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GRAM PARSONS & THE FALLEN ANGELS:
1972-1973


Gram Parsons Discography

Gram Parsons Bibliography



To learn how Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris first met, see Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris: 1970-1972..


The Fallen Angels:

To promote his first album with Emmylou Harris, GP (Reprise, 1973), Gram Parsons assembled the group that came to be known as "The Fallen Angels." The Fallen Angels Tour didn't win many new fans, but it did become the stuff of legend among Parsons buffs. Parsons had to use a new band, since the Elvis Presley sidemen who played on the LP were too expensive for a tour. Barry Tashian declined to come along, but his old bandmate in the Remains, N.D. Smart, joined as drummer. (Jon Corneal filled in until Smart arrived from the East.) Emmylou Harris suggested her former accompanist, Gerry Mule, who became the tour's lead guitarist. Two Nashville session men filled out the roster: bassist Kyle Tullis and steel guitarist Neil Flanz. The rehearsals took place at Phil Kaufman's home and quickly degenerated into parties.
The band's retinue included Gretchen Parsons, self-styled "executive nanny" Kaufman, Kaufman's girlfriend Kathy Miles, and an ex-marine tourbus driver known as "Leadfoot Lance." The final member in the cast of characters joined at the farewell bash: Michael Martin, boyfriend of Kaufman's friend Dale McElroy, decided on the spur of the moment to hop on the tour bus. He became Parsons's valet and, in short order, a close friend.
The first stop was Boulder, Colorado, where the Angels were booked for three-night-stand. On the first night, a wasted Parsons led his unprepared band through a ramshackle set. Richie Furay, an old friend of Parsons, sat in the audience, dismayed by the band's unprofessionalism. No less concerned was Emmylou Harris. When manager Eddie Tickner got wind of the show, he threatened to abort the whole tour. Parsons swore he'd make some changes. He agreed to lay off drugs for the duration of the tour (at least during showtime) and rehearsed the band.
In the audience the second night was a local guitarist named Jock Bartley. On night three, Bartley sat in with the Angels, and Parsons decided to bring in Bartley and dump Gerry Mule. Mule, an acoustic folk guitarist, couldn't play either country or rock. Bartley couldn't play country music, either, but he had a good grasp of rock 'n' roll guitar.
Things improved steadily as the tour progressed. The Fallen Angels played to 2,000 in Austin's premier club. The band had worked out careful arrangements for about a dozen tunes by then, and according to Emmylou Harris, they "completely blew the roof off the top of the Armadillo World Headquarters."* During a four-night-stand in Houston, the Angels attracted a growing crowd of hardcore fans who called themselves "The Sin City Boys." To their delight, Parsons, Harris and guest Linda Ronstadt did an impromptu version of the song at the third show. On the last night, Rondstadt and Neil Young joined the band on stage.
The Chicago Tribune lauded the Fallen Angels' next show at the Quiet Knight. After a show at the Smiling Dog in Cleveland, the group continued east to New York. There they played to a full house at Max's Kansas City, since the late '60s a locus of New York's underground community.


Live 1973. Courtesy Sierra Records.

The band also played before an in-studio audience at WLIR, a Long Island radio station. That show has been released as Live 1973 (Sierra, 1994). (The 1991 CD reissue contains the entire broadcast, as does the identical but retitled reissue, Fallen Angel (Sierra/Rhino, 1996).) That CD contains many of the tracks from GP, plus a preview of "Love Hurts" and a version of "Drug Store Truck Driving Man." For good measure, there are covers of the standard "Country Baptizing," Dave Dudley's "Six Days on the Road," and Dallas Frazier's "California Cottonfields," a hit in 1969 for Merle Haggard. Capping off the show is a medley of old rockers, "Bony Maronie" by Larry Williams and "Forty Days" and "Almost Grown" by Chuck Berry.
The Fallen Angels played several more gigs at the Bijou in Philadelphia and Oliver's in Boston. By the end of the tour, the band was together, but Gram and Gretchen Parsons had grown farther apart. She was jealous of Emmylou Harris, though Harris and those on the tour insist that her relationship with Parsons was platonic, or at least, not physical. Gretchen was also upset about her husband's drug intake, and using various substances herself. The two fought constantly. Phil Kaufman, whom she disliked, sent her back to LA before the end of the tour. The band's last "performance" was an appearance on a dance party TV show, and on that lip-synched note, the Fallen Angels tour came to an end. Sales of GP showed no increase.
Emmylou Harris, whose own intake was limited to the occasional margarita, is probably the best situated to deliver the last word on the tour:
"We set out to play country music and some rock & roll in the better hippie honky tonks of the nation (some didn't know they were honky tonks till Gram brought it to their attention).... The crowds were there. The rooms were small, but the energy generated was of a special intensity. It may not have been as audible in Chicago as it was in Austin, but it was always there. And they came to see this young man and to hear the voice that would break and crack but rise pure and beautiful and full with sweetness and pain. That tour didn't exactly break any box office records, but there are people who will remember..."*


Farther Along:

After the Fallen Angels Tour, Gram and Gretchen Parsons vacationed with Bob and Bonnie Parsons on a sailboat in the West Indies in the hope of patching up their shaky marriage. Bob Parsons, who died of alcohol-related illness a few months later and perhaps hoped to clear his conscience, dropped a bombshell on his stepson: he admitted that while Avis Parsons was hospitalized because of her drinking problem, he smuggled little bottles of airline vodka into her room. He admitted mixing her one last martini, which apparently contributed to her death immediately thereafter. Gretchen Parsons later claimed that her husband was "never the same, ever," after hearing his stepfather's confession.* Soon after, Gram Parsons began having strange seizures, which his wife attributed to this trauma. Sometimes his speech slowed; other times he passed out. He spent several days at a hospital in Burbank after one episode, after which he seemed to improve.
In June of '73, he and Emmylou Harris reunited for a country rock road show organized by Warner Bros. Also on the bill were the New Kentucky Colonels (Clarence White, his brothers Roland and Eric, and Alan Munde), Country Gazette, Gene Parsons, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, and Chris Ethridge.
During the course of this tour, Parsons renewed his friendship with Clarence White, whom he had known at least since the recording of Sweetheart in 1968. But on July 14, after a gig with the Colonels in southern California, Clarence White was struck and killed by a drunk driver as he was loading equipment into his car.
The funeral was held on July 19, 1973 at a Catholic church in Palmdale, California. Parsons, drunk and extremely distraught, didn't enter the church for the official services, but waited outside and rejoined the mourners as they headed out to the gravesite. After the priest performed the burial rites, he and Bernie Leadon began to sing "Farther Along." Soon many of the mourners joined in on the country gospel standard, which both the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers had recorded. Clarence White's standout track on the last Byrds album became his own epitaph. Roland White expressed his thanks to Leadon and Parsons for the farewell hymn.
Those present at the funeral described Parsons as being very depressed. According to Chris Ethridge, Parsons told Phil Kaufman, "Phil, if this happens to me, I don't want them doing this to me. You can take me out to the desert and burn me. I want to go out in a cloud of smoke."*
Parsons almost went out in a cloud of smoke only a few days later, when his Laurel Canyon home burned down. He and Gretchen escaped with only mild smoke inhalation. They lived with her parents for a while, but soon after they separated. Parsons moved in with Phil Kaufman, where he lived while sessions began on his second album for Reprise.


Grievous Angel:

The line-up for Grievous Angel (Reprise, 1974) was similar to the previous album's: Parsons and Harris on vocals, backed by the Presley sidemen -- guitarist James Burton, pianist Glen D. Hardin and drummer Ronnie Tutt. Bassist Emory Gordy also came from Presley's TCB Band. Herb Pedersen took over rhythm guitar duties, and Al Perkins returned on steel. Rounding out the roster were old friends Bernie Leadon, Byron Berline and N.D. Smart, and new friend Linda Rondstadt. Engineer and de facto producer was once again Hugh Davies.
The mix of material was also much the same. There were three covers of country classics, "Cash on the Barrelhead" by the Louvin Brothers; "Love Hurts," a Boudleaux Bryant song made famous by the Everly Brothers in 1960; and "I Can't Dance" by Tom T. Hall. The token modern cover, "Hearts on Fire," was written by Walter Egan and Tom Guidera, Harris's boyfriend throughout her time with Parsons. Again, there were six Parsons originals. Only two of these were new: "Return of the Grievous Angel," with music by Parsons and lyrics by a young poet and Parsons fan named Tom Brown; and "In My Hour of Darkness," a moving tribute to three departed friends, Brandon de Wilde, Clarence White and Sid Keiser. The other four Parsons songs date from earlier in his career. "Brass Buttons" comes from his folkie days circa 1965. "Hickory Wind" was on the International Submarine Band LP in '67 and Sweetheart of the Rodeo in '68. This version may be the best of the three, thanks to the dulcet harmonies of Harris. "$1,000 Wedding," based on his ill-fated plan to wed Nancy Ross, was rejected for Burrito Deluxe (A&M, 1970) and then recorded and lost with the other Melcher sessions later that year. "Ooh Las Vegas," an uptempo number co-written with Rick Grech, was written for GP (Reprise, 1973) and not used.
Despite the dearth of new material, Grievous Angel (Reprise, 1974) was even better than its predecessor. The singing and playing were more confident. The uptempo songs provided a break from the balladry this time out, and the "live" medley (recorded in the studio with friends adding crowd noise) succeeded in catching some of the excitement of the Fallen Angels' better nights.


Sleepless Nights. Courtesy A&M Records.

Even the outtakes were great. Three of these were issued on Sleepless Nights (A&M, 1976). "The Angels Rejoiced Last Night" was a beautiful ballad by the Louvin Brothers; "Brand New Heartache" and "Sleepless Nights" were another pair of Everly Brothers songs penned by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant.
Parsons told his sister that the new album was "a lot more like what I wanted to accomplish."* All parties involved were pleased with the outcome.
This time out, Parsons planned for a real tour to promote the album. It would begin in October. He also had his attorney draw up divorce papers to serve on Gretchen. Elated with all he had accomplished and edgy about initiating the divorce, Parsons decided to take a vacation at one of his favorite spots: Joshua Tree Memorial Park.



The story of Gram Parsons ends with The Strange Death of Gram Parsons: 1973.



Notes

"We blew the roof off..." Griffin, Gram Parsons at 158.

"...[T]here are those who will remember." Liner Notes to Sleepless Nights (A&M, 1976).

"Never the same, ever." Fong-Torres, Hickory Wind at 188.

"...[A] cloud of smoke." Fong-Torres, Hickory Wind at 191.

"...[W]hat I wanted to accomplish." Fong-Torres, Hickory Wind at 196.


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Band Members | Gram Parsons | 1972-1973

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