Country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons died on Sept. 19, 1973, in Joshua Tree, leaving behind both a slew of devastated friends and fans and a trove of music that helped build the template for the whole Americana movement.
Exactly four decades later, many of those fans are still lobbying for his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame, institutions that have resisted including him.
Parsons was a mercurial figure, one whose embrace of rock 'n' roll attitude and country music tradition created skepticism about him in both camps.
But his legacy has only grown over time. Here are six of his performances that demonstrate why his music is still treasured by former collaborators, including Emmylou Harris, whose career was launched by her recordings with Parsons, and Rolling Stones guitarist-songwriter Keith Richards, who befriended Parsons in the late 1960s.
The official Gram Parsons website features a quote from Richards about his friend prominently at the top of the homepage: “He loved country music, but he really didn't like the country music business and didn't think it should be angled just at Nashville. The music's bigger than that. It should touch everybody.”
“Love Hurts”: Showing no fear to tread where Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers had gone before him, Parsons, with Harris alongside, brought full-blown anguish to Boudleaux Bryant’s ode to the pain that only love can inflict.
“In My Hour of Darkness”: Parsons is joined on this track from his “Grievous Angel” album by Harris, who co-wrote the song with him, and Linda Ronstadt.
“Hot Burrito #1”: Parsons wrote this lament of love gone bad with Flying Burrito Brothers bandmate Chris Ethridge:
“That’s All It Took”: Another stellar duet with Harris on a classic honky-tonk number that was a 1966 hit for George Jones and Gene Pitney.
“Sin City”: One of the numbers Parsons wrote with Flying Burrito Brothers co-founder Chris Hillman, who recognized Parsons’ talent early and helped usher him in as a latter-day member of the Byrds as the folk-rock group shifted its focus to country rock with the landmark “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” album. Hillman once said: “I think Gram did his best work in co-writes. Sometimes when you’re working with one other person, it’s such a magical thing. You’re editing each other and you’re trying to create that one spark.”
“Wheels”: The Parsons-Hillman song that, in retrospect, seemed to encapsulate Parsons’ meteoric life: “We’re not afraid to ride / We’re not afraid to die / C’mon wheels, take me home today / C’mon wheels take this boy away.”
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