country rock


The Father of Country Rock and the man Radley Balko called “the most influential artist yet to be inducted to either the Rock and Roll Country Music Hall(s) of Fame.”


Cecil Ingram Connor III


November 5, 1946


Winter Haven, FL


September 19, 1973


an overdose of morphine and tequila

Recording History:

  • Shilos: 1963-65
  • International Submarine Band: 1966-68
  • Byrds: 1968
  • Flying Burrito Brothers: 1968-70
  • Solo: 1970-73

The Studio Albums:

The International Submarine Band: Safe at Home (1968) Byrds: Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968) Flying Burrito Brothers: The Gilded Palace of Sin (1969) Flying Burrito Brothers: Burrito Deluxe (1970) Gram Parsons: G.P. (1972) Gram Parsons: Grievous Angel (1973)



Gram Parsons


Gram Parsons has become known as “the father of country-rock” STE and he was certainly so adept at blending the two genres “that they became indistinguishable from each other.” WK Radley Balko wrote that “Parsons may be the most influential artist yet to be inducted to either the Rock and Roll Country Music Hall(s) of Fame. And it's a damned shame.” WK

However, Parsons called his mix of blues, folk and rock “Cosmic American Music.” WK “With the International Submarine Band, the Byrds, and the Flying Burrito Brothers, Parsons pioneered the concept of a rock band playing country music, and as a solo artist he moved even further into country music, blending the two genres to the point that they became indistinguishable from each other. While he was alive, Parsons was a cult figure [who] never sold many records, but influenced countless fellow musicians, from the Rollings Stones to the Byrds. In the years since his death, his stature has only grown, as numerous rock and country artists build on his small, but enormously influential, body of work.” STE

Early Years (1946-66):

Parsons “emerged from a wealthy but troubled childhood.” WK His father, “Coon Dog” Connor, was a World War II flying ace present at the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. WK Parsons’ mother, Avis, was the daughter of John Snivley, “who owned about one-third of all the citrus fields in Florida.” STE She “suffered from depression, and both parents were alcoholics.” WK

At 9, Parsons learned to play piano. He decided to be a musician after seeing Elvis Presley perform at his school. STE Two days before Christmas in 1958, Parsons’ father committed suicide. WK “After Connor’s death, Parsons and his mother moved in with her parents in Winter Haven, FL; a year after the move, his mother married Robert Parsons.” STE

“For a time, the family found a stability of sorts.” WK During his teens, Parsons worked with “rock and roll cover bands such as the Pacers and the Legends, headlining in clubs owned by his stepfather in the Winter Haven/Polk County area. By the age of 16 he graduated to folk music, and in 1963 he teamed with his first professional outfit, the Shilos. Heavily influenced by the Kingston Trio and the Journeymen, the band played hootenannies, coffee houses and high school auditoriums. Forays into New York City’s Greenwich Village included appearances at The Bitter End.” WK

In 1965, Robert had an extramarital affair and Avis died of alcohol poisoning – on the same day Gram graduated from the prestigious Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida. WK Then “Parsons enrolled at Harvard, where he studied theology.” STE In his one semester there, “he spent more time playing music than attending classes.” STE Interestingly, it wasn’t until his Harvard days that Parsons became interested in country music, specifically when he heard Merle Haggard for the first time. WK

International Submarine Band (1966-68):

Parsons “formed the International Submarine Band with guitarist John Nuese, bassist Ian Dunlop and drummer Mickey Gauvin.” STE they moved to New York and spent a year there “developing a heavily country-influenced rock & roll sound and cutting two unsuccessful singles for Columbia. The band relocated to Los Angeles in 1967, where they secured a record contract with Lee Hazlewood’s LHI record label. The group’s debut album, Safe at Home, was released in early 1968, but by the time it appeared in the stores, the group had already disbanded.” STE

The Byrds (1968):

“Around the time the International Submarine Band dissolved, Parsons met Chris Hillman, the bassist for the Byrds. At that time, the Byrds were rebuilding their lineup” STE after the departures of David Crosby and Michael Clarke. Hillman suggested Parsons, who was recruited to be a pianist initially, but later switched to rhythm guitar and vocals. WK The Byrds’ leader, Roger McGuinn, initially conceived the group’s next project as a double album which journeyed through American music such as bluegrass, country, jazz, R&B, rock, and electronic music. WK However, “McGuinn’s original…concept was jettisoned in favor of a fully fledged country project,” WK the Sweetheart of the Rodeo album. Parsons “was largely responsible for the group’s shift towards country music.” STE

Parsons was technically hired as a sideman and received a salary from Hillman and McGuinn, the only members who were officially signed to the Byrds’ Columbia contract in 1968. Still, Parsons was originally intended to be the lead singer, but contractual obligations meant most of his vocals were replaced by McGuinn. Parsons was “still featured as lead vocalist on the songs You’re Still on My Mind, Life in Prison, and Hickory Wind.” WK The “move that was still rankling Parsons as late as 1973.” WK

“Gram Parsons only spent a few months with the Byrds, leaving the band in the fall of 1968 because he refused to accompany them on a tour of South Africa, allegedly because he opposed apartheid.” STE Hillman, however, has cast doubt “over the sincerity of Parsons’ protest.” WK

Flying Burrito Brothers (1968-70):

When the Byrds’ Chris Hillman also left, he and Parsons hooked up again to form the Flying Burrito Brothers in late 1968. They “enlisted pedal steel guitarist ‘Sneaky’ Pete Kleinow and bassist Chris Ethridge.” STE The group’s debut was recorded “with a series of session drummers” STE but original Byrd Michael Clarke was eventually enlisted on drums. The group’s 1969’s The Gilded Palace of Sin, “was a modernized version of the Bakersfield style of country music made popular by Buck Owens.” WK The album featured covers and Parsons-Hillman originals.

It failed commercially, only selling a few thousand copies, STE but “the group gathered a dedicated cult following, which was mainly composed of musicians, including the Rolling Stones. In fact, by the time the album was released, Parsons had begun hanging around the Rolling Stones frequently and became close friends with Keith Richards. Prior to his time with the Stones, Parsons had experimented with drugs and alcohol, but in 1969 he dove deep into substance abuse, which he supported with his huge trust fund.” STE

The Flying Burrito Brothers hastily recorded a follow-up, but Parsons’ drug use and partying with the Stones meant he devoted little time to any new songs. WK His relationship with the Stones did get them booked as the opening act for them, though; unfortunately it was for the infamous Altamont Music Festival. WK

The album which emerged from this time, 1970’s Burrito Deluxe, “is considered less inspired than its predecessor, but it is notable for the Parsons-Hillman-Leadon song Older Guys and for its take on Jagger and Richards’ Wild Horses – the first recording released of this famous song. Parsons was inspired to cover the song after hearing an advance tape of the Sticky Fingers album.” WK Burrito Deluxe was also a poor seller, “but faced the double whammy of being lambasted by critics. Disenchanted with the band, Parsons left the Burritos in mutual agreement with Hillman, who was at his wits end after two years of babysitting Gram.” WK

Solo (1970-73):

Shortly after his departure from the Flying Burrito Brothers, “Parsons signed a solo deal with A&M Records and moved in with producer Terry Melcher in early 1970…The two shared a mutual penchant for cocaine and heroin, and as a result, the sessions were largely unproductive, with Parsons eventually losing interest in the project” WK and never completing what was to have been his 1971 solo debut. Then “Parsons entered a holding pattern were he acted the role of being a rock star instead of actually playing music.” STE He moved to France, where he spent time hanging out with the Stones and lived with Richards for a short time. WK He toured with them in England in 1971 and “attended the recording of the band’s Exile on Main Street.” STE

“Parsons remained in a consistently incapacitated state” WK “ingesting large amounts of drugs and alcohol” STE “and frequently quarreled with his much younger girlfriend, aspiring actress Gretchen Burrell. Eventually, Parsons was asked to leave by Anita Pallenberg, Richards’ longtime domestic partner.” WK

By 1972, Parsons returned to Los Angeles to take another stab at a solo album. Emmylou Harris, who would go on to be a successful country singer, met him through Hillman and assisted on vocals for Parsons’ first album. Also featured in his backing band were “guitarist James Burton, bassist Rick Grech, Barry Tashian, Glen D. Hardin, and Ronnie Tutt.” STE He asked Merle Haggard to produce the album, but eventually turned to Hugh Davis, Haggard’s engineer, after Haggard turned him down. STE “The resulting album, G.P., was released late in 1972 to good reviews but poor sales.” STE It featured “the guitar-playing of James Burton (sideman to Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson), and featured new songs from a creatively revitalized Parsons.” WK

“Parsons, by now featuring Harris as his duet partner, played dates across the United States as Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels.” WK “After the tour was completed, they entered the studio to record his second album, Grievous Angel. The album was completed toward the end of the summer.” STE

The Last Hurrah for the Grievous Angel (1973):

“A few weeks after the sessions, Parsons went on a vacation near the Joshua Tree National Monument in California.” STE He had become enamored with the place in the late ‘60s and “alone or with friends, he would disappear in the desert for days searching for UFOs while under the influence of psilocybin or LSD.” WK He decided to get in another visit before his tour launched in October 1973, but “died September 19, 1973 in Joshua Tree, California at the age of 26 from an overdose of morphine and alcohol.” WK

“Parsons’ stepfather arranged for a private ceremony back in New Orleans and neglected to invite any of his friends from the music industry.” WK However, Phil Kaufman (Parsons’ road manager) and a friend stole the body from the Los Angeles International Airport in a borrowed hearse WK with the intent to fulfill Parsons’ wish to have his body cremated at Joshua Tree. WK The pair poured tried “pouring five gallons of gasoline into the open coffin and throwing a lit match inside. What resulted was an enormous fireball…The two were arrested several days later. Since there was no law against stealing a dead body, they were only fined $750 for stealing the coffin and were not prosecuted for leaving 35 lbs of his charred remains in the desert.” WK

“In the two decades following Gram Parsons’ death, his legacy continued to grow, as both country and rock musicians built on the music he left behind. Everyone from Emmylou Harris to Elvis Costello has covered his songs and his influence could still be heard well into the next millennium.” STE

Biography Source(s):

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Last updated September 19, 2011.