Grand Ole Opry frowned up such a thing. Damn it, Buck covered Chuck Berry, had the Beatles cover a song of his and had Bowie steal a phrase from him ("Wham bam, thank you ma'am!"). Gram never even made it on to Hee Haw, for chrissake! And just about all of this happened before GP had his International Submarine Band.
Nevertheless, GP's minions do have a point. When he performed CPR on the Byrds and flew with the Burrito Bros., he did help to serve notice that vocal-twangs, steel guitars and a certain sense of longing that'd been lacking for a while were all good grist for rock. As the Sixties were wrapping up, rock had become, for better and worse, fancified beyond recognition of what Elvis, Chuck, Fats, L'il Richard, Jerry Lee and crew all intended. Gram's rehaul might be seen as some kind of conservative reaction to the 'progress' that was going on- even a lot of the back-to-the-basics garage bands didn't have roots that stretched back before Eisenhower. Still, it was a ballsy move that cut against the grain at that time. Even though the idea didn't translate into squat sales-wise, enough crum-bums in the West Coast music world took note that there was something happening here. Again, considering what bland, soul-less music came out of that (feeding not just Don Henley's coke habit but also Garth Brooks king-sized ego), I'm not sure so sure that we should name streets after him or construct statues for pigeons to shit on.
The GP that I admire is a genre-bender and God knows, we always need lot of 'em 'cause we've all had enough revivals, complacent competency and phony torch-bearers. Nobody who does this kind of work (well, I should say) thinks to himself "I'm gonna change the world!" Instead you have inspired trail-blazers who willfully tear shit up according to their whims. Even more than his string bending, I admire Jimi Hendrix for the way he trashed different styles more than he did his amps- even on his first platter, you heard rock, pop, funk, psych, blues and a bunch of things that weren't (aren't!) chartable. Same thing for Ray Charles making church music into make-out music or relocating Nashville to the Apollo. Gram kicked rock off its high-horse back to the barns, bordellos and baptisms from where it sprung up, for better and worse.
With that in mind, we pay tribute to GP with interviews from old friend (and soon to be biographer) Stanley Booth, James Austin at Rhino Records (who recently put together the collection Anthology: Sacred Hearts & Fallen Angels), biographer Sid Griffin (also of the famed Long Ryders) and Peter Blackstock of No Depression magazine. In addition, we have an in-depth look at his song "$1000 Wedding," an examination of Gram's roots, a personal reminiscence about Gram, some contrary words from Mekon/Waco Brother Jon Langford, Bud Scoppa's modified notes that went along with the Gram tribute record Return of the Grievous Angel (Alamo Sounds) and an excerpt from noted writer Ben Fong-Torres' biography, Hickory Wind.
Roots and Branches Stanley Booth A Personal Reminisce Peter Blackstock Bud Scoppa tribute notes James Austin "$1000 Wedding" Sid Griffin Jon Langford Ben Fong-Torres book excerpt
Also see this separate Gram Parsons article on our site
and a review of Johnny Rogan's Byrds bio with extensive Gram info
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