Happy Birthday: Gram Parsons & Ryan Adams

Cecil Ingram Connor (Gram Parsons) was born November 5, 1946 into a wealthy family in Winter Haven, Florida and grew up living a very privileged lifestyle. As a nine year old, Gram saw Elvis Presley play a concert in his hometown and decided to become a musician himself.

At the age of twelve, Gram’s father committed suicide. A few years later, his mother remarried, and Cecil Ingram Connor adopted his new step father’s surname… legally changing his name to Gram Parsons.

As a teenager, Parsons continued to pursue his dream of becoming a musician, playing in various bands throughout his high school years. One band, The Legends, also featured future music stars Jim Stafford (“Spiders and Snakes”) and Kent Lavoie (“Me and You and a Dog Named Boo”). After high school, Gram attended Harvard University as a theology student, but dropped out after just one semester that was devoted more to music than studies.

His time at Harvard was not completely wasted, however. It was during his time in the Ivy League that Gram put together the International Submarine Band, the group that would help him solidify his vision of a mixture of country and rock. It was a sound Gram called “Cosmic American Music.” The group spent some time in New York before relocating to Los Angeles to record their debut album Safe at Home in 1967. By the time the album was released in 1968, The International Submarine Band had disbanded and Gram was on to other things.

From there, Gram’s story is well documented. He joined the Byrds in time to serve as a major influence on the sound of their 1968 Americana masterpiece Sweetheart of the Rodeo. He went on to form the Flying Burrito Brothers with Chris Hillman and record two solo albums that introduced the world to Emmylou Harris. He also became close friends with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and greatly influenced some of the Stones’ country tinged songs such as “Wild Horses” and “Dead Flowers.”

Gram’s prolific output and tremendous influence masked what was becoming a serious addiction to drugs and alcohol. He still had access to a massive trust fund that was amassed through his family’s success in the Florida orange grove business, and he used that trust to support his habits. Keith Richards once said that Gram had better drugs than the Mafia.

Gram’s habits caught up with him on September 19, 1973. On a trip to Joshua Tree National Park in California, Gram overdosed on a mixture of drugs and alcohol. The bizarre story of his death and the strange events that followed it can be found here.

It has been debated over and over as to Gram’s true influence on the country-rock movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Some view him as a true pioneer who originated and birthed an entire genre of music. Others see him as merely a piece of the puzzle… a tragic figure whose legend has outgrown his actual influence. Whatever your stance on that debate, his influence on future generations of artists cannot be debated. Many of today’s Americana and Alt-Country artists have publicly stated their love for Gram and his music and cite him as a central influence on their sound.

Which brings us to today’s other birthday boy, Ryan Adams…

Gram Parsons died in 1973. The following year, in 1974, Ryan Adams was born on what would have been Parsons’ 28th birthday. Now… I’m not one who believes in reincarnation or anything like that, but it isn’t hard to believe that at least part of Parsons’ spirit lives on in Adams’ music.

David Ryan Adams was born in Jacksonville, NC in 1974 and formed his first band, the raucous The Patty Duke Syndrome, as a teenager. In 1994, Adams formed Whiskeytown and began cranking out his own brand of Parsons inspired alt-country. Of course, Whiskeytown disbanded in 1999 after a brief and brilliant (if tumultuous) run that produced some very memorable moments. His recent recordings with his current backing band The Cardinals notwithstanding… Adams has been on his own ever since.

If you want to find out more about Ryan Adams, Payton over at This Mornin’ I am Born Again has a tremendous series of spotlight posts about Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown.

Now for today’s music…

I’m going to post a few songs from each artist that I think highlight their styles and similarities. We’ll start with a song called “A Song for You,” a Parsons original that first appeared on his 1972 album G.P. Whiskeytown’s cover comes from the 1999 Gram Parsons tribute album, Return of the Grievous Angel. After that… just a few of my favorites from each artist.

Gram Parsons: A Song for You (song removed by file host)
Whiskeytown: A Song for You (Buy Album)

The Flying Burrito Brothers: Cody Cody (Buy Album)
Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: The Hardest Part (Buy Album)
Gram Parsons: Ooh Las Vegas (Buy Album)
Whiskeytown: Drank Like a River (Buy Album)

2 Responses to “Happy Birthday: Gram Parsons & Ryan Adams”

  1. It’s truly remarkable and not a simple coincidence, in my opinion. I’ve seen a live cut of Ryan and Emmylou doing <>A Song For You<>, and by the way she looks at him, you just know she sees (and hears) the resemblance. On a related and fun-trivia-style note, another musician shares this birthday – none other than <>B<>ryan Adams – Ryan’s nemesis.

  2. Payton, the Anti-Ryan? That’s priceless.Fabulous post. Gram shines on through to Ryan. Let’s hope Ryan lasts longer, or is more equipped to battle his demons.

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