GRAM PARSONS – GRIEVOUS ANGEL
Released January 1974- 42 years ago
Recorded just weeks before his overdose death, Parsons 2nd solo album is essentially a duet release with Emmylou Harris who sings on all but one song. Considered one of the best releases in an absolutely stellar catalogue, Grievous Angel helped lay the groundwork for the alt.country movement of the early 90s.
The Classic Pick is a weekly feature at 4pm M-F on The Home Stretch, sponsored by the Good Oak Bar and curated by Kris Kerry. Each Monday at 4pm Kris stops by KXCI’s studio to give us insight on this classic album at 91.3FM and kxci.org.
Grievous Angel was compiled from recording sessions in the summer of 1973 and released just four months after his death from a heroin overdose (morphine by some accounts) in September of 1973. While it has received widespread critical acclaim since its release, Grievous Angel failed to find initial commercial success. A fate shared by his previous efforts with The Flying Burrito Brothers (releasing albums in 1969, ’70 and ’71) and International Submarine Band (released in 1968).
Parsons’ only real stint in the major spotlight during his life came with The Byrds. After the release of International Submarine Band’s Safe At Home, Parsons had come to the attention of Byrd’s manager who was looking for a possible replacement for David Crosby and Michal Clark departure from the group in 1967. While Parsons was not considered a full band member by the Byrds label, Columbia Records, he exerted a controlling influence over the group and persuaded them to leave Los Angeles and record Sweethearts of the Rodeo in Nashville, Tennessee. After a short stint touring with the Byrds, Parsons left the band and soon thereafter formed The Flying Burrito Brothers. Sweethearts of the Rodeo remains one of the most important early country-rock records ever released.
Grievous Angel was recorded in a few short weeks in the summer of 1973 at Wally Heider Studio 4 in Hollywood, California. This studio was a branch of the Wally Heider studio in San Francisco. These studios saw the recording of a significant number of Rolling Stone’s Top 500 albums of all time, including releases by Jefferson Airplane, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Crosby, Stills & Nash, T. Rex, Credence Clearwater Revival, Fleetwood Mac and the Greatful Dead.Production credit goes to Parsons himself.
Tucson connection: Gram Parsons was managed by Eddie Tickner, who lived his last years in Tucson. Tickner died in 2006 from Lukemia at the age of 76. Along with Parsons, he also represented The Byrds, Emmylou Harris, Etta James, Rodney Crowell, and The Flying Burrito Brothers among others. Tickner was widely respected in the music business and many of his acts helped shape what country rock, folk rock, and alt.country.
Tucson connection II: Linda Ronstadt sung background vocals on “In My Hour of Darkness.”
While Parsons is associated most with Los Angeles, he was born in Florida and formed the International Submarine Band in Boston, while he was a student at Harvard University studying theology. The story goes that he hadn’t been interested much in country music, prior to hearing Merle Haggard’s debut album.
In between Parsons’ time with The Flying Burrito Brothers and the recording of GP and Grevious Angel, he toured the UK with the Rolling Stones in 1971 supporting the release of Sticky Fingers. After a while, Parsons was asked to leave due to drug use and consistent quarrelling with his girlfriend. However, Keith Richard’s autobiography suggests he may have been asked to leave as Mick Jagger was jealous of Richards and Parsons getting along so well and playing/writing music together. Indeed, The Stones most “country” album, Exile on Main St., was released just after Parsons time with the Stones. Many believe that Parsons is likely one of the un-credited chorus members on “Sweet Virginia” and other places on the album.
Supposedly, Grievous Angel was to be released as “Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris,” featuring a photo of both of Parsons and Harris, but Parsons’ widow had been jealous of Emmylou Harris and moved her name from the album to the credits and replaced the photo with a portrait of Parsons alone.
The live recording of “Cash on the Barrelhead/Hickory Wind” wasn’t recorded live in Northern Quebec as stated in album credits, but was the band recording live in the studio with a handful of friends whooping up to create a honky-tonk atmosphere.
Although he has received three nominations, Parsons is not in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Also, he is not in the Country Music Hall of Fame, although his famed Nudie suit bedecked with marijuana leaves, poppy flowers, and pills.