He was not yet 27 when he died in September 1973 of a drug overdose, but Gram Parsons left an incredible legacy as one of the early purveyors of country rock as a member of the International Submarine Band, The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Though he didn't sell a lot of albums while he was alive, his music influenced everyone from The Rolling Stones and The Byrds to Emmylou Harris and Elvis Costello, who covered several of his songs.
Ingram Cecil Connor's musical career began in high school as a member of the Pacers. This rock 'n' roll act later gave way to the Legends which, at various points, featured country singer Jim Stafford as well as Roland Kent Lavoie, later known as Lobo. By 1963 Parsons had joined the Shilos, a popular quartet which moved to New York's Greenwich Village, but Parsons left the line-up in 1965 after enrolling at Harvard College.
Inspired by the folk rock boom, he founded the International Submarine Band with John Nuese (guitar), Ian Dunlop (bass) and Mickey Gauvin (drums). He moved the band back to L.A., but his vision of a contemporary country music (or "Cosmic American Music" as he dubbed it) hard a hard time finding acceptance amidst the psychedelic trends of the day. The band was nonetheless signed by producer Lee Hazlewood, but with Dunlop and Gauvin now absent from the line-up, Bob Buchanan (guitar) and Jon Corneal (drums) joined Parsons and Nuese for Safe At Home.
By the time of Safe At Home's release (April 1968), the International Submarine Band had folded and Parsons had accepted an offer to join the Byrds. His induction resulted in Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, on which the newcomer determined the band's musical direction.
Within months Parsons had left the Byrds in protest over a South African tour, and instead spent several months within the Rolling Stones' circle. The following year, he formed the Flying Burrito Brothers with another ex-Byrd, Chris Hillman, Pete Kleinow (pedal steel guitar) and bass player Chris Ethridge. The Gilded Palace Of Sin drew inspiration from southern soul and urban country music and included one of Parsons' most poignant compositions, "Hot Burrito #1." Burrito Deluxe failed to scale the same heights as internal problems undermined the unit's potential. Parsons' growing drug dependency exacerbated this estrangement and he was fired from the band in April 1970.
In 1972 Parsons was introduced to singer Emmylou Harris, and the two recorded with Elvis Presley's regular back-up band. A tour leading the Fallen Angels followed, and sessions for a second album blended established favorites with original songs. Grievous Angel (which was released posthumously) was a triumph, in which plaintive duets ("Love Hurts", "Hearts On Fire") underscored the quality of the Parsons/Harris partnership.
Parsons' death in September 1973 as a result of "drug toxicity" emphasized the album's air of poignancy. Adding to his legend was the mysterious theft of his body after the funeral by his road manager, Philip Kaufman, who cremated the body in the desert, carrying out the singer's wishes. Emmylou Harris adopted Parson's mantle with a series of superior country rock releases, while an excellent concept album, Ballad Of Sally Rose (1985), undoubtedly drew on her close working relationship with the singer. A tribute album, Return Of The Grievous Angel, was issued in 1999.