Gram Parsons’ only daughter, Polly Parsons, is no stranger to her father’s ghost. She is known to make occasional trips into the desert to the Joshua Tree Inn to stay in Room 8, where her father died of an overdose on September 19, 1973, at age 26, and commune with her spirit. . And when they invite her, she readily agrees to meet at the Chateau Marmont, where the country-rock pioneer lived from time to time during his time in Los Angeles, particularly during the making of his debut solo album, “GP.” (He cover of that LP shows him sitting in the hotel lobby, with his hat hanging on his chair and a bottle of something sinister on the table).
“Oh my God,” Polly says, sitting down in the Chateau’s restaurant, noting with an air of apprehension that she hasn’t given an in-depth interview about her father in some time. With a bright look reminiscent of Gram’s International Submarine Band song. “Blue eyes,” From 1968, a year after her birth, Polly surveys the scene around her, which is still as rock ‘n’ roll as it will be in 2023: Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood is at a nearby table, and the actor Casey Affleck soon strolls by. .
But because some of Grandma’s Southern roots have rubbed off on her (today, Polly splits her time between Los Angeles and Austin, Texas), she’s outgoing and outgoing, happy to be in a place important to her father, whose heritage helps manage. In recent years, her part of running that property has involved embracing her father’s influential style by creating a line of Gram-inspired, Joshua Tree-worthy products (not just T-shirts and guitar straps, but also leather lined whiskey glasses). Still, she’s keen not to let the discussion stray too far from the music, particularly when it comes to a new archival release coming out on Black Friday Record Store Day: “The Last Roundup: Live From the Bijou Coffee in Philadelphia on March 16, 1973.”
“There’s a much broader debate about Gram Parsons than we’ve been having for the last 40 years,” he says.
The story of Gram Parsons is so steeped in rock star myths that it can be disorienting to sit across from someone who proves that he was, in fact, a real person and not just any person. Nude suit: wearing appearance. Parsons grew up in Georgia and Florida as heir to a citrus empire filled with money and tragedy; His father died of suicide and his mother of alcohol-related cirrhosis. Armed with a trust fund and significant emotional baggage, Parsons embarked on a brief but profound musical career, writing in a strange hippie country style that was as innovative as it was obviously free of the need for commercial success.
He was adored by peers like Keith Richards, who took some of Parsons’ “cosmic country” vibe and applied it to the Rolling Stones. And it’s a straight line from Parsons to contemporary acts like Wilco and My Morning Jacket, who carry a progressive Americana sound.
But Parsons could never keep his own ship steady, instead jumping from band to band (the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers) and exasperating his bandmates with inconsistency and substance abuse.
He eventually went solo and enlisted the vocal talents of a then-unknown Emmylou Harris, as well as members of Elvis Presley’s TCB band, such as James Burton and Glen D. Hardin, to perform on “GP.” But when it came time to go on tour in 1973 to promote the album, the band TCB was unavailable (or too expensive), and a ramshackle group known as Fallen Angels formed to join Parsons and Harris on a club tour. . dates: Neil Flanz on pedal steel guitar, ND Smart II on drums, Kyle Tullis on bass and Jock Bartley on electric guitar. It would become a notorious chapter during some of the final months of Parsons’ life, filled with drugs, alcohol, fights, and at least one arrest.
Some of the programs, especially at the beginning, were, by all accounts, very difficult. Bartley, for example, was hired so abruptly that he learned to play guitar on the tour bus amid the chaos. “Sorry to say it,” Bartley said in a telephone interview, “but a couple of times, Grandma probably couldn’t even stand up very well.” However, there were also shows where everything came together to become pure magic, where the combination of talent, taste and excess alchemized into alternative country heaven, proof of which spent many years lost in the recesses of Amoeba Music.
Here’s how it happened: Dave Prinz, co-founder of the record store chain, began collecting footage of Parsons in conjunction with his role in the 2007 release of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ concert recording, “Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969”. The Avalon set was called “Gram Parsons Archives, Vol. 1” and was issued under Prinz’s new Amoeba Records label, but no subsequent volumes appeared. It turned out Prinz had more, but he had drifted over the years. And during the recent move from the LA Amoeba record store, Prinz rediscovered the “Last Roundup” tapes. He shot them again and was knocked down.
“I’ve never heard any Grandma and Emmy where you could hear their voices together like this,” Prinz says by phone from her home in Marin County. “It’s kind of pure and kind of raw, but it’s also cool.”
Prinz, now 70, in his youth saw Parsons perform to sold-out venues, but the turnout on this particular Philadelphia night in 1973 was clearly not great. After stellar performances of Parsons songs like “The New Soft Shoe” and “Sin City,” only faint, barely polite applause can be heard. (Another hard-to-believe moment: When Parsons mentions “The Gilded Palace of Sin,” the Flying Burrito Brothers’ acclaimed 1969 LP, he pauses briefly for applause; instead, you could hear a pin drop.) – or maybe because of it: the band plays with charm and concentration.
Listening to the recording, it’s hard to recognize Parsons as the same person who could barely stand at points on this tour.
“I think that’s an affirmation of the fact that addiction is not linear,” says Polly, who has been candid about her past struggles with sobriety and who at one point ran a sober living center in Austin called Hickory Wind , in honor of one of his father’s Byrds songyes. “The journey is always accompanied by astonishing clarity; It is always accompanied by ups and downs.”
After this particular show was over, Flanz, the pedal steel player, saw it as a moment of greatness and had the good sense to request a recording of the soundboard, which he then kept for decades, before finally selling it to Prinz in the 2000s. (Flanz died in 2021.) With no interest in involving a larger record company, Prinz decided to reactivate the dormant Amoeba Records label again, starting a Boot campaign to finance the release independently. It raised nearly triple the $50,000 goal, and with Polly and Harris’s blessing, the project was underway. (Gretchen Parsons-Carpenter, Gram’s widow, is still associated with the property but was not involved in the project; she did not respond to an interview request.)
It’s an untraditional path for the release of such an influential artist, particularly one whose legend grows year by year and for whom there is an increasingly limited amount of material to work with. (Parsons’ entire career can essentially be summarized in five years of work.) But Polly believes her father “would have loved how inclusive” the Kickstarter method was.
“It was very important to me that people who love Gram feel a contribution, an interest in the subject,” says Polly. “This was a beautiful offering to the world, and how much more enjoyable and meaningful is it when you have a say in whether it comes to fruition or not?”
Prinz sees the set as a quintessential addition to Parsons’ discography. “There are a lot of books written about Gram and articles and this and that,” says Prinz, “but not a lot of music has come out to prove it. And I really like this album. proof that – that proves [Parsons and Harris were] One of the best country duets of all time.”
With Parsons, however, the story will always be partly about its end – about how he smoked the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle down to his filter, before his body was stolen and set on fire in Joshua Tree. The robbery and burning were carried out by tour manager Phil Kaufman, a rebel close to Manson who said he was operating under the wishes of Parsons and roadie Michael Martin. That chapter has reasonably upset members of the extended Parsons family, but Polly says she is now at peace with the saga.
“When I was a child it was difficult to accept,” she says. “But as a grown woman, I somehow find it charming that your best friends go out of their way to fulfill your wishes.” That said, she wants people to not get too lost in the story either. “I hope we’re a little more interested in digging deeper,” she suggests.
Prinz is already on the hunt for a new installment in the Gram Parsons archive, this being a veritable Holy Grail: Parsons’ long-lost first solo album, produced by Terry Melcher. Prinz says he heard a recording of a party at the Chateau in which the album can be heard playing in the background, so he knows it’s real. And he has a lead on where the tapes might be stored. “He’s supposedly in a vault somewhere in England,” he says. “And I’m going to find it.”