It is difficult to imagine a true fan of country music who is not familiar with Gram Parsons. Working primarily in the 1960s, Parsons was able to blend country with other genres such as blues, folk, and rock and roll. He was a gifted singer, but also knew his way around both a guitar and a piano. He also possessed a depth of familiarity with his chosen field, able to embody the styles that made country music famous in Nashville, Texas, and Bakersfield, CA.
Gram Parsons performed a number of songs as a solo artist, but he also recorded with a few popular bands as well. His blend of country and rock was well-suited to musical acts such as the International Submarine Band and the Flying Burrito Brothers, but he also played with more mainstream rock outfit the Byrds. While working with the Byrds, Parsons met other influential bands with whom the Byrds played, and he even spent some time living with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.
While Parsons was highly influential in the field of country music, his short life span (he died when he was just 26 years old) ensured that his actual output of songs was relatively small. That said, Emmylou Harris, with whom he toured prior to his death in 1973, has kept a few of his songs such as “Wheels,” “Hickory Wind,” and “Sin City” in the public consciousness. Harris has also written songs in tribute to Parsons, such as “Boulder to Birmingham,” which she recorded just two years after his death.
Since Keith Richards lived with Parsons for a time, there is some knowledge regarding the country rock star’s approach to songwriting. According to Richards, Parsons would usually come up with a couple of chords before playing around with lyrics, and he would continue from there to see how much he could come up with. After he had a fair amount of music and lyrics to work with, he would spend some time trying to cut his new song down to the bare essentials in order to keep the music as tight as possible.
Other groups have paid tribute to Parsons as well. The Eagles paid tribute to him with “My Man,” and Poco paid tribute to him with “Crazy Eyes.” In fact, the eponymous album in which “Crazy Eyes” appears also contains a cover of the song “Brass Buttons,” which was originally written by Parsons himself. Poco’s homage is made particularly somber by the fact that it had intended to pay tribute to the musician while he was still living, but Parsons would die just four days after its release.
Although Parsons’ impact on the world of rock and country music is generally undisputed, he has not been inducted into the Hall of Fame for either genre. However, one of his suits can be seen on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee. Many have lobbied for his posthumous induction, with a petition presented to the Country Music Association in 2008. On the fortieth anniversary of Parsons’ death, the number of people who had signed the petition was greater than ten thousand.
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