Gram Parsons (1946 – 1973)
Gram Parsons was born Cecil Ingram Connors on November 5, 1946 in Winterhaven, Florida. His parents were Avis Snively Connors, (whose family made a fortune in the citrus business) and Cecil “Coon Dog” Connors, of Waycross, Georgia. Gram’s father died on Christmas Day, 1959. Two years later his mother Avis married Robert Ellis Parsons of New Orleans, who formally adopted then 15 year old Gram and his younger sister Avis. Cecil Ingram Connor became Gram Parsons.
Gram’s first band, when he was 12 years old, was The Pacers. They played mainly Buddy Holly music. His next band, The Legends, was a folk group with Jim Stafford and Kent Lavoie. Shiloh, with Paul Surratt, Joe Kelly and George Wrigley, was formed in 1963.
In 1965, Gram briefly attended Harvard University. From all accounts, he spent more time on music then he did on college. During this time, Gram met his freshman advisor, Reverend James Ellison Thomas (“Jet” ), who would become a close friend. While at Harvard, Gram formed the original International Submarine Band and then moved out to Los Angeles to record “Safe at Home”, produced by Lee Hazelwood.
In 1968, he joined the Byrds and recorded “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”, their only country album and a classic today. Gram left the Byrds prior to their South African tour and formed the Flying Burrito Brothers in 1969 with Chris Hillman, Chris Ethridge, Sneaky Pet Kleinow and later Michael Clarke. They recorded “Gilded Palace of Sin” and toured the Southwest, along with playing local gigs. In 1970, the Burritos recorded “Burrito Deluxe”.
Later in 1970, Gram had a motorcycle accident and left the band. He married model Gretchen Burrell, in a ceremony performed by Jet Thomas. They honeymooned at Disneyland. The Parsons’ spent time with friends in Europe and the United States. Gram hung around the Rolling Stones while they were recording “Exile on Main Street” and his influence on them can be seen in their more country flavored songs, such as “Country Honk”, “Dead Flowers” and “Wild Horses.”
In 1972, Gram met Emmylou Harris. He asked her out to California to do harmonies on his first solo album, “GP”, for Warner Bros. Also recruited for the album were three members of Elvis Presley’s band, James Burton, Glen D Hardin and Ronnie Tutt. Barry Tashian was enlisted as well. Burton, Hardin and Tashian would all go on to be members of Emmylou’s Hot Band.
1973 found Gram, Emmylou and the Fallen Angels touring the U.S. and recording “Grievous Angel.”
September 19, 1973, while on vacation, Gram died in a motel in Joshua Tree, CA, a hauntingly beautiful part of the Mojave/Sonoran Deserts. The coroner ruled “natural causes.” Phil Kaufman stole the body and burned it in the Joshua Tree National Monument, fulfilling a pact that he and Gram had made.
In January 1974, Grievous Angel was released.
The long list of musicians Gram Parson influenced includes but is not limited to Elvis Costello, U2, Rodney Crowell, Dave Edmunds, The Jayhawks, Marty Stuart, Black Crowes, The Lemonheads, Nick Lowe, Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, Tom Petty, The Eagles, The Rolling Stones and of course, Emmylou Harris, who carried his musical vision to fruition and beyond.
Why Gram Parsons never achieved fame is a mystery. His songwriting, voice and his choice of musicians was a winning combination. Even in death, he was eclipsed by Jim Croce (of “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” fame), who died the day after Gram and received the media attention that still eluded Parsons.
For further reading, try “Gram Parsons: A Music Biography” by Sid Griffin, “Hickory Wind: The Life and Times of Gram Parsons” by Ben Fong-Torres and “Road Mangler Deluxe” by Phil Kaufman.
- Gram Parsons The Early Years 1963-1965 – Sierra Briar SRS8702
- Gram Parsons – Shiloh SLP 4088
- Sweetheart Of The Rodeo – The Byrds – Columbia 9670
- The Gilded Palace of Sin – The Flying Burrito Brothers – A&M SP 3122
- Close Up the Honky Tonks – The Flying Burrito Brothers – 1968-1972 – A&M SP-3631
- GP – Warner MS2123
- Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels-Live 1973 – Sierra GP1973
- Grievous Angel – Reprise MS2171
- Sleepless Nights – A&M SP4578
- They can be reached at
- Sierra Records
- P.O. Box 5853
- Pasadena, CA 91117
- Fax: 626-355-4065