September 19, 1973 – Gram Parsons was born Cecil Ingram Connor III on November 5, 1946 in Winter Haven Florida, near Orlando. He became a very influential member of The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers, but died tragically from an overdose of morphine and alcohol at the age of 26 on September 19, 1973. Phil “The Mangler” Kaufman, his one time road manager hijacked his corpse from LAX tarmac, drove it up to Joshua Tree and lit it on fire as was previously agreed between the two.
Very proficient as singer, songwriter, guitarist and pianist; in his early teens he played in rock and roll cover bands such as the Pacers and the Legends, at 16 he turned 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. He went on to be a member of the International Submarine Band, The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers and was later a solo artist who recorded and performed duets with Emmylou Harris.
His influence on the Byrds musical output became crystal clear with their 1968 Sweetheart of the Rodeo album, with in turn gave way to country cross-overs like the Flying Burrito Brothers and the super stardom introduction of the Eagles.
An interesting tidbit comes after Gram Parsons first meets the Stones and Keith Richards. This took place in 1968 while the Byrds were touring Europe in support of their landmark “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” record. This is documented in the book “Gram Parsons: A Music Biography by Sid Griffin” Published by Sierra Books, Copyright 1985. Quote from page 20 of the paperback edition: “The Byrds were in London to play a benefit at the Royal Albert Hall. On the morning after the show, Parsons told McGuinn, Chris Hillman and then-Byrds drummer Kevin Kelly he was not going to South Africa under any circumstances. Parsons left the group and stayed in London while the Byrds flew to South Africa…” also quote:”Gram met Keith Richards in London and stayed with him for a spell, turning the Stones onto country music. Suddenly songs like ‘Dear Doctor’, ‘Country Honk’, and ‘Dead Flowers’ became part of the Stones’ repertoire”. There is a second book called “Hickory Wind: The life and Times of Gram Parsons” Published by Pocket Books, Copyright 1991 which is also very good reference on the life and times of this significant influence on the Rolling Stones. The life and music of the late Gram Parsons is essential learning material for any student of The Rolling Stones that is interested in understanding one of their strongest influences during “The Golden Era”.
Since his death, he has been credited with helping to found both country rock and alt-country and in 2004 Rolling Stone ranked him No.87 on their list of the 100 Most Influential Artists of All Time (He died of morphine and alcohol overdose in a hotel room in Joshua Tree, California).
A Typical Southern Story
Ingram Cecil Connor III was born on November 5, 1946, in Winter Haven, Florida, to Ingram Cecil (“Coon Dog”) and Avis (née Snively) Connor. The Connors normally resided at their main residence in Waycross, Georgia, but Avis traveled to her hometown in Florida to give birth. She was the daughter of citrus fruit magnate John A. Snively, who held extensive properties in Winter Haven and in Waycross. Parsons’ father was a famous World War II flying ace, decorated with the Air Medal, who was present at the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Biographer David Meyer characterized Parson’s parents as loving, writing in Twenty Thousand Roads that they are “remembered as affectionate parents and a loving couple”. However, he also notes that “unhappiness was eating away at the Connor family”: Avis suffered from depression, and both parents were alcoholics. Parsons’ father committed suicide two days before Christmas in 1958, devastating the 12 year old Gram and his younger sister, Little Avis. Avis subsequently married Robert Parsons, whose surname was adopted by Gram and his sister. Gram attended the prestigious Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida. For a time, the family found a stability of sorts. They were torn apart in early 1965, when Robert became embroiled in an extramarital affair and Avis’ heavy drinking led to her death from cirrhosis on July 5, 1965, the day of Gram’s graduation from Bolles.
As his family disintegrated around him, Parsons developed strong musical interests, particularly after seeing Elvis Presley perform in concert on February 22, 1956, in Waycross. Five years later, while barely in his teens, he played in 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, in Greenville, South Carolina. 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.
After The Shilos broke up, Parsons attended Harvard University, where he studied theology but departed after one semester. Despite being from the South, he did not become seriously interested in country music until his time at Harvard, where he heard Merle Haggard for the first time. In 1966, he and other musicians from the Boston folk scene formed a group called the International Submarine Band. They relocated to Los Angeles the following year, and after several lineup changes signed to Lee Hazlewood’s LHI Records, where they spent late 1967 recording Safe at Home. The album contains one of Parsons’ best-known songs, “Luxury Liner”, and an early version of “Do You Know How It Feels”, which he revisited later on in his career. Safe at Home would remain unreleased until mid-1968, by which time the International Submarine Band had broken up. When David Crosby and Michael Clarke left the Byrds, Gram Parsons became involved with the Byrds.