RICHARD BAKER WENT TO
GRAM GETS HIS DUE IN
an avid Gram Parsons fan since 1968 means that I have not had much company in my
admiration for many of those years. Sure,
there has always been the cult following - the musicians and visionaries who
bought the 40,000 copies of The Gilded
Palace of Sin, the members of the Gram Parsons Memorial Foundation and its publication, The
Cosmic American Music News (CAMN), and the Emmylou Harris aficionados, who
got into Gram’s music through Emmy’s consistent recognition of Gram’s
musical impact – but for the most part, whenever I used to drop Gram’s name,
I was met with “Who?”, or “Yeah, I really dig Graham Parker”, or “Wasn’t
he with The Eagles?”.
the mid-1980’s, however, there has been a gradual but consistent increase in
name and influence recognition for Gram. The
Alt-Country Movement (God, he would have hated this moniker) and the Tributes in
Nashville from the late 80’s, spearheaded by the late Argyle Bell and Fredda
Joiner, gave musicians the opportunity to play Gram’s music live and for the
fans to hear it, which was obviously something Gram had been unable to do since
the early-90’s, the last of the CAMN sponsored
Tributes occurred in
New York City
, with guidance and inspiration from the late John DeCesare, Holly
George-Warren, and myself. Tributes
at Joshua Tree,
began to become annual events. With
the publication of Ben Fong-Torres’, Hickory
Wind in 1991, a wider market was reached.
The advent of the Internet and Larry Klug’s Gram web site reached a
world-wide audience. And last but
certainly not least, there has been the unwavering support of John Delgatto and
Sierra Records, who have promoted and produced Gram’s music since their
beginnings in the 1970’s.
this gradually widening recognition of Gram and his influence on music,
culminating with the Emmylou-inspired Tribute in 1999, Polly Parsons’ recent
endeavors, the BBC documentary, Fallen
Angel, and the black comedy, Grand
Theft Parsons, I always thought that mainstream Nashville would remain
closed and hostile to the man who was tweeted off of the Ryman stage at the
Byrds’ Opry appearance in the spring of 1968.
Gram committed two Grand Ole Opry taboos during the Byrds’ hastily
arranged performance at the Opry when they were in town to work on Sweetheart
of the Rodeo that spring. He
sang his own composition, Hickory Wind,
rather than a cover of a Merle Haggard song, and he dedicated the song to his
grandmother. I do not believe that
Gram ever returned to
after the Opry performance.
the fact that Gram/Clarence Tributes were held in Nashville from 1988-1990, with
such outstanding participants as Marty Stuart, Vince Gill, Duane Eddy, Cathy
, John Nuese, and Glen Hardin, the events were not embraced by the Drug Store
Truck Drivin’ Men of the Gateway to the South.
have changed. My wife, son, and I
recently spent a weekend in
to combat the winter blahs and to see Emmylou and her Sweet Harmony Review at the Ryman, the most famous home of the Grand
Ole Opry. Since 1974, with the
advent of the commercially crass Opryland, the Ryman has been infrequently used.
There were tours of the historic church-like facility, but it was not
until Emmylou recorded her live album, Emmylou
Harris and the Nash Ramblers at the Ryman in 1992, that an upsurge in
musical events at the venue began. Nowadays,
the Opry is held at the Ryman in January and February.
lineup for January 14 and 15 was intriguing.
Emmylou, Buddy Miller, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Patty Griffin,
known as Sweet Harmony Review from
their 2004 tour were performing both nights.
Marty Stuart, a
icon who happens to own Clarence White’s prototype B-Bender guitar was also
playing on Friday and Saturday nights. Add
Rhonda Vincent and the Rage and The Osbourne Brothers and we were sold on the
weekend trip. Besides, we had never
been to a show at the revered Ryman, which housed the hillbilly dust of Hank
usual, we dragged our son along to continue his religious training in the form
of musical education. Jesse is 16
years old and we are steering him towards
with its fine music college, which is located in the heart of Music Row.
The students from
use the famous RCA Victor Studio B to hone and practice their engineering and
production skills. Studio B is where
Chet Atkins created the pop-oriented
sound in the late-Fifties and early-Sixties.
Countless hits were churned out there by the likes of Elvis, Roy Orbison,
Eddy Arnold, Dottie West, The Everly Brothers, and many others.
we began to take in the sights, I received numerous positive comments on my
-created Gram t-shirts. The comments
led to long conversations with people ranging in age from sixteen to sixty.
One young man, who we met on Broadway, was sporting a Sleepless
Nights t-shirt. He was about
20-years old, a GP disciple of two years, having discovered the music through
the 2-CD anthology, Sacred Hearts and
Fallen Angels. Upon hearing
Gram, he said he played the discs non-stop for several weeks.
This encouraged his current pilgrimage from
to Joshua Tree to
. An avowed Elvis fan, he quickly
picked up the Gram/Elvis connection – the look, the attitude, the Cadillac on
his shirt, and of course, the band members they shared.
This kid had learned his stuff over a short period of time.
we spent several hours at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, a superbly
done effort that makes the Rock and Roll Hall pale in comparison, we visited the
, which was featuring an exhibit devoted to the work of Manuel the tailor.
Manuel is the disciple of Nudie Cohen and was responsible for the
creation of the Burritos’ Nudie suits. After
climbing the stairs to the second floor exhibit, we were greeted by Gram’s
headless mannequin, sporting the jacket and pants of the famous suit.
I briefly thought of knocking out the museum guard and absconding with
the suit, but I quickly realized it was way too small for me.
What struck me was that Gram’s suit was the featured one among hundreds
of jackets and trousers in the exhibit. When
we later visited the Hall of Fame, we learned that Gram’s suit had been
borrowed from its display case at the Museum, where it was a permanent feature.
A few years ago, Gram’s Nudie suit was on display at the Rock Hall,
along with Hillman’s suit. Not a
bad showing for a dead guy.
youthful cashiers at the Hall of Fame gift shop complimented my Gram t-shirt,
which launched a conversation about how his music has come to be accepted and
in recent years. The gift shop also
had both Gram biographies, which were being perused by a young British girl
while we were there. I offered her
my opinions on both books.
Museum itself gave Gram his due in a display that contained the cover of The
Gilded Palace of Sin, the guitar that he gave to Emmy, and recognition about
his impact on country music. As
noted above, my shirt inspired quite a few Gram-related conversations from the
the Friday night Opry show, Emmylou thanked Rhino Records for keeping the spirit
of Gram Parsons alive. (Rhino
released the Sacred Hearts and Fallen
Angels anthology previously cited) There
was scattered applause, but no tweeting. She
then launched into a killer version of Love
Hurts with Buddy Miller. Gram’s
spirit had returned to
and the Ryman. Justice will be
served when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame.
TO BYRDS FLYGHT MAIN