Inside The Collection: A Rocker Falls In Love With 70s Country Rock

Has an album ever changed your life? During my mid 20s, I was accidentally introduced to the music of Gram Parsons, the founder of what he called “cosmic American music,” or more broadly, Country Rock. I was deep in a rock-n-roll only phase when I discovered this music by way of Dinosaur Jr. covering “Hot Burrito #2.” This was a song by Parsons’ oddly named band The Flying Burrito Brothers. I bought the first two albums of that band and my curiosity about Parsons grew.

When I first heard this music I remember thinking many things. How had I not heard this before? Was there similar sounding stuff out there? I always assumed I’d hate the music my dad loved, but these songs made country music make sense.

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Curator Eric Shea at the Country Music Hall Of Fame in Nashville

Parsons’ career path catapulted him through some of the most popular bands of the late 60s. He helped The Byrds go country with Sweetheart Of The Rodeo before running off with Byrds’ bassist Chris Hillman. They bought some flashy, hippie, cowboy suits and formed The Flying Burrito Brothers. Parsons purportedly left the Burritos after just one year.

Though he never joined the Rolling Stones, Parsons was very close to Keith Richards. His Country Rock/Honky-Tonk influence is felt on tunes such as “Sweet Virginia,” “Wild Horses” and “Honky-Tonk Woman.” Parsons eventually teamed up with then unknown Emmylou Harris, some say his musical soul mate or harmony-singing counterpart, to create his first solo albums. It was these solo albums that I fell head-over-heels for. And this helped me realize what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Admittedly, the lore surrounding Parsons’ early death further intrigued me to pick up a vinyl copy of GP, his 1973 solo debut. Long story short – Parsons and his road manager Phil Kaufman had a pact that if one of them should die, the other would scatter his ashes inside the Joshua Tree National Park. On September 19th, 1973, Parsons suffered a fatal overdose at age 26. As his casket was en route to New Orleans to be buried alongside his deceased parents, Kaufman stole Parsons’ body, drove it out to Joshua Tree and set it on fire. Promise kept.

Elvis Presley’s band played on Parsons’ solo albums, and these were the first recordings where he and Harris sang those emotionally wrought high-lonesome harmonies. Parsons’ music was starting to be described as Country Rock. But he hated pigeonholing his music into such a genre.

As a musician, the term Country rock makes sense. If you can make country music rock, call it what it is. It may have been Country Rock’s association with The Eagles that turned Parsons off on this genre name. He likely felt that they stole his musical vision and turned it into their success. An old bandmate of Parsons’ once told a music journalist that Eagles founders Don Henley and Glenn Frey were spotted at many of their early Los Angeles performances, closely studying Parsons and band. The Eagles went on to have 14 radio hits. Parsons never had one radio hit. Adding insult-to-injury, through much of the early 70’s music critics credited The Eagles for inventing Country Rock. Parsons was only hailed as the genre’s pioneer posthumously.

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Joshua Tree National Park

After first learning about Parsons I headed down a Country Rock rabbit hole that I’m still exploring today. I don’t think it’s fair to fully credit either Parsons or the The Eagles for igniting the Country Rock explosion of the ‘70s. Folk Rock sort of naturally evolved into Country Rock. The Byrds were getting twangy before Parsons joined them. Buffalo Springfield was flirting with pastoral psychedelia. Linda Ronstadt was churning folky pop into rootsy rock ‘n’ roll. Even the Everly Brothers were getting weird back in 1968.

Long after discovering Country Rock by way of Parsons’ music, half my nights are still devoted to playing with a group of guys hell-bent on putting a new twist to an old style of music (I even host a yearly Gram Parsons tribute night in San Francisco called Sleepless Nights – we’re coming up on the 13th annual concert).

And the sum of all this is why building Pandora’s 70s Country Rock genre station has been my favorite project thus far. Along with all the immediate branches of the Gram Parsons musical family tree, you’ll also hear music by The Eagles, Poco, ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith, CSN&Y, America, Pure Prairie League, Terry Reid, Graham Nash, Manassas and countless others. But I’ve also dotted the station with some modern-day bands that are so inspired by the past; you may not be able to tell the difference between old and new. That is unless you get ahold of some of these recordings and read the liner notes. But be careful – you never know when an album just might change your life.

Eric Shea

Curation Team http://www.pandora.com/profile/eshea75

9 thoughts on “Inside The Collection: A Rocker Falls In Love With 70s Country Rock

  1. I am not sure how old you are but I am a 34 year old Gram Parsons Fan. I love everything he does. I consider him to be the Godfather of Country Rock. He put the ALT. in Country. In my opinion he not only deserves to be considered the godfather but also deserves to be in the Rock And Roll Hall of fame. I find Grams story about his death to be fascinating. I read his bio and watched that indie movie about his death. He died way too young. While he was alive he lived life to the fullest. Joshua Tree is on my bucket list. Like you I discovered Gram through other bands. I am a huge fan of Counting Crows and Ryan Adams. Both Counting Crows and Ryan Adams have covered Gram Parsons. They also both have played with Emmylou. I’ve been told that I was born in the wrong generation. I like old school music back when people made music without computers and played instruments. Here are some Gram Parsons inspired bands/artist worth checking out.

    Whiskeytown/Ryan Adams/Ryan Adams and the Cardnials – Whiskeytown was a band Ryan Adams was in before he went solo. Whiskeytown was the Nirvana of Country music. The Cardinals was a band Ryan formed after he went solo and then injured his arm. Basically anything with Ryan name on it is worth checking out. He’s a prolific musician. Ryan Drop out of school in the 10th grade to pursue music. He slept on friends couches and played Punk Rock. He was a big Black Flag fan. His Grandmother introduced him to Country music. Ryan discovered Gram Parsons and the rest is history. Cool fact. Ryan shares the same birthday as Gram.

    Counting Crows – Everyone knows the hits like Mr. Jones but the casual fan does not know some of the Country covers they have done over the years. Last year they put out a covers album which featured a cover of Return of the Grievous Angle by Gram as well as covers of Dylan, Pure Prairie League, Fairport Convention, The Faces and Big Star. They may not be a Country band but they can tap into that California Country sound. Counting Crows have a new studio album due out in the fall. I heard 5 new songs off of the album (They played them live) and they sound great. It’s the 1st new album in 6 years. They just signed with Columbia.

    My new musical addiction is the band Yarn. Yarn is an Americana/Country/Folk/Rock band from Brooklyn NY. Brooklyn might seem an odd place of origin for a country band. The perennial home of cold concrete, hipsters and industrial ruins has been most famous for its indie rock scene over the past decade. But to Blake Christiana, frontman and songwriter for Brooklyn-based Americana/Alt-Country band Yarn, it’s the place that offered not only solace from his Schenectady, NY upbringing and a place to meet other skilled musicians, but a certain anonymity perfect for a songwriter who crafts best in loneliness. The band owes as much to Gram Parsons and Earl Scruggs as to Jerry Garcia and Exile On Main Street-era Rolling Stones. Following in a fine tradition that includes forward thinking roots bands like The Flying Burrito Brothers and New Riders of The Purple Sage, Yarn weaves roots music idioms into a fresh sound that turns on hipsters and fans of country music alike with technically impressive song-crafting and universal tales from the road of life. Yarn plays all kinds of music. It depends on the mood/day/place. They are unique. Nobody making music today sounds like Yarn. One minute they sound like Gram Parsons or the Stones and the next they sound like the Grateful Dead and Jam till the cows come home. Each member in the band brings something different to the table. They take the past and add in a dash of Yarn and make it sound fresh. Wait till you hear Andrew Hendryx shred on the Electric Mandolin. Yarn has a lot fo Youtube videos as well as free concerts for you to download as well.

    Check out the following links for more info.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whiskeytown

    http://www.amazon.com/Whiskeytown/e/B000APZW1M/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1401390094&sr=8-1

    http://www.amazon.com/Ryan-Adams/e/B000APNYSU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1401390123&sr=8-1

    http://countingcrows.com

    http://www.crows-town.com

    http://yarnmusic.net/

    https://archive.org/details/YarnMusic – Download free concerts

    http://www.youtube.com/user/bchristiana

    http://www.5guitars.org

    Peace love and music
    Eric

  2. I’ve always been amazed at the guitar talent of Clarence White, who played on The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era stuff. (Live at the Filmore is amazing). When I first heard the live album I thought “I didn’t know Crosby had such chops,” but then I looked at the personnel and saw it was Clarence White…who’s trademark sound was the B-Bender (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B-Bender), which he invented with Gene Parsons. Someday, when my chops are deserving, I’m going to get one. An amazing player and innovator who was lost so young. Thanks for such a great post.

  3. What a bunch of lies. I took the online survey and I was promised four hours of uninterrupted music. B.S.. without even changing channels or adjusting anything, I was still bombarded by commercials withing that four hour period after taking the survey.

    • @TDB Sorry for any confusion. The ad activity removes the timeout, not the ads. Your feedback will be noted. -Alyssa

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