In rock 'n' roll, there will always be those bands and artists whose influence and impact on music goes far beyond any financial or commercial success they see in their lifetimes. Such is the story of Gram Parsons. Along with his solo material, Parsons' work in the Submarine Band, the Byrds, and the Flying Burrito Brothers pioneered the genre of country-rock. Born Cecil Ingram Connor in 1946, Parsons grew up in Florida, and upon seeing Elvis Presley perform at his school, Parsons decided he wanted to be a musician. Following his father's suicide, Parsons was adopted by his mother's new husband and had his name legally changed to Gram Parsons.
As a theology student at Harvard, Parsons spent the majority of his time writing and performing music rather than attending class. It was during this time that he formed the Submarine Band with guitarist John Nuese, bassist Ian Dunlop, and drummer Mickey Gauvin. Now with a full lineup, Parsons dropped out of Harvard and moved to New York with the band, where they began to develop their unprecedented country-rock sound. They released a couple singles and soon moved to LA in 1967 to record and release their debut, Safe at Home. However, once the record finally hit the shelves in 1968, the Submarine Band had dissolved.
After the fallout of the Submarine Band, Parsons met Chris Hillman, bassist for the Byrds, during a time when the band was restructuring their lineup. The meeting led to Parsons's induction to the Byrds, and his country-rock aesthetic soon found its way into the band's sound, which is clearly evident on their first Parsons-influenced album Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Although originally intended to showcase Parsons' vocals, they were scrapped due his contractual obligation to his previous record label.
Parsons' time with the Byrds was shortlived, and he was soon onto his next project, the Flying Burrito Brothers (also with former Byrd Chris Hillman). While the band did not enjoy a great deal of commercial success, it did inspire a cult following, which included at great deal of fellow musicians, most notably the Rolling Stones. Parsons soon became close friends with Keith Richards, and it was at this time he dove heavily into drugs and alcohol. By the time the Flying Burrito Brothers released their second album, Burrito Deluxe, Parsons had left the band. He went through a period of creative stagnation and spent most of his time accompanying the Stones on tour and sharing in their excesses. By 1972, he had returned to Los Angeles to work on a solo album and to briefly play in Emmylou Harris' backing band.
Parsons' first solo album G.P. was also released in 1972, for which he assembled his backing band the Fallen Angels for a corresponding tour. After touring for G.P., Parsons and his band immediately went back to the studio to record their follow-up. Upon completion of Grievous Angel, his second solo record, Parsons went on a celebratory trip to Joshua Tree, CA. The vacation devolved into weekend of excessive drug and alcohol abuse. On September 19, 1973, Parsons overdosed on a lethal combination of morphine and tequila. Although rushed to the hospital, Parsons was pronounced dead on arrival; he was 26.
While his career was erratic and did not see a great deal of viable commercial success, Gram Parsons' legacy lives on as a undeniable influence on artists spanning decades and on the now firmly established country-rock genre.