Perfect Sound Forever

Hickory Wind

Excerpt from Ben Fong-Torres' 1991 biography

ED NOTE: Hickory Wind is published by St. Martin's Press, available at Amazon

Few rock stars, dead or alive, have many songs written about them. The Beatles had at least a couple dozen, most of them novelty attempts to cash in on Beatle- mania; Buddy Holly had four tributes; Elvis Presley had a handful, mostly by Elvis imitators, of course; Otis Redding had one; and so did Brian Jones. Among dead musicians the champ, until Gram came along, was Hiram Williams, better known as Hank. His death triggered a slew of musical (in most cases) tributes, from attempts at the sublime-"Hank Williams Will Live Forever (in People's Hearts)" by Johnnie and Jack-to the ridiculous: "(I Would Like to Have Been) Hanks Little Flower Girl" by Little Barbara.

 At last count, by Thor Martinsen, who counts such things, Gram Parsons was the inspiration for about twenty songs, among them "My Man" by Bernie Leadon, "Artists and Poets" by Johnny Rivers and "He Had That Sweet Country Sound" by John Phillips.

Years ago, Richie Furay expressed amazement that there were more songs about Gram than about Brian Jones. But Richie had added to the inventory himself with "Crazy Eyes," recorded on the same album on which Poco cut "Brass Buttons."

Almost from the instant he passed from this life. Gram became a cult object.

There were the songs about him, followed by lengthy newspaper and magazine pieces. There was talk about books and movies. As country-rock took hold, by way of bands ranging from the Eagles to Alabama, Gram Parsons received various posthumous awards and honors.

In 1981 "Sin City," as recorded by the Burritos, was included in the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Country Music. In 1983, "Love Hurts," from a live album of the Fallen Angels' Long Island radio concert, was nominated for a Grammy. In 1984 the Franklin Mint Society included the Submarine Bands performance of "I Still Miss Someone" in a compilation album, and in 1986 the Country Music Foundation in Nashville selected two Submarine Band tracks, "Luxury Liner" and "Blue Eyes," for inclusion in The Greatest Country Music Recordings of All Time, part of its official archive collection. The foundations Country Music Hall of Fame, on which Emmylou Harris served as president of the board, accepted from her a Martin guitar that Gram had used on tour, and it is on display.

And in Holland, Poll-Galas award, presented to outstanding country artists, was renamed the Gram Award, in the form of a sculpture of Gram Parsons, sitting and wearing a casual denim cap, jacket, and jeans.

"Gram would've sure dug it if he'd known he was gonna be this hot after he died," said Roger McGuinn.

The main link for Gram's appreciators around the world is the Gram Parsons Memorial Foundation, started by Mark Holland in Tampa, with inspiration from Thor Martinsen in Norway.

Thor, a banker, was a Byrds fan who discovered Gram through Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Both Thor and Mark were Gram Parsons fans from before his death; both were collectors of Grams records, articles, and facts about his life. And they both knew there had to be others like them.

Mark started up the foundation, not as a fan club but as an organization devoted to preserving, protecting, and perpetuating Grams music and name. Mark wanted Gram memorialized by way of a statue in Winter Haven, a plaque at Joshua Tree, and by induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He spent several years putting together a video documentary of Gram, the idea being to reach a younger generation of musicians. "I think Grams music is going to be perpetuated through somebody that is younger, the way the Stones picked up Robert Johnson's "Love in Vain" and took the songs into another generation," he said. "Grams music is never- ending."

Mark became known as "that fanatic in Tampa," and some of Grams peers-notably Emmylou Harris and Chris Hillman- avoided him.

Mark admitted to being obsessive about Gram, but he made no apologies. Besides, he and Thor were right. There were hundreds of Gram Parsons fans around the world, and within a few years, the group sprouted a newsletter that became a magazine. Cosmic American Music News, devoted not only to Gram but to artists deemed to be carrying on Gram's music or what he once called "cosmic Amer- ican music." They included Dwight Yoakam, Tom Petty, Vince Gill, Rosie Flores, Tom Russell, Marty Stuart, Steve Earle, Steve Forbert, Joe Ely, Jason and the Scorchers, the Long Ryders, Nanci Griffith, Highway 101, and Lyie Lovett.

The sincere appreciation of a wide range of roots music made the Gram Parsons Memorial Foundation something more than a time-warped cult devoted to a dead musician. The majority of the magazine was devoted to interviews with musicians who played with Gram (or in associated bands). News items ranged from reissues of Grams music and its inclusion in such movie sound- tracks as Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (but, the correspondent noted, the credit read "Chris Hillman and Graham Parsons") to calls for a campaign to get Gram into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Members wrote about their devotion to Gram, their memories of Burritos or Fallen Angels concerts, their meetings with other GP fans around the world, and their own efforts to keep his music alive.

Advertisements offered Gram's records and other memorabilia through mail auctions. Although original copies of the International Submarine Band album were getting more than $100 in the collectors' market, rare Sub band and Burritos singles might be obtained for as low as $15. In a personal ad, a Nudie leather jacket once owned by Gram was offered for a minimum bid of $2,500.

The Foundation and various of its members also staged tributes to Gram, beginning with a birthday show at the Lone Star Cafe in New York in 1983. Since 1986 a Nashville pedal steel player, Argyle Bell, has produced an annual tribute to Gram and Clarence White, the most recent concerts being fund-raisers for MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). The shows have drawn such participants as Rodney Crowell, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (with Bob Carpenter, husband of Gretchen Parsons), the Kentucky Colonels (with Roland White), Barry and Holly Tashian, and Michael Clarke.

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