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Professor Knowall

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For any that have followed this history, y'all would know that nearly every artist featured, with very few exceptions,
came from poor - most often, from very poor - often isolated rural families, where, growing up without such basics like electricity, the main (or only) source of entertainment was country music - and this was their one meal ticket out of a life of grinding poverty, with most having to leave school from age 13-15 to make a living. Well not this time - the differences with our new artist could hardly be more stark.

As promised, we now have an artist like none before in this history - and without question amongst the greatest of all American songwriters. John Townes Van Zandt was born into a very wealthy, old-money (and also millions in new oil-money) Texan aristocracy, in my favourite American city, Fort Worth, Texas, in 1944. His great-great-grandfather Isaac Van Zandt was an original son of the Texan Republic, appointed chargé d’affaires to the U.S. by Sam Houston in 1842.
He died while running for Texas governor 5 years later - Van Zandt County, about 80km east of Dallas, is named for
him. Succeeding generations of Van Zandts were civic leaders who built up Fort Worth from a dusty cowtown to the
great transportation hub of the New West. Townes got his name from John Charles Townes, his great-grandfather on
his mother’s side, for whom Townes Hall, the main building at the University of Texas Austin School of Law, is named.
So, with the absolute elite of Texan aristocracy on both sides of the family tree, much was expected from young John Townes Van Zandt.

At age 12, Van Zandt saw Elvis Presley perform on TV, and “I realized you could make a living just playing the guitar,” he later said. His father gave him one for Christmas, and he soon became obsessed with rock & roll, as well as blues music. He also soaked up poetry by such masters as Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Dylan Thomas. He was a very gifted, highly intelligent student. His high IQ led to his parents to naturally expect him to pursue a career in law and politics
with the ultimate aim of a high profile political career. In 1962 he began studying at the University of Colorado, but the academic lifestyle didn't suit him, quickly descending into a dark world of alcoholism and depression. His parents flew in and took him back home, where he was diagnosed with manic depression (now called bi-polar disorder). Unfortunately,
as money was no object, his parents sought out the "best" treatment at the time - so for 3 months he was subjected to controversial insulin shock therapy, leaving him comatose for lengthy periods of time, and erasing the bulk of his long-term memory. When he emerged from his treatment, Townes set about rebuilding his life.

He was already an avowed music lover, idolizing Hank Williams, Texan blues great Lightnin’ Hopkins and Bob Dylan. He began playing occasional shows at clubs in and around Houston, the setlists primarily comprising covers of his favorite songs. The music was better therapy than any he received in a hospital, and he was duly encouraged by his parents.
But at the same time, he was still determined to pursue the path of respectability. In 1965 he was accepted onto the University of Houston to study law, yet he remained restless. His subsequent attempt to join the Air Force was a non-starter because of his manic-depression. After his father died in 1966, Van Zandt finally felt free to drop out of college.

Free of the constraints of the middle-class student lifestyle, Townes let his creative ambitions thrive. He stepped up his live performances and began writing original material. He became a regular face on the folk-centric coffee shop circuit of Houston. He hung out at Houston’s Jester Lounge with artists like Lightin' Hopkins, Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker and Doc Watson. He developed a wheeling, flat-picking guitar style from Hopkins. And he started writing and developing his own blend of country, folk and blues. For the first time he went on the road, playing shows with friends Walker and Clark, and he began to write serious poetical songs. But his career as a professional musician and songwriter did not really take off until 1967 when he upped sticks for Nashville, where he met legendary record producer “Cowboy” Jack Clement, who
had produced hits for Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash including the # 1 hit 'Ring of Fire'.

Townes and Clement hit it off, and Clement made a tape and brought it to Kevin Eggers, who was looking for acts for
his new independent label, Poppy Records. In 1968, Eggers released Townes’s first album, "For the Sake of the Song". However, it was a colossally overproduced affair, with extensive use of experimental effects, technical trickery and heavy vocal echo, all of which buried the fragile simplicity of the original compositions. Even Van Zandt's devoted Houston fan base despised it. Clement later admitted his mistake and Van Townes admitted to being naive and overawed by his first recording experience - he just sang his songs and left the rest up to Clements.

But one undeniable feature was the quality of Townes’s songwriting. Van Zandt didn’t wait very long before trying to fix what he felt went wrong with this track from his debut album, as he quickly re-recorded it for his second album, "Our Mother the Mountain", in which the production was wisely tempered down. The album also featured a re-recording of 'Tecumseh Valley', which was Townes' conceding that the original version on his previous album did not do the work justice. It proved to be the right move - he fleshed out the lyrics, adding crucial parts about the heroine’s father which better explain her choices later in the song. He also slowed down the pace to wring out every bit of sorrow from the tale. 'Tecumseh Valley' is an early example of his mastery of the story song -


Van Zandt used his second 1969 self-titled album "Van Zandt" as an opportunity to re-record several more songs from
his debut album which weren’t well-served the first time around. As the first song on his very first album, so 'For The Sake Of The Song', it holds historical importance in the legend of Townes Van Zandt. Yet the song is so accomplished
that it sounds like the work of a veteran of 20 albums. Van Zandt gave the definitive version of it on the 1969 album,
but the achingly lovely melody and lyrics that tumble one line after another would've worked in any setting.

Van Zandt wrote much of his best work in the black-hearted, post-relationship space between crawling back and moving on. On 'For the Sake of the Song, he spins a masterpiece of tears-in-your-beer balladry, weaving his own grief through the story of a woman who wants more than he can give - “Does she actually think I’m to blame / Does she really believe that some word of mine could relieve all her pain?” It is a thoughtful meditation on the nature of creativity, and perhaps a plea to the muse for a peace of mind that he would sadly never be afforded. “Why does she sing her sad songs for me?” the first line goes. Van Zandt sings of shame and bondage, sorrow and pride, and most of all a welter of pain both unwanted and undeserved. The best he can figure by way of consolation is that it is all for the sake of the song. And so it would go for the rest of his life and career. No one, apart from Hank Williams and Don Gibson, does heartbreak like Van Zandt -


The simple country formality of Van Zandt’s lyrics sometimes hid the fact he could paint a vivid picture with words
better than pretty much any other songwriter. On this song, also first found on debut album then refashioned for his
1969 "Van Zandt" album, he unleashes all of his descriptive metaphorical powers on behalf of the title character, and
the results are simply breathtaking. Once Townes is through, even those with the dullest imagination can picture Maria
in their mind’s eye. Just listen and feel the poetry in this -


Van Zandt told the audience on his acclaimed 1973 live album "Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas" that ‘Waitin’ Around to Die’ was the first serious song he ever wrote. Thankfully it was inspired by a conversation with an old man,
as it’s an amazingly nihilistic song for a 20-year-old to come up with - and a road map for his adult years - "I guess I’ll keep gambling, lots of booze and lots of rambling / Aw, it’s easier than just waitin’ around to die.” He (purposefully?) set out to live by those words, once saying - “You were living a lie if you sang the blues and hadn’t lived them.

The most remarkable sequence of "Heartworn Highways" a cult-classic impressionistic documentary about the Texas outlaw country movement of the mid ‘70s, involves Van Zandt and Seymour Washington, a retired blacksmith born in 1896, whose home became an unlikely gathering place for Austin’s musicians and other associated hippies at the time. “I’m fixin’ to interview Uncle Seymour Washington,” Van Zandt announces and Washington begins recounting his years of hitchhiking to work when he couldn’t afford transport, then outlining the finer points of making and applying horseshoes. Soon, he is sharing wisdom on the virtue of moderation, especially when it comes to drinking whiskey -wisdom clearly intended for Van Zandt himself, who battled with alcoholism and addiction for nearly his entire life. But Van Zandt just bounces in his seat as he listens, posing for the camera and the other people in the room. If he recognizes the weight
of what Washington is trying to tell him, he doesn’t show it.

Later, Van Zandt performs 'Waiting Around to Die,' a ballad recorded for his 1969 self-titled album, but given its definitive performance here (it starts a minute and a half in - but it's worth watching the entire clip). It’s seems a brutal choice for the moment, like a conscious self-rebuke in a typically efficient summation of Townes’ jet black worldview - the narrator boozes, gambles, hops trains, commits a robbery and ends up addicted and in jail - maybe all due to an unsparing recollection of a childhood wracked by domestic violence, to which he alludes in the second verse, or maybe because doing those things just seemed “easier than waiting around to die,” a line he repeats like a mantra. There is no special drama or change in his voice while he relays the details - “One time, friends I had a Ma/ even had a Pa/ He beat her
with a belt once cause she cried
.” Van Zandt sings these words like a man reading the news in this harsh and strangely unsentimental masterpiece

The camera first focuses on Van Zandt’s fluid fingerpicking, but soon moves to Washington’s solemn face over his shoulder. We can assume from his tales of hardship that this man is not given to crying easily. By the end of 'Waiting Around to Die' he unashamedly weeps. Is it because he recognises parts of his own life experiences in the lyrics - or is
he weeping for the singer, understanding why it is that Van Zandt perceives his work as little more then a distraction
from his inevitable demise? -


Country music is full of songs about lonesome ramblers stealing away in the middle of the night, without the women they love, usually for no stated reason other than the allure of the open road. 'I’ll Be Here in the Morning' at first seems like just another entry in this category - “... No prettier sight than looking back on a town you left behind...”, Van Zandt muses early on. Then there’s a twist, one that scans both as an earnest expression of devotion and a wry self-deprecating joke, with the singer acknowledging his own commitment-averse tendencies, but promising he’ll be different this time - “... I’d like to lean into the wind and tell myself I’m free / but your softest whisper’s louder than the highway’s call to me...” The object of his affection understandably needs some reassurance, which he attempts to offer in the chorus - “... Close your eyes, I’ll be here in the morning / Close your eyes, I’ll be here for awhile.” Given the way the harmony shifts unexpectedly to a doleful minor chord on that last word, I'm not sure whether to believe him. I think he'll be there in the morning - but like every true rambler, gone by the afternoon -


Though none of Townes Van Zandt's albums could reasonably be described as big sellers, they all attracted critical acclaim - mainly for his songwriting- and boosted Townes’s steady rise to prominence as an artist - albeit moreso with fellow musicians than the wider public. Tomorrow his career will benefit followed in the 1970's.
 
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Professor Knowall

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The album, "Our Mother the Mountain", recorded in LA, was released in April of ’69, then "Townes Van Zandt", recorded
in Bradley's Barn, Nashville, was released in September of '69. Though neither were big sellers, they attracted critical acclaim and boosted Townes’s steady rise to prominence as an artist. His impact was indisputable. Emmylou Harris recalled seeing him play Gerde’s Folk City in NYC in 1969 - “I was stunned. I had really never seen anything like that before. I thought he was the ghost of Hank Williams, with a twist.” Also in 1969 Townes was in Lubbock hitchhiking to Houston, his backpack crammed with copies of "Our Mother the Mountain" but no clothes, when he was picked up by
Joe Ely. He gave Ely a record, and that night Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore stayed up listening to it and learning to play
the songs. Ely later recalled - “Every song seemed like a dream. They were painted dark shades of blue.”

Throughout this time, Townes was, by choice, living the life of an authentic folk troubadour. Hitching his way across
the USA with a guitar slung on his back, sleeping in cheap motel rooms or just under the stars. He was the real deal.
He didn't care to do all the busy public and TV promotional work usually required by artists to promote their albums -
born and raised privileged and rich, he didn't care for the celebrity lifestyle or wealth. He was also at his creative best.

From "Our Mother the Mountain", the tense emotional apocalypse that is 'Kathleen' begins with the typically Townes-ian sentiment - “It’s plain to see the sun won’t shine today / But I ain’t in the mood for sun anyway,” and things only darken further from there. As the singer wrestles with encroaching insanity, waves of pain and panic, and a seemingly malevolent natural world of roaring oceans, prophetic swallows and a menacing firmament, the only apparent respite is death - or the titular Kathleen. As the song progresses, so too does the suspicion these things are one and the same. This is Townes at his most harrowing - a beautiful but unsettling, even frightening window into a fractious, tortured psyche -


Musically speaking, few Van Zandt songs are as perfectly constructed as the melodic, bittersweet highlight of the "Townes Van Zandt" album - 'Fare Thee Well Miss Carousel'. It’s not what Townes is known for, but the song boasts a perfect power chorus, supported by a dynamic full-band arrangement. The uncredited drummer’s choice to completely dip out for the verses - apart from a few erratic, claptrap fills - is crucial. The unusual approach makes it clear that Townes was not accustomed to integrating heavy drums into his songs, but it justifies their use here, where they function like a strange narrative device. With his anecdotal sketches of “Miss Carousel,” “the drunken clown,” and “the blind man with his knife
in hand
,” Townes’ symbolistic lyrics sometimes recall mid-’60s Dylan. But they are imbued with that particular Van Zandt brand of melancholy, broken up by couplets that zoom out to reflect on the entire human condition -


Van Zandt’s fourth album, 1971’s "Delta Momma Blues", brought something of a change in direction. Rather than the country ballads which had brought him to popular acclaim, the songs on this one were noticeably bluesier. His songs always seem to provide insight into the human condition. Like a lot of Van Zandt’s work, ‘Tower Song’ is faintly nihilistic, but it also finds beauty in fragility. Apparently an attempt to salvage his first marriage, which, if so, didn't work - he was divorced the same year - it remains a towering testament to Van Zandt’s ability to depict relationships that are meant to be - but break apart anyway. His sad but pretty melody builds a strong foundation, allowing Townes to speak from his wounded heart to a girl whose stubbornness will eventually lead to loneliness, something that she can’t see right now
but will someday understand only when it’s far too late -


The standout tracks, and the ones which have stood the test of time best, are the last two. These are dark little numbers indeed, 'Rake' and 'Nothin’.

“Breathing became slow and stertorous,” wrote Dr. Max Fink of insulin shock therapy (aka ICT), the since-discredited treatment for schizophrenia and manic depression that Townes Van Zandt’s family submitted him to in the early ’60s.
Van Zandt may not have remembered his slow, stertorous breathing during his ICT treatments - let alone tapped into
that trauma - when he wrote 'Lungs'. It doesn’t matter. The song draws a rough ragged breath all its own. 'Lungs' is the sound of a man haunted by loss, twisted by futility, and imprisoned within his own scarred body - "Well, won’t you lend your lungs to me? / Mine are collapsing", he drawls, his fractured twang as much of an accusation as a plea for help. “Plant my feet and bitterly breathe / Up the time that’s passing.”

That wasn’t all that was lost. Another side effect of ICT is retrograde amnesia. When Van Zandt was discharged from
a Galveston hospital after 3 months of the treatment (the "best" that a lot of money could aquire at the time - which ironically turned out to be the worst), huge holes in his memory had blossomed. Prior to the treatments, as mentioned yesterday, the highly gifted student had been groomed by his wealthy and influential parents to become a politician - perhaps even the state Governer or senator. Yet the rest of his life, he wound up wandering the country, living in
shacks, abusing drugs and booze - and penning some of the greatest folk and country songs of all time.

But there’s more than morbid metaphor to 'Lungs' Lines like “... Breath I’ll take, and breath I’ll give / Pray the day
ain’t poison...
” seem to hint at the insulin injections Van Zandt received as part of his therapy, but the song’s narrative telescopes into something less obsessed with death - and more fixated on the hidden nature of truth and the universe - “... Gather up the gold you’ve found / You fool, it’s only moonlight / If you try to take it home / Your hands will turn to butter...” he sings, veering from platonic preaching to folksy magic realism in the span of half a verse. Jesus and salvation are name-checked in a Dylan like rush of biblical imagery, but it’s when Van Zandt halts his sacred hyperventilating to dwell once more on pathology - “... Wisdom burned upon a shelf / Who’ll kill the raging cancer...” -that his poetry elicits the iciest, most existential chills.

The song’s last lines, though, are its ultimate implosion - “... And I for one, and you for two / Ain’t got the time for outside..." he rasps, leaving the word “outside” as an ambiguous noun, the void beyond walls that Van Zandt, for all his itinerant freedom, rarely knew. “... Just keep your injured looks to you / We’ll tell the world we tried". That final couplet
is the killer - in a pique of weary frustration, rage and surrender are locked together - equally matched and mutually destructive -


Using the same dexterity to describe the darkness of the narrator’s soul as he would to describe the prettiness of a woman, Van Zandt draws a pitch-black self-portrait on this minor-key gem from "Delta Momma Blues". Townes sings -
“... I covered my lovers with flowers and wounds / My laughter the devil would frighten...” - such brilliant poetry. But
this “rake” gets his comeuppance at song’s end, as his crimes and sins eventually catch up with him, so that even the moonlight, the usual setting for his revelry, becomes unbearable. This is just stunningly simple, stunningly sincere and quite beautiful words and music -


Anyone following this history all the way through has seen plenty of artists that hit the bottle hard, from Jimmie Rodgers to Bob Wills, Spade Cooley, Merle Travis, Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Faron Young, Don Gibson, George Jones, Roger Miller and Glen Campbell amongst others. Quite a few of these also got hooked on amphetamines, popping pills to keep up with the constant touring and performing, like Johnny Cash. And for some, cocaine was the drug of choice, heavily consumed by the likes of George Jones and Glen Campbell at one time or another.

Townes Van Zandt was, once again, a bit different. In late 1971, at age 27, 2 years younger than his idol, Hank Williams was when he died from a lethal mixture of opium and alcohol, Van Zandt overdosed on heroin and almost died. Luckily he survived, so there will be more on Van Zandt tomorrow.
 

Professor Knowall

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Townes spent most of the seventies moving between Austin, Houston, Nashville, New York, and the mountains around Crested Butte, Colorado. He divorced his first wife in 1970; sometime during the next decade he married and divorced again. He was living the life he was writing about - traveling, alighting for a while, then traveling again. In the 1975 Texan country music documentary "Heart-worn Highways" (a clip of which we saw 2 days ago and another below) Van Zandt is seen wandering playfully around an Austin back yard in the middle of the day with a bottle of whiskey, a can of Coke, and a BB gun (like many country singers, Townes liked guns). Given his bouts of deep depression and his adventures of manic frenzy, people took the title of his 6th album, "The Late, Great Townes Van Zandt", literally though Eggers says it was a “goof on the nonexistence of his career.”

Stories of his reckless ways were told and retold. One of the most notorious involved a drunken Steve Earle, an angry Townes, and a 5 am game of Russian roulette. when Van Zandt, frustrated that Earle was mucking around with a .357 Magnum during another all-night bender, took out his own pistol, put a couple of bullets in the chamber, spun it around, pointed the gun at his own and pulled the trigger - twice. The gun didn’t fire each time, but Van Zandt had made his point about bravado. “He was very similar to Hank Williams - he was running himself into a wall”, his road manager, once said. But back to the music -

Nasty, brutish and short, the spare, finger-picked, cruel-to-be-cruel kiss off, 'Nothin' is as immediate and powerful as
a cannonball to the chest. What it lacks in charity it makes up for in its brevity, and it is devastating from its opening - “Hey mama, when you leave, Don’t leave a thing behind / I don’t want nothin..." to its final sentiments - “... Sorrow
and solitude, these are the precious things / And the only words that are worth remembering
.” Even by Van Zandt's sparse, stripped out standards, this is devoid of any sentimentality to sugar it's harshness -


Sometimes, Van Zandt was the sly storyteller, spinning elegant fables about bandits and lawmen. Other times, he was the heartsick confessionalist, singing wrenching first-person narratives of love and loss. Occasionally, he slipped into another identity - the hardscrabble sage, dispensing zenlike aphorisms over a drink and a smoke. 'To Live Is to Fly', off the 1972 album "High, Low And In Between", is a classic of the latter category, an important and unusually positive treatise on getting up each day and getting through it, no matter how high or low, living life to the fullest while you still can. There
is bottomless wisdom to be found in this song, that Van Zandt considered his finest and a kind of theme song for his worldview, once saying – “It’s impossible to have a favorite song, but if I were forced at knifepoint to choose one, it
would be ‘To Live Is To Fly'” - "To live is to fly / Low and high / So shake the dust off of your wings /And the sleep out
of your eyes,"
he sings. He gently advises about the ups and downs of life and the need to take changes in stride,
because they’re going to happen regardless - “... We all got holes to fill / Them holes are all that’s real...

While still acoustic in nature, this song employs light drums and piano, as opposed to simple guitar instrumentation. The arrangement is quietly majestic, and every line is a gem. Some are even more than that - “... Living’s mostly wasting time / And I’ll waste my share of mine / But it never feels too good / So let’s don’t take too long...” You could do a lot worse for a guiding philosophy of life. Townes lived real hard himself and didn’t often take the song’s restrained advice to heart, but at least us listeners can forever benefit from the truths he conveys -


Also from the 1972 album "High, Low And In Between" is the title song. The Wrecking Crew’s Don Randi plays some lovely piano on this one. It was recorded during a time of heartbreak and turmoil (moreso than the usual turmoil) in Van Zandt’s life – his girlfriend was stabbed to death while hitchhiking to the recording session. It reads as biography from Van Zandt, talking about his decision to abandon his family’s riches - “... the gold’s no good for spending... ” - for life as a cult drifting songwriter - “...the highway’s mine...” -


Anyone who has an interest in country music will likely know 'Pancho & Lefty', Van Zandt’s best-known song. The song was released from Van Zandt's 1972 "The Late Great Townes Van Zandt" album and tells the story of a Mexican bandit. The song was covered by Emmylou Harris in 1976, and Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard released their famous # 1 cover in 1983, 11 years after Van Zandt's original - so we've already seen this song in post # 502.

Essentially the demolishing antidote to every clichéd “I’m a cowboy/bad ass on the road” song ever written, this crushing tale of two outlaw friends driven apart through betrayal and deprivation is made all the more sad for the fecklessness with which the characters are portrayed. Over his loveliest ever melody (IMO) Townes introduces the two would-be mythic title characters - road warriors who live outside the law to maintain their freedom. A few well constructed verses later, Pancho is dead, Lefty is drinking himself to death in a Cleveland flop house and the authorities, who simply paid one to betray the other, were never all that concerned with them in the first place. Rarely has a song spelled out the true facts of America’s Old West mythology so plainly - it was mostly such bullshit. Somewhere in between the self-destructive fire of Pancho and the weary pragmatism of Lefty did the true nature of this exemplary songwriter reside.

Its origins are actually mundane – Van Zandt wrote it in a Dallas hotel room, due to “not having anything to do and just sitting down with the express purpose of writing a song. We got stopped by these two policeman and…they said ‘What do you do for a living?’, and I said, ‘Well, I’m a songwriter’, and they both kind of looked around like ‘pitiful, pitiful’, and so on to that I added, ‘I wrote that song 'Pancho and Lefty'. You ever heard that song 'Pancho and Lefty'? I wrote that’, and they looked back around and they looked at each other and started grinning, and it turns out that their squad car, you know their partnership, it was two guys, it was an Anglo and a Hispanic, and it turns out, they’re called Pancho and Lefty … so
I think maybe that’s what it’s about, those two guys … I hope I never see them again.” -
"... Pancho needs your prayers, it’s true / Save a few for Lefty too / He just did what he had to do / And now he’s growing old" -


Another Townes Van Zandt song that more recognizable to wider audiences is 'If I Needed You', also from his 1972
album, "The Late Great Townes Van Zandt", finds the singer questioning his love's loyalty. This gem is one of his most covered songs, probably because it’s one of his most basic pleas for devotion and love. The song lopes along amiably as the narrator both sings the praises of his girl and attempts to convince her that life is too short for any reticence. Townes wrote songs more complex than this, but few were ever been so winningly direct. The tune was famously covered in 1981 by Emmylou Harris and Don Williams, landing at # 3, but here's the original -


By the mid 70's, Van Zandt was becoming a cult artist honored by peers and ardent fans but still largely unknown in the mainstream. By his own choice, he never released an album on a major label. He never bothered to build a career, but instead chose to live an itinerant lifestyle, never much concerned with celebrity and success. He was never concerned
with much of anything, in fact, but writing, rambling about and hanging out with friends and family. Born into comfort,
he preferred the company of the poor and desperate and sometimes gambled or gave away what money he had. He
was a lighthearted prankster who wrote some of the saddest songs of the century. He sang about how precious it was
to be alive yet spent a good deal of his life killing himself with drugs and alcohol. Tomorrow will conclude his music and life.
 

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Professor Knowall

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Van Zandt was addicted to heroin and alcohol throughout his adult life. At times he would become drunk on stage and forget the lyrics to his songs. At one point, his heroin habit was so intense that he offered Kevin Eggers the publishing rights to all of the songs on each of his first 4 albums for $20. At various points, his friends saw him shoot up not just heroin, but also cocaine, vodka, as well as a mixture of rum and Coke. On at least one occasion, he shot up heroin in
the presence of his son, who was only 8 years old at the time.

As a result of Van Zandt's constant drinking, Harold Eggers, Kevin's brother, was hired on as his tour manager and 24-hour caretaker in 1976, a partnership that would last for the rest of the singer's life. Although Townes was many years older than he was, Eggers would later say that Van Zandt was his "first child". His battles with addiction led him to be admitted to rehab almost a dozen times throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Medical records from his time in recovery centers show that by 1982 he was drinking at 2 bottles vodka daily. Doctors' notes reported: "He admits to hearing
voices - mostly musical voices", and "Affect is blunted and mood is sad. Judgment and insight is impaired." His final
and longest period of sobriety during his adult life was a period of about a year in 1989 and 1990.

By the 1990's, a life of hard living had taken its toll. His voice was lower, thinner and halting - by then, he often spoke his lyrics instead of singing them. His new songs, came much less frequently and had less subtlety than his earlier work - he said 'A Song For', the unrelentingly bleak first song on 1994’s "No Deeper Blue" album, was a suicide note. He sometimes "died" on-stage, incapable of continuing. Yet crowds would come - partly out of curiosity, to see if he’d crash, but mostly because when Townes was on the right side of the line - and even more so when he went close to the line - he was still captivating. “He showed his innermost pain under the spotlight. He’d start crying in the middle of a show - I mean, nobody does that" said Ely. He loved playing in front of people - he felt safe onstage - but often he was in a booze
and heroin induced fog. But time now to look at his later career.

If you cut cards with Rex, you’ll get a 3, he’ll get a 2, you know what I mean?” Van Zandt said, introducing his live performance of 'Rex’s Blues' at the Old Quarter, Houston in 1973. (though the album wasn't released until 1977). On
the face of it, the song is a character study about an alcoholic with rotten luck at cards and relationships, the real life inspiration being Townes’ friend Rex Bell, who co-owned the Old Quarter. Townes’ plays guitar Mississipp John Hurt delta blues style, with the fingerpicking sketching out a rollicking ragtime feel. Despite the upbeat accompaniment, the song eventually takes on the tone of a suicide note. Townes sketches the entire spectrum of life’s experience in playful, sad little phrases. His songbook is full of references to mortality, and 'Rex’s Blues' gets there with 2 chords and a few lines that are good enough to mean almost anything you might want them to. It includes a candidate for Townes’s best stanza of all time, a reflection of the textbook down-and-out feeling of being trapped in a hopeless role, a useless burden to the world and one’s self - “I’m chained upon the face of time / Feelin’ full of foolish rhyme / There ain’t no dark till something shines / I’m bound to leave this dark behind". -


'No Place to Fall' is one of several Van Zandt standards that he was playing live a full 5 years before releasing them in studio versions (on 1978’s "Flyin' Shoes"). The production and arrangement playfully leans into the song’s waltz time
feel, with a chunky strum, full drumbeat, and scintillating backing vocals forming an ironic counterpoint to the mournful ambiguity of the lyrics. It starts as a tentative entreaty, and ends up even more irresolute than it began, with the hope
of lasting connection likely to remain a dream. Townes sketches the outline of the depressive experience, a particular gift of his - being “forever blue,” overwhelmed by the rush of time and cloudy days. The woeful lament appears at first the appeal of a desperate man who is quick to admit that he “Ain’t much of a lover,” and is furthermore “... here then I’m gone / and I’m forever blue...” - not exactly a good catch. And yet as this Neil Young-styled quasi waltz evolves, what
is conveyed most is the sense of a deeply damaged soul in need of refuge - any sort of refuge - intellectual, spiritual, physical - or just a place to crash -


Released in January 1978 from his album of the same name, 'Flyin' Shoes' is a lonesome tune which finds Van Zandt coming to grips with his own mortality. He describes the sadness he feels in the verses with visuals of "days full of rain". Through his grief, however, he realizes he's not long for this world, and someday he'll put on his "Flyin' Shoes" and pass away. In true folk fashion, the song is full of acoustic guitar, mandolin, steel guitar and harmonica instrumentation which only adds to the song's lonesome feeling -


Van Zandt recorded far less often as he entered middle age in the 1980's and 1990's, but he was still occasionally capable of writing a great song such as 'Snowin’ on Raton', the opening track of his 1987 album "At My Window". It's not so much the story of a man leaving his loved ones as a series of wintry images that convey this departure’s effect - a city where the wind won’t blow, a mountain where the moon won’t rise, a solitary figure wandering toward nowhere in particular.
Like 'To Live Is to Fly' and 'Fare Thee Well, Miss Carousel', it also contains broad but powerful observations about the nature of life and love -
“... Bid the years goodbye, you cannot still them / You cannot turn the circles of the sun /
You cannot count the miles until you feel them / And you cannot hold a lover that has gone
...” -


In 2012, musician/author Adam Brent Houghtalin wrote a book called "This Will End In Tears: The Miserabilist Guide To Music", a list of his choices for the 100 saddest songs ever. He wisely kept it to a strict one-per-artist rule, or else Townes Van Zandt might have taken up half of it (with Hank Williams and Don Gibson taking up much of the rest). Anyway, his choice for Townes’ sole contribution is 'Marie' from his final studio album, 1994's "No Deeper Blue", and one listen is all you need to understand why. It’s a staggeringly great song - listen and you might end in tears -


Townes married for a third time to Jeanene Munsell in 1983 because he had impregnated her. Despite his mostly out
of control heroin and booze addictions, they had 2 children together. Although the couple divorced after a decade, they remained close (fatally so, it seems) until Zandt’s death. Townes deteriorated rapidly in his last 3 years, almost dying in 1994 of pneumonia. Then, on Christmas Eve 1996, he fell and hurt his hip. A week, New Years Eve, he finally agreed to
go to the hospital, where x-rays showed a broken hip requiring urgent surgery, which was done immediately. Concerned about his very poor health, doctors wanted to keep him in hospital to detox, concerned he wouldn't get the right care at home. However, Jeanine insisted on taking him home on January 1 1997. At 10 that evening, while lying in bed, having had a drink or more, Townes had a heart attack and died - exactly 43 years to the day of his idol, Hank Williams. At least, at age 52, Townes had just over twice Hank's lifespan - fewer were surprised at the news of Townes death than that he had lived as long as he did.

Van Zandt has been referred to as a cult musician and - by Kris Kristoffosen- "a songwriter's songwriter". Steve Earle, who left his family home in 1978 at age 16 to hang out with him like a groupie, regarded Van Zandt as his mentor. Despite being sometimes bullied and disrespected by Van Zandt, he once called Van Zandt "the best songwriter in the whole world and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that." The quote was printed on a sticker featured on the packing of the "At My Window" album, much to Van Zandt's displeasure, as he despised such comparisons and the whole celebrity circus. Earle, after having his own battles with drugs and alcohol (he and Townes were often bad for each other), eventually overcame them to have the sort of mainstream success that Van Zandt seemingly wilfully denied to himself. Earle also named a son Justin Townes Earle - who went on to a career with
some similarities to Townes, in both a good way (talent wise) and bad (you know).

Van Zandt influence has been cited by countless artists across multiple genres, and his music has been recorded or performed by numerous artists, including Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Norah Jones, Emmylou Harris, The Counting Crows, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen Jr., Nanci Griffith, Guy Clark, Wade Bowen, Gillian Welch, Pat Green and Natalie Maines. He is the first musician in this history never to have any sort of popular charting success - but I couldn't leave him out.

A film on Townes Van Zandt's life and musical career, "Be Here To Love Me" was released in 2006. A biography on Zandt was released in 2007 by John Kruth, "To Live’s To Fly: The Ballad of the Late, Great Townes Van Zandt"

When I return it'll be with another artist not really appreciated in his day, but who's fame has grown this century - and, like Townes Van Zandt, he has his own tragic tale to be told.
 

Professor Knowall

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I've decided to have a "bonus extra" on Townes Van Zandt, Though the history centred on the poetry and powerful, stark storytelling of his self-penned ballads, being amongst the greatest of all song-writers, he also did some covers of country standards of the past, and I thought a couple are worth having in here.

When Van Zandt was given his first guitar at age 12, the first tune he learned to play and sing was the great honky
tonk singalong tune 'Fräulei'. At the time, the song, written by Bobby Helms (see post #377) had recently been a
chart topping hit for Hank Locklin (see the last song in post 378), who sang it, especially the chorus, out loud and
strong (hence it becoming such a great bar-room singalong song. But Townes, not possessing the strong vocals of
a Hank Locklin, gives a more restrained, version, making it a nice, happy, sentimental appeal to the heart - without
any of the sometimes unsparing bleakness or sentiment stripped lyrics of his own songs -

'Fräulein has been covered by many since, including David Allan Coe, Willie Nelson and Colter Wall - who in one live clip, introduces it as a great drinking song (which is how I discovered it in a few old school Texan honky tonks). One of the best covers is by the great recently departed Filipino "jukebox cover king", singer, actor and politician, Victor Wood.

As mentioned a couple of times in the history, Van Zandt idolised the greatest country singer-songwriter of them all, Hank Williams (both an all-time great singer and all-time great song-writer), so it's only fitting I include a Hank cover - and one with a suitable honky tonk theme. Note the accompiament of the early fifties style (pre-pedal) steel guitar followed by a (then) contemporary electric guitar -

Both 'Fräulein' and 'Honky Tonkin' were on the 1972 "The Late, Great Townes Van Zandt" album.

Finally, a popular cover of a song that sounds like it could've been written by Townes - but was actually by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards at a time when they were being schooled in country music (by one person in particular - coming here real soon now), and had become admirers of Van Zandt. The influence of country music, especially with Keith Richards, who has remained a very knowledgeable devotee ever since, really developed their sound and their song-writing capabilities beyond just the blues range as their creativity peaked in the 1970's. 'Dead Flowers', amongst the most country of the Stones songs, was in their 1971 "Sticky Fingers" album. Townes was obviously impressed enough to
cover it, with its lyrics that seem taken out of a Van Zandt songbook -

This was on Towne's 1994 album of live covers "Roadsong" (which also included another version of Fräulein) and was used in the 1998 Coen Bros movie "The Big Lebowski".
 

Professor Knowall

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Thanks blackshadow, ye of the pink Cadillac. One of the things I didn't squeeze into the potted history was Van Zandt's quick humour. Of many examples, my favourite was from Austin’s Cactus Cafe in 1996 - Townes was real shaky, trying not to drink too much and blow the gig. He had his microphone cord wrapped around his guitar strap, and he was struggling with the strap. The crowd began murmuring and finally the sound man ran up and fixed the strap, a minute long ordeal. The crowd became so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Then Townes, still shaky, looked up from his lap and deadpanned - "It gets much worse". He and the audience all cracked up laughing and it ended up being one of his best late in life gigs.
 

Professor Knowall

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Our new artist had much in common with Townes Van Zandt. He came from a wealthy, privelaged background and was highly intelligent, his first record was released in 1968, despite now being recognised as being enormously influential on both country and rock music, big commercial success eluded him at the time (and just like Townes, this was probably due more to his own actions as anything else - nor did he seem to care), and his life played out even more tragically than Townes, making a far too brief appearance on the American music scene. He was amongst the first artists to introduce country vocal harmonies and country and bluegrass instrumentation to rock and roll, effectively bridging a gap between bluegrass, country, and rock. He completed only 2 solo albums before his way too soo. death and his achievements were often judged more by their effect on other artists - both country and rock - than on their own merit - a wrong now being righted right here.

Despite his family's wealth, he did not have an easy life. Born Cecil Ingram Connors III in 1946 in the middle of Florida but raised in southern Georgia, his family life in was full of upheaval and emotional turmoil. His mother, Avis was the daughter of Florida's largest citrus fruit multi-millionare magnate and father, Ingram Connor II was a famous highly decorated WW2 flying ace who was present at the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Though very wealthy and described as affectionate parents and a loving couple, both suffered from depression (his father almost certainly had PTSD) and both became alcoholics.

Cecil began playing guitar in his early teens - his father, sang country music as a sideline under the name "Coon Dog" Connors. Like most youths growing up in the 1950s, however, he gravitated toward rock'n' roll, especially after attending a local Elvis Presley concert in 1956. Then his first great tragedy struck. Just after he turned 13, his father fatally shot himself in the head. Soon thereafter his rich but alcoholic mother married a New Orleans businessman named Robert Parsons. Thus the teenage boy and was adopted and given the name Gram Parsons.

Gram attended some expensive preparatory schools, but rebelled constantly, running away at 14. In 1964, influenced by then Greenwich Village resident, Bob Dylan, Parsons's musical interests turned from rock to folk and he ran away again
to NYC's electic, happening Greenwich Village at age 16, staying in a female folksingers loft. Returning home, he briefly played with a folk band called the Shilohs. Then his life was again torn apart in early 1965, when his mother's too heavy drinking led to her death from cirrhosis. He was persuaded to play country music during a brief stay at Harvard University (the most prestigious in the US, if not the world), when some wise students encouraged him to embrace his rural southern origins (something exotic at Harvard). The friendships Parsons forged at Harvard led to the formation of his first important group, the International Submarine Band, a.k.a. ISB, in 1966.

After only 4 months at Harvard, Parsons dropped out and moved with his band to NYC where they played a unique form of rock - unique in that it included the pedal steel guitar work of J. D. Maness and a playlist of modern country songs. They then moved to LA where the ISB cut one album - 1966's Safe at Home - for a small label before it dissolved in 1967. The album, very much a low budget production, wasn't released until 1968, after Parsons had joined The Byrds. Country Music U.S.A.' s Malone noted that the recording - now a very rare collector's item - was "well in advance of similar experiments made by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and other rock-oriented musicians."

For all its amateurish qualities, the ISB's lone album was, in many ways, remarkable and, as noted, ahead of its time. Like Gram’s subsequent band projects, his original songs shone the brightest, with 'Blue Eyes" being a playful commentary on young adult romance in the style of Buck Owens. The blissfully old-fashioned opening track pivots on a classic Parsons conceit - the indignities of life leavened by the simple pleasures of having “a pretty girl to love me with the same last name as mine”. Sailing happily above the counter-culture, it was the most carefree song he ever wrote, with its catchy chorus and the throwback honky tonk sound of the steel guitar -


'Luxury Liner' is Gram’s first (but not last) take on the high and distraught emptiness that bestowed his best works. Appearing on the ISB’s debut like A1 hillbilly rock, it also proved to be among his most enduring songs, later covered
as the title track of Emmylou Harris’ 1977 album. An upbeat, frill-free slice of chicka-boom rhythm, close-knit harmony
(a sign of things to come) and old-school sing-song pedal steel, the symbolic train of American country music folklore
here becomes “... 40 tons of steel ...”, the opulence only highlighting the predicament of a fellow who made “... a living running round ...”. His baby’s gone, but there’ll be another waiting in the next port -


By 1968, Parsons had come to the attention of The Byrds' bassist, Chris Hillman, who he had previously met in a bank in 1967. The band we're looking for replacements following the departures of David Crosby and Michael Clarke. In February 1968, Gram passed an audition for the band, being initially recruited as a jazz pianist but soon switching to rhythm guitar and vocals.

Roger McGuinn later said - “I thought I hired a piano player. Gram turned out to be a monster in sheep’s clothing. And
he exploded out of that sheep’s clothing. Good God! It’s George Jones in a sequin suit!
” One really has to admire the pure chutzpah of Gram Parsons when it comes to his short time as a Byrd. He appeared on just one Byrds album, the hard left turn away from psychedelia that was "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" in 1968 - but on the version that was released his voice was largely absent, owing to contractual wranglings arising from the demise of the ISB, even when the songs were his (this recording, featuring Parsons singing, was unheard until the Byrds box set in 1990). But his presence was crucial, not just to that record, but to shaping the whole direction the Byrds took even after he left, when bluegrass player Clarence White joined, and the group continued down the country road. In a nutshell, Gram waltzed his way into one of the biggest rock bands in the world and immediately, by his sheer talent and strong personality, radically transfigured their sound then abruptly quit in the middle of a European tour - all within the space of 6 months.

Parsons radical impact on the Byrds 1968 "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" album was obvious as it turned from psychedelic rock to country. Originally a hit for George Jones in 1962, the honky tonk lament 'You're Still On My Mind' tells the story
of a man who is unable to get a woman off his mind no matter how much he tries to drink away, leading to the tag line - "An empty bottle, a broken heart, and you're still on my mind" -


Now for Parsons’ signature song, Hickory Wind'. Chris Hillman said - “If Gram had never written another song, “Hickory Wind” would have put him on the map. The song says it all – it’s very descriptive, with vivid imagery. It’s actually quite literary, but Gram was, we know, was a very bright kid. If you know the guy’s life story, however he conjured up that scenario – it’s right at home. Gram was shuffled off to a prep school, lots of money… that’s a lonely song. He was a
lonely kid.”


I love the symbol of the hickory tree standing for Grams lost southern innocent childhood - for me (and I suppose for Gram) the hickory is the king of trees in the South, with it's beautiful Autumn colours and tough, textured wood, perfect and widely used for strong, durable furniture. Being the region which has the world's best barbecues - sorry to say, but the South really do have the best barbies - hickory wood is a must to get the very best flavour out of smoked meat. The title of the song alone evokes so much of the South thus.

A poignant tale of the nostalgic pull of one’s hometown, it mainly addresses Parsons’ feelings towards his childhood and his longing for the simplicity of life before he became famous. It’s a masterpiece through and through - the real beauty of Parsons’ signature song lies in its simple sincerity. The poignancy in the words, voice, aching steel guitar and fiddle – by sessioneers Lloyd Green and John Hartford – evoke almost unbearable nostalgia for a time of remembered innocence. It’s all the more fitting Gram went off script to play it when The Byrds appeared (controversially for the staid conservatives) on The Grand Ole Opry in 1968 -


'One Hundred Years from Now' was one of the great early Parsons songs, a track that combined his cosmic wondering – “100 years from this day, will the people still feel this way? / Still say the things that they’re saying right now?” – with the bruised romance of traditipnal honky tonk – “... Everyone said I’d hurt you / They said that I’d desert you...”. What really makes the song soar, though, is the magnificent descending steel guitar hook, which takes the track from being workaday to soaraway. Truly, the promise of Cosmic American Music realised: the mood is country, the bottom end is pulsing rock, the harmonies are classic Byrds derived from the Appalachian close harmony of the Louvin Bros (see posts # 294-295) and the lyrics hint at a satisfyingly vague profundity. Once again, Parsons’ original lead vocal was removed by Roger McGuinn before "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" was released, and only reinstated on the 1990 Byrds boxset -


The best sources generally agree that Parsons had two reasons for ditching the Byrds. One of them was noble - he wasn’t so happy about the idea of playing in front of segregated audiences in South Africa, where they were booked to tour. The other was a bit more self indulgent - Gram wanted to play music and do drugs with Keith Richards . And that’s just what he did - Richards has long credited Parsons with introducing him to the pleasures of classic country music, which has since remained his chief love and passion when not earning his money (and, unlike me, he's become a real expert on country music history). He also introduced Parsons to Mick Jagger, and what had up to the basically been a "rocked-up" blues band, by taking on-board the other parent of rock'n'roll, in country music and incorporating it into their sound, reached their artistic peak in their "Sticky Fingers" album.

As for the drugs - yeah, it seems they took more than a little, just as Gram Parsons seemed destined for great success. But that's enough for today.
 

Gough

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Our new artist had much in common with Townes Van Zandt. He came from a wealthy, privelaged background and was highly intelligent, his first record was released in 1968, despite now being recognised as being enormously influential on both country and rock music, big commercial success eluded him at the time (and just like Townes, this was probably due more to his own actions as anything else - nor did he seem to care), and his life played out even more tragically than Townes, making a far too brief appearance on the American music scene. He was amongst the first artists to introduce country vocal harmonies and country and bluegrass instrumentation to rock and roll, effectively bridging a gap between bluegrass, country, and rock. He completed only 2 solo albums before his way too soo. death and his achievements were often judged more by their effect on other artists - both country and rock - than on their own merit - a wrong now being righted right here.

Despite his family's wealth, he did not have an easy life. Born Cecil Ingram Connors III in 1946 in the middle of Florida but raised in southern Georgia, his family life in was full of upheaval and emotional turmoil. His mother, Avis was the daughter of Florida's largest citrus fruit multi-millionare magnate and father, Ingram Connor II was a famous highly decorated WW2 flying ace who was present at the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Though very wealthy and described as affectionate parents and a loving couple, both suffered from depression (his father almost certainly had PTSD) and both became alcoholics.

Cecil began playing guitar in his early teens - his father, sang country music as a sideline under the name "Coon Dog" Connors. Like most youths growing up in the 1950s, however, he gravitated toward rock'n' roll, especially after attending a local Elvis Presley concert in 1956. Then his first great tragedy struck. Just after he turned 13, his father fatally shot himself in the head. Soon thereafter his rich but alcoholic mother married a New Orleans businessman named Robert Parsons. Thus the teenage boy and was adopted and given the name Gram Parsons.

Gram attended some expensive preparatory schools, but rebelled constantly, running away at 14. In 1964, influenced by then Greenwich Village resident, Bob Dylan, Parsons's musical interests turned from rock to folk and he ran away again
to NYC's electic, happening Greenwich Village at age 16, staying in a female folksingers loft. Returning home, he briefly played with a folk band called the Shilohs. Then his life was again torn apart in early 1965, when his mother's too heavy drinking led to her death from cirrhosis. He was persuaded to play country music during a brief stay at Harvard University (the most prestigious in the US, if not the world), when some wise students encouraged him to embrace his rural southern origins (something exotic at Harvard). The friendships Parsons forged at Harvard led to the formation of his first important group, the International Submarine Band, a.k.a. ISB, in 1966.

After only 4 months at Harvard, Parsons dropped out and moved with his band to NYC where they played a unique form of rock - unique in that it included the pedal steel guitar work of J. D. Maness and a playlist of modern country songs. They then moved to LA where the ISB cut one album - 1966's Safe at Home - for a small label before it dissolved in 1967. The album, very much a low budget production, wasn't released until 1968, after Parsons had joined The Byrds. Country Music U.S.A.' s Malone noted that the recording - now a very rare collector's item - was "well in advance of similar experiments made by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and other rock-oriented musicians."

For all its amateurish qualities, the ISB's lone album was, in many ways, remarkable and, as noted, ahead of its time. Like Gram’s subsequent band projects, his original songs shone the brightest, with 'Blue Eyes" being a playful commentary on young adult romance in the style of Buck Owens. The blissfully old-fashioned opening track pivots on a classic Parsons conceit - the indignities of life leavened by the simple pleasures of having “a pretty girl to love me with the same last name as mine”. Sailing happily above the counter-culture, it was the most carefree song he ever wrote, with its catchy chorus and the throwback honky tonk sound of the steel guitar -


'Luxury Liner' is Gram’s first (but not last) take on the high and distraught emptiness that bestowed his best works. Appearing on the ISB’s debut like A1 hillbilly rock, it also proved to be among his most enduring songs, later covered
as the title track of Emmylou Harris’ 1977 album. An upbeat, frill-free slice of chicka-boom rhythm, close-knit harmony
(a sign of things to come) and old-school sing-song pedal steel, the symbolic train of American country music folklore
here becomes “... 40 tons of steel ...”, the opulence only highlighting the predicament of a fellow who made “... a living running round ...”. His baby’s gone, but there’ll be another waiting in the next port -


By 1968, Parsons had come to the attention of The Byrds' bassist, Chris Hillman, who he had previously met in a bank in 1967. The band we're looking for replacements following the departures of David Crosby and Michael Clarke. In February 1968, Gram passed an audition for the band, being initially recruited as a jazz pianist but soon switching to rhythm guitar and vocals.

Roger McGuinn later said - “I thought I hired a piano player. Gram turned out to be a monster in sheep’s clothing. And
he exploded out of that sheep’s clothing. Good God! It’s George Jones in a sequin suit!
” One really has to admire the pure chutzpah of Gram Parsons when it comes to his short time as a Byrd. He appeared on just one Byrds album, the hard left turn away from psychedelia that was "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" in 1968 - but on the version that was released his voice was largely absent, owing to contractual wranglings arising from the demise of the ISB, even when the songs were his (this recording, featuring Parsons singing, was unheard until the Byrds box set in 1990). But his presence was crucial, not just to that record, but to shaping the whole direction the Byrds took even after he left, when bluegrass player Clarence White joined, and the group continued down the country road. In a nutshell, Gram waltzed his way into one of the biggest rock bands in the world and immediately, by his sheer talent and strong personality, radically transfigured their sound then abruptly quit in the middle of a European tour - all within the space of 6 months.

Parsons radical impact on the Byrds 1968 "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" album was obvious as it turned from psychedelic rock to country. Originally a hit for George Jones in 1962, the honky tonk lament 'You're Still On My Mind' tells the story
of a man who is unable to get a woman off his mind no matter how much he tries to drink away, leading to the tag line - "An empty bottle, a broken heart, and you're still on my mind" -


Now for Parsons’ signature song, Hickory Wind'. Chris Hillman said - “If Gram had never written another song, “Hickory Wind” would have put him on the map. The song says it all – it’s very descriptive, with vivid imagery. It’s actually quite literary, but Gram was, we know, was a very bright kid. If you know the guy’s life story, however he conjured up that scenario – it’s right at home. Gram was shuffled off to a prep school, lots of money… that’s a lonely song. He was a
lonely kid.”


I love the symbol of the hickory tree standing for Grams lost southern innocent childhood - for me (and I suppose for Gram) the hickory is the king of trees in the South, with it's beautiful Autumn colours and tough, textured wood, perfect and widely used for strong, durable furniture. Being the region which has the world's best barbecues - sorry to say, but the South really do have the best barbies - hickory wood is a must to get the very best flavour out of smoked meat. The title of the song alone evokes so much of the South thus.

A poignant tale of the nostalgic pull of one’s hometown, it mainly addresses Parsons’ feelings towards his childhood and his longing for the simplicity of life before he became famous. It’s a masterpiece through and through - the real beauty of Parsons’ signature song lies in its simple sincerity. The poignancy in the words, voice, aching steel guitar and fiddle – by sessioneers Lloyd Green and John Hartford – evoke almost unbearable nostalgia for a time of remembered innocence. It’s all the more fitting Gram went off script to play it when The Byrds appeared (controversially for the staid conservatives) on The Grand Ole Opry in 1968 -


'One Hundred Years from Now' was one of the great early Parsons songs, a track that combined his cosmic wondering – “100 years from this day, will the people still feel this way? / Still say the things that they’re saying right now?” – with the bruised romance of traditipnal honky tonk – “... Everyone said I’d hurt you / They said that I’d desert you...”. What really makes the song soar, though, is the magnificent descending steel guitar hook, which takes the track from being workaday to soaraway. Truly, the promise of Cosmic American Music realised: the mood is country, the bottom end is pulsing rock, the harmonies are classic Byrds derived from the Appalachian close harmony of the Louvin Bros (see posts # 294-295) and the lyrics hint at a satisfyingly vague profundity. Once again, Parsons’ original lead vocal was removed by Roger McGuinn before "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" was released, and only reinstated on the 1990 Byrds boxset -


The best sources generally agree that Parsons had two reasons for ditching the Byrds. One of them was noble - he wasn’t so happy about the idea of playing in front of segregated audiences in South Africa, where they were booked to tour. The other was a bit more self indulgent - Gram wanted to play music and do drugs with Keith Richards . And that’s just what he did - Richards has long credited Parsons with introducing him to the pleasures of classic country music, which has since remained his chief love and passion when not earning his money (and, unlike me, he's become a real expert on country music history). He also introduced Parsons to Mick Jagger, and what had up to the basically been a "rocked-up" blues band, by taking on-board the other parent of rock'n'roll, in country music and incorporating it into their sound, reached their artistic peak in their "Sticky Fingers" album.

As for the drugs - yeah, it seems they took more than a little, just as Gram Parsons seemed destined for great success. But that's enough for today.
Have waited for your Gram post. He's one of my idols, his voice just breaks your heart, he's the epitomy of southern gothic and has influenced so many musicians who matter to me. Having just written on a post on why rating art diminishes it I do feel a touch hypocritical in asking why the f*** isn't this man in the Rock and Roll Hall of fame but it needs to be asked. And that's before we even talk about the whole Emmylou and discovering her thing, have there ever been two more perfectly matched voices?
 

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Professor Knowall

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Gram's influence on the course of modern popular music - which was only truly appreciated in hindsight after his departure - is one theme of this little history. The other (as with 'me all) is to just to listen and enjoy what he did.

After Gram’s stoned summer of '68 idyll with Keith Richards was over, he got back to work, convincing Byrds bassist Chris Hillman to join him in a new band dubbed the Flying Burrito Brothers. Their partnership resulted in the clearest distillation of Parsons’ vision of what he called “cosmic American music”, fusing country, rock’n’roll, gospel, soul, R&B and folk - Gram knew about the common origins of these genres and really believed they belonged together. In practice, country mainly dominated their sound, but the 2 albums the band recorded with Parsons – 1969's "The Gilded Palace of Sin" and 1970's "Burrito Deluxe" – gave hints of what might have been. Certainly, Parsons was enthusiastically embracing every opportunity to explore, musically ... and pharmaceutically.

Parsons co-wrote 'Sin City' One with Chris Hillman, who recognized Parsons’ talent early and helped usher him in as a latter-day member of the Byrds as the folk-rock group shifted its focus to country rock with the landmark “Sweetheart
of the Rodeo” album. Hillman once said: “I think Gram did his best work in co-writes. Sometimes when you’re working with one other person, it’s such a magical thing. You’re editing each other and you’re trying to create that onepark.”

The lyrics on 'Sin City' achieve both a vague yet crushing poetic dissonance and a spot-on capture of the sin-ridden dreamland that was 1960's Los Angeles. Of all the tunes Gram and Chris Hillman penned for "The Gilded Palace of Sin", this song is really the one that won over Dylan, The Stones, and so many others. As writers and singers, Gram and Hillman had their own niches where they thrived. Together, they were a force. A superb country-gospel ballad paints
a ravaged portrait of a decaying LA. Picture the USA in 1969 - the climax of the counterculture. Society was rapidly changing and “prophets” like Lennon, Dylan, and Garcia were heralding in a new kingdom. This kingdom promised redemption and public repentance of the sins of consumerism and conservatism.

The traditional Old Testament language of 'Sin City' (Parsons studied theology in his brief time at Harvard) blended perfectly with the secular post-personality of the late 1960's. Though heavy with the old-time religious doomsaying
of The Louvin Brothers (see posts # 294-295) -
"... This old earthquake’s gonna leave me in the poorhouse /It seems like this whole town’s insane /
On the thirty-first floor your gold-plated door / Won’t keep out the Lord’s burning rain
..."
- it's an Old Testament-like anti-materialist prophecy. The language works because it connects the timeless to the timely. Parsons was so good at this that almost 50 years after his death, this music still connects. The first part of the chorus gets at alienation - a common disease. Then comes the sin (or idol), money - the "gold-plated door". And after the naming of the idol comes a looming judgment. Like the prophets of the Old Testament it calls for repentance. It also takes very modern sideswipes at consumerism and the record business (and as such, it's still just as relevant today). The man
come to “... clean up this town...” is Bobby Kennedy, assassinated not long beforehand in L.A. -


One of the standouts of "The Gilded Palace of Sin" was this perfectly pitched version of the Dan Penn/Chips Moman song 'Do Right Woman' (with harmonies by David Crosby), which Aretha Franklin had recorded - here was the country-soul fusion Parsons had dreamed of, played to perfection. By turning down the melodrama – the overfussy chord change of
the chorus is made rather more elegant and wounded – Parsons caught a mood of despairing resignation that suits the song perfectly -


'Dark End of the Street' is soul music's definitive cheating song. Also written by Penn and Moman, it was originally recorded by James Carr in 1966. The Burrito Brothers inject country elements into the arrangement, adding some
honky-tonk piano and plenty of twangy guitar. After a slightly uncertain start, it becomes a crackling version of Penn’s dark Southern Soul staple - loose, funky, racked and slightly raucous, personifying Gram’s vision of seamlessly blending genres through a country lens. From Sneaky Pete’s alien steel work to the stoned piano accents and Chris Ethridge’s chugging bassline, the track is an aching masterpiece of cosmic desert soul music, meanwhile easily ranking among Gram’s most captivating vocal performances. Between the hot-wire guitar licks and a Byrdsy solo, Parsons and Hillman channel The Everly Brothers, throwing the words “you and me” back and forth in a soulful game of pass the parcel -


Lazy roadhouse piano and campfire harmonies dominate on the Parsons-Hillman penned 'Wheels', that manages to be both an ode to the uncomplicated joys of the open road and a reaffirmation of Parsons’ religious faith - or a faith he was at least searching for. Notable for its easy slide into the mid-section and a great fuzzbox guitar crunch, it's a song that, in hindsight, seemed to encapsulate Parsons’ meteoric life - “... We’re not afraid to ride / We’re not afraid to die / C’mon wheels, take me home today / C’mon wheels take this boy away.” -


The search for redemption has fueled many great country songs and was a theme close to Parson's heart. Here, in 'Juanita', Parsons reacts to a breakup by falling into addictive behavior, only to be saved in the last verse by a 17-year
old girl (not such a controversial idea back then as it may be now). It's a classic country story of life, death and rebirth and once again the harmony and Grams vocals hit the spot -


Some have noticed some similarity between the melody and rhythm of the chorus in 'Juanita', with The Stones 'Dear Doctor', recorded the year prior on their "Beggers Banquet" album. Given the friendship and the weeks Gram and Keith spent together in between these recordings, it would not surprise if there was some crossover influence. But I'll have a little bit more to say about Gram and Keith tomorrow, as Parsons career with The Burrito Brothers is continued.
 

Professor Knowall

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The Flying Burrito Brothers were rock-flavored, but, under the influence of Gram Paraons, they covered songs from
the Louvin Brothers, George Jones, Merle Haggard and other hard-core country singers. Burrito instrumentation was similarly mixed, the steel-guitar stylings of Sneaky Pete gave the group a distinctive honky-tonk flavor. The Burrito Brothers' most compelling songs were those written by Parsons and Hillman, rendered by them in a sweet, clear duet harmony reminiscent of the Everly Brothers. They offered a new kind of country music, more Hank Williams than Jim Reeves or Sonny James. And if hip rock-stars could like country music, then maybe it wasn't just music for parents'
after all (which by 1969/70 it had pretty much become). Author Pamela Des Barres recalled in Rolling Stone - "Gram
could hurt through his voice better than anybody I've ever heard. He hurt so damn good, he made a pitiful broken
heart feel beautiful and profound".


As well as recording 2 essential LPs, The Burrito's, with Parsons, toured heavily, sharing bills with the Grateful Dead and hitting the festival circuit. Later in 1969, the band played the infamous Altamont Speedway Free Festival with Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and the Rolling Stones. Despite the festival’s tragedy (an enthusiastic audience member was stabbed to death by the Hells Angels, who were stupidly hired by the the Stones’ to provide security for
their performance), the tape of the Burritos’ afternoon set sounds positively joyous - a bright spot on a dark day. A shaken Gram got on board the helicopter that evacuated the Stones' after things got out of control. But time for more music, still with 1969's "The Gilded Palace of Sin".

The intro cut of The Flying Burrito Brothers’ seminal debut album, 'Christine’s Tune' is a highway country jam infused with rock‘n’roll sensibilities and the slick steel work of “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow. Co-written by Gram and Chris Hillman, the song poked fun at the prudish ways of Christine Hinton, a member of The GTO's and David Crosby’s then girlfriend. Tragically she was killed in a car accident in late 1969, hence the subsequent title change -


'Hot Burrito # 1' best melds Parson's experimental bent with the songwriting of His honky tonk heroes. It was
co-written with bassist, Chris Ethridge, a band mate since the ISB day, who came up with the melody. Parsons
wrote the lyrics after breaking up with his girlfriend, Nancy, and seemed to channel all his raw emotions into it -
the vulnerability in the song making it relatable to anyone who has gone through a break-up (haven't we all?).
'Hot Burrito # 1' is a heartbreak song par excellence, where the grief is spilling over into bitterness and anger.
She may have gone, but Parsons is the one “... who showed you how to do the things you’re doing now...”. He’s
“... the one who let you in...”. And while “... you may be sweet and nice / That won’t keep you warm at night... ”
may sound as a threat when spoken, he manages not to come across as even partly psychotic - that’s the power
of the vocal performance -


Grams had recorded an early (and quite flawed soulless) version of 'Do You Know How It Feels To Be Lonesome' on the ISB album 'Safe At Home'. Gram still obviously liked the song though, as he re-recorded it for the "The Gilded Palace of Sin" album with the title shortened to 'Do You Know How It Feels'. Chris Hillman is also a great singer and his duets with Gram are nothing short of stellar. He also deserves major props for being willing to tolerate Gram’s ego and superior vocal chops in order for the group dynamic to flourish most easily and this song serves as a prime example. When it comes to singing the sad stuff, Hillman let Gram take the reigns and served the tune best by harmonizing it to perfection. Here, Gram ponders on the weight of crushing sadness and indefinite solitude, posing the "How it feels to be lonesome?
with Hank Williams-esque poignancy -


'Older Guys', from the second Burritos album, 1970's "Burrito Deluxe", is throwaway compared with the great Parsons ballads, but it’s worthwhile – for showing that Parsons knew his way round a peppy, poppy melody, about the least country like selection I've included for Gram. It’s the rare Parsons song that brings a smile to the face rather than a
tear to the eye, and for the quite extraordinary promo clip featuring the band as the crew of a cabin cruiser - what's the cabin cruiser got to do with the song. Who knows? Who cares? There are clear pop elements in this song that Parsons rarely showed but clearly had up his sleeve, ready to go - if he wanted. The song – co-written with Hillman and future Eagle Bernie Leadon has a buoyant charm, and slyly funny lyrics -
The older guys tell me what it’s all about / The older guys really got it all worked out /
Since we got the older guys to show us how / I don’t see why we can’t stop right now.

Nevertheless, it has nothing to do with cabin cruisers -

The presence of Bernie Leadon on this track is a reminder of how influential Gram was on the harmonic music of the Eagles just a few years down the track -

Parsons' relationship with the Rolling Stones, which began when he was still in the Byrds, was known to the average punter mostly for the mass quantities of drugs he did with Keith Richards. But it also led to the Burrito Brothers hearing an advance copy of 'Sticky Fingers' and getting permission to record the Stones' best country song. Parsons and the bands version came out a year before the Stones' on 1970's 'Burrito Deluxe,' leading some to mistakenly believe that
it was actually written by Parsons and never received credit, specifically because of its dreamy cowboy lyrics that are
more associated with Parsons than the Stones. Debate rumbles on regarding the extent of Parsons’ contribution to
Jagger & Richards’ country ballad. Mick recalls that “we sat around originally doing this with Gram”, while his brother
Chris reckoned - “it’s basically Gram’s composition, not that he got any credit for it.”

However, in his last interview (which is on youtube), Parsons clearly debunks this myth, stating he only added the steel guitar in the master song and then they ended up including the song in their next album. In the interview, Parson also praised the song for its beauty. Although already recorded by the Stones, the Burritos were allowed to release their faithful, fragile version first. Leon Russell contributes a barnstorming piano solo -


As to why The Stones allowed Gram to release his version before they did themselves, well it seems it was just out of friendship and possibly a sense of gratitude for what they had learned from Parsons, which expanded their range beyond just being a heavy blues band. As Keith Richards later wrote - “I absorbed so much from Gram, that Bakersfield way of turning melodies and also lyrics, different from the sweetness of Nashville - the tradition of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, the blue-collar lyrics from the immigrant world of the farms and oil wells of California, at least times where it
had its origins in the Fifties and Sixties. That country influence came through in the Stones. You can hear it in ‘Dead Flowers,’ ‘Torn and Frayed,’ ‘Sweet Virginia,’ and ‘Wild Horses,’ which we gave to Gram to put on the Flying Burrito Brothers record "Burrito Deluxe" before we put it out ourselves
.”

That's enough for today - tomorrow will have the next stage in Gram Parsons' career.
 

Professor Knowall

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Fed up with Parsons’ drug-fueled hedonism and general unreliability, Chris Hillman gave his bandmate the boot in the spring of 1970. I suspect Parsons, after 2 albums without commercial return, had grown dissatisfied with his bandmates - he “was less of a team player than had once been supposed”, Barney Hoskyns drily wrote - and was happy to decamp again. Gram seemed in no hurry to get a solo career rolling. Instead, using the generous funds from his wealthy parent's trust fund, he pretty much spent 2 years hanging around with the Stones, diving deeper into substance abuse with Keith Richards, amid the protracted "Exile on Main Street" sessions in the south of France. An attempt to record an LP with ace Byrds sideman Clarence White and guitarist Ry Cooder went nowhere, with a drugged out Parsons barely able to muster up the strength to record scratchy, weak vocals - the tapes (thankfully?) long lost.

In mid 1972, Parsons finally re-emerged (having "countrified" the formerly blues only influenced Stones) with a deal with Reprise and a plan to get Merle Haggard to produce his first solo album. Haggard, though, had no interest in working with a druggy longhair (somewhat ironical given that 10 years later, Merle became one himself). Who knows what might have been? Instead, he recorded the album "GP" with a mostly unknown folksinger, Emmylou Harris, who was singing folk in
an obscure Washington, D.C. bar and not at all interested in country music, in spite of growing up in Alabama - “I hadn’t matured enough to appreciate it,” she said. But Parsons changed all that - recruiting Harris for his touring band, the Fallen Angels, he introduced and educated her to the simple complexities of country and in particular the high, tight Appalachian harmony of the Louvin Brothers (see posts # 294-295). "GP", released early in 1973, was the first of the 2 albums with Emmylou Harris providing the harmony, that are the centrepiece of Parson's catalog.

'Still Feeling Blue', the opening song on "GP", pulls off that time honoured country trick of making heartache sound like the greatest thing in the world, driven by Byron Berline’s fiddle, Ronnie Tutt’s rattling brushwork and jaunty banjo. In her first recorded Gram outing, Emmylou Harris simply soars on her chorus parts -


Written by Joyce Allsup, this 1969 almost-hit for Carl & Pearl Butler, 'We'll Sweep Up The Ashes In The Morning' is faithfully revisited by Parsons and Harris, her crystalline certainty anchoring his more wayward vocals. A song about battling the illicit thrill of “stolen love” and “wild desire”, it almost certainly carried personal resonance for the pair -


There's something indescribably ethereal about Parson's nearly 5 minute love ballad, 'A Song For You'. The closest
thing to it is the twangier material written and performed by his mate, Keith Richards and the Stones. Though just
one of Gram’s many glove songs, this takes the cake as his most tender and beautiful creation. The gentle organ backdrop, tear-inducing fiddle paired with a faint waning steel guitar and minimal yet subtly psychedelic percussion makes for one of the most harmonious compositions in his catalog. Emmylou’s background vocals sound especially
angelic behind Gram’s amorous disposition. It is a delicate creation - Harris is a distant, almost ghostly voice, Glen Hardin’s organ bubbles warmly in the background, and Parsons seems heartbreakingly lost. This slow, ruminative
track is a perfect example of how Parsons combined country and soul, starting with pedal steel guitar and fiddle, eventually making way for some churchy organ. Despite support from Harris, Parsons' voice breaks with regret on
nearly every line, even when the rhythm picks up a bit just before the second chorus -


As great of a writer as Gram was, he had an excellent ear for picking traditional songs to reinvent with the help of his supremely talented studio band. On this cover of Bobby Bare's 'Streets of Baltimore' (which we saw on post # 465), Glen Hardin and Al Perkins shine, painting a shimmery and lively atmosphere for Gram to slide in with his conversational sing-talking. The blue collar sentiments illuminate Gram’s ability to deliver simple country songs with great sincerity -


'She' borrowed heavily from southern lore, working fields and religion into another tale of doomed love. The song is often regarded as Parsons’ best and rawest vocal performance based on his vocal control and range and it'seasily one of the highlights of the album as well as one of the best moments of Parsons’ career. 'She' is characterized by components of southern religion, and describes a woman working in a field. It is based on a classic country theme of doomed love.

Even at its most shaky, Gram’s voice always had presence. 'She' takes a stab at pop balladry and melds it with a serene backdrop, with the lyrics capturing the simple pleasures of Southern life with profound beauty and exuberance. 'She' was another of the weeping ballads that seem to be pitched in some impossible-to-pinpoint time when the past and future come together in the cotton fields under the delta sun -
“... she worked and she slaved so hard / A big old field was her back yard in the delta sun /
Ah, but she sure could sing, ooh, she sure could sing
.”
This is one of those Parson songs that influenced the Stones in their equally non time-and-place specific approach to country songwriting -


Tomorrow will have more from the "GP" album ... and some.
 
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Professor Knowall

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Providing a major clue as to why Parsons never achieved major commercial success amongst the public in his lifetime, even while being noticed by fellow musicians, with Emmylou Harris once saying - "Working with Gram was a wonderful experience. He was wildly misunderstood, too country for the rockers and too weird for the Nashville establishment. But he had a vision and a love for those old Louvins harmonies that was intense and powerful". Notice how Emmylou referred to "... those old Louvin harmonies...". I've mentioned the Louvins, a few times over the Parsons history - there high, tight Appalachian harmony (see posts 194-195) is pivotal to the sound Parsons developed. As her own star rose in Nashville, Harris never missed an opportunity to praise Parsons for daring to work within his country roots, saying - "I had no fire in me until Gram died. But afterwards I felt strongly that I had to continue his work. It was hard going solo but my attitude was always, 'How would Gram do this?' and somehow my sound evolved".

Continuing with selections from 1969's "GP" album, 'That’s All It Took' was another stellar duet with Harris on a classic honk tonk number with the Ray Price best, that was a 1966 hit for George Jones and Gene Pitney -


A smoother, somewhat more contemporary take on the country-rock theme – you could easily imagine the Eagles covering this on their early albums – 'The New Soft Shoe' marries a lovely unhurried melody to a pleasingly evasive
lyric which seems to portray a lifetime’s worth of labours of love, cherished memories and missed chances. Al Perkins’ steel guitar accompaniment drags the "cosmic American music" perfected by the Flying Burrito Brothers back to the barrooms in one of the best collaborations between Parsons and Harris -


'Kiss the Children' was written by Gram and his close friend and collaborator, Ric Grech and Gram Parsons. The song
is about a man whose misery, depression and drinking habits have ruined his relationship with his partner and children.
The man fears that the woman can now see him for who he is and is afraid of losing her love. The man’s last request to the woman in the song is that she should kiss the children for him. The song has a sombre mood despite being a classic country song. Paced by James Burton’s warbly guitar licks and a soft shuffle bea, its true brilliance lies in its harrowing lyrics, amplified by Gram’s near-hopeless vocals. Sang with utter emotional despair, the sentiment is sealed by an all male backing chorus on key lines in each verse, turning the song from a remorseful country lullaby to a spiritual crescendo of God-fearing agony -


'How Much I’ve Lied' was written by Gram Parsons and David Rivkin. The song revolves around the theme of experience with love, heartbreaks, and lies. A rogue’s mea culpa, also later recorded by Elvis Costello on "Almost Blue", this number would've have suited George Jones to a T. James Burton’s twanging dobro and Buddy Emmons’ steel guitar do most of the heavy lifting before the chorus explodes in a sunburst of gilded harmony, a sound at odds with the lyric’s deep shade of “burning blue”. Gram’s biographer, David Meyer, described this song as - “Gram’s most revealing self-portrait". Line by line, Gram exposes his soul en route to a state of complete misery, pouring out one bleak confession after another -
“... Blue, so blue / My love still burns for you / But I know that I’ll only make you cry...".
The song’s underlying theme of despising one’s own demons but not being able to change epitomizes the sad truth of Gram’s tragic demise -


"GP" was something of a triumph. Its follow-up, 1974’s "Grievous Angel", was even better. No matter what his lifestyle was like, Parsons’ writing was at its very best, and his voice seemed fuller, more controlled and more heartfelt than ever.

The title-referencing track from Gram’s final studio album stamps an exclamation point on all the qualities that made
his brand of country music so vibrant. The exquisite instrumentation backing Gram and Emmylou’s stoic harmonies, seemingly coming from all directions, the unshakable vocal melodies and refrains that yielded many of Gram’s most memorable phrases, it’s all there. Parsons, with Tom Brown, who wrote most of the lyrics, creates arguably country-
rock's definitive song, where the narrator's desire to "grow up with the country" is tempered by the reminder of the
love he left behind. Parsons’ dusty prodigal returns to his woman filled with memories of “the truckers… the kickers
and the cowboy angels
”. A free-flowing torrent of a song, lit up by Glen Hardin’s sublime piano, and Parsons' rakish
vocal is beautifully supported by Emmylou Harris. The definitive Gram Parsons anthem and a timeless song -


Tomorrow will bring more from Parsons climatic "Grievous Angel" album - and then the sudden, final and wasteful tragedy of Gram Parsons far too short life.
 

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In hindsight, it's not surprising that Parsons, despite the high quality of his music, especially his last 2 albums, "GP" and "Grevious Angels", was never accepted into the Nashville mainstream - he never really tried, and instead did all the things not to get accepted - wear his hair long and adopt all the poses of a modern pop/rock star, hang out with and do drugs with Keith Richards, spend much of his his time in LA etc - even his Nudie suit (which, though now out of fashion amongst country musicians, was still worn by a few veterans like Hank Snow) didn't "save" his reputation in conservative Nashville - Gram's was decorated with marijuana plants! Like Townes, Nashville and Gram didn't care for each other. Gram wanted his music to reach a wider and younger audience.

Full of incredible songs,"Grievous Angel" is the more polished and well-produced project of Gram’s two solo records.
To quote Emmylou Harris again - “I discovered my own voice singing in harmony with Gram. There is something about
the uniqueness of two voices creating a sound that does not come when they are singing solo, and I have always been fascinated by that. That song, and our harmony, is kind of a pinnacle of our duet-singing together.


'Brass Buttons' was written by Parsons at age just 18 in 1965 but not recorded until 1973. It's a painfully intimate, heartfelt portrait of his mother Avis, an alcoholic who died from cirrhosis in 1965, 7 years after her husband, Parsons
war hero father, shot himself. Parsons’ genius showed through with the imagery in this song. It’s authentically heartfelt and sentimental, as James Burton weaves empathetic guitar lines set to an indelible melody. Parsons is alone, left only with “... warm evenings, pale mornings, bottled blues ..,” and he can’t help but reflect on the details of the life he has
now lost, of “.. the tiny golden pins that she wore up in her hair... ”. And all along she knew, “...it was a dream much
too real to be leaned against too long
... ”.

This eulogy to his mother, sung almost to himself, surely has Parsons most devastating, saddest lines -
“... Her words still dance inside my head / Her comb still lies beside my bed /
And the sun comes up without her / It just doesn’t know she’s gone ...”.
Perhaps what’s more heartbreaking is the fact that the album “Grievous Angel”, with this remembrance of his mother,
was released 4 months after his own death -


'$1000 Wedding' is a shining example of the cosmic beauty underlying Gram’s mature singer-songwriter stylings. A narrative odyssey that depicts a rueful wedding day and the disaster that follows, it offers a glimpse of the complex and painfully beautiful compositions that likely would have inhabited Gram’s future records had his career not been so brief. The sorry tale of a groom left waiting at the altar, the 9 minute original version – rejected by the Burritos in 1969 – made it explicit that the bride had “passed away”. The released version is ambiguous. The opening piano is (deceptively) lush, the mood stately, the structure unconventional. And while Parsons’ voice ripples with emotion his writing possesses the cool clarity of a classic American short story. The song that gets less and less straightforward the more you look at it. At first glance, it’s about a man who’s been left at the altar – or has the bride died? Are we seeing the wedding through the eyes of the groom? Or the guests? Maybe the hero of the song isn’t the narrator, but the disappeared bride - “... And why ain’t there one lonely horn / And one sad note to play?” Maybe it’s because she’s escaped the wretched fate of an unwanted marriage, maybe sadness isn’t the appropriate reaction -


Perhaps the best and most touching track on "Grevious Angel" (no small feat) was a cover. For me, this is the definitive cover of the Boudleaux Bryant song, ‘Love Hurts’. Though the Everly Brothers cover of the track in 1960 is beautiful, and it's best known by Nazareth's 1975 smash hit version, Parsons’ takes the track into a slow direction, bringing the speed down but turning the emotion up, completed by the duet of Harris. Just as Parsons’ vocal quivers Harris’ is clear as a bell, creating one of the seminal songs of an impressive career. Without meaning to take anything away from Dan McCafferty's impassioned vocal, the full beauty of the lyric is best felt through the intertwining of Parsons' and Emmylou Harris' voices in wounded close harmony and it's inarguably the most iconic and celebrated duet between Gram and Harris. They took a classic duet and made it their own, a love song for all time.

Parsons’s slowed down version and singing it as a duet with Harris changed its meaning from the origin nail Everly's version - it’s no longer the sound of reflection, it’s two broken-hearted people confronting each other with the depth
of their misery. Parsons’ voice cracks and quivers, Harris counters him with purity and clarity. Their harmonising is as beautiful as pop singing gets. And when they reach the middle eight – “Some fools think of happiness, blissfulness, togetherness” – Parsons takes the second syllable of togetherness a notch higher than the Everlys, into a minor key.
In that slight change of note, the smallest alteration, over in seconds, lies the sound of desperation - “... Love is just
a lie, made to make you blue...
,” they sing, and you know it isn’t true, know it isn’t true. If it were, they wouldn’t need
to tell us love is just a lie -


Now for the flipside of Presley’s 'Viva Las Vegas', which seems entirely apt. Elvis’ TCB band played on "GP" and "Grievous Angel", and here it really shows - there’s a touch of 'Guitar Man' in the good-time groove and James Burton’s scorching licks. It’s a losing-streak lament - “... crystal city…gonna make a wreck out of me” - from a gambling loser who sounds like he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. One of Gram’s most classic tunes and a prime display of Al Perkins’ pedal
steel wizardry, it's his most explicit and entertaining nod to living like an unabashed degenerate is littered with clever
and comical punchlines -
“... The queen of spades is a friend of mine / The queen of hearts is a b*tch /
Someday when I clean out my mind, I’ll find out which is which
...” -


It makes sense that 'In My Hour of Darkness' would close out the posthumous 'Grievous Angel.' Co-written with Harris, it's more of a prayer than a song, a meditation on a trio of his fallen comrades close to Parsons who had tragic endings with hope for deliverance. Parsons then tragically met his own untimely death shortly after its recording. A simple yet powerful tune, it fully embodies the spiritual nature of Gram’s searching lore (apparent in many of his songs, but none more so than this). Dedicated to his friends Brandon deWilde, Clarence White, and Sid Kaiser, the song turns into gospel-esque singalong, featuring gorgeous pianos that counterpoint the pastoral fiddle arrangements. Eerily, as the final track on his last album, 'In My Hour Of Darkness' became a haunting and moving eulogy to himself.

A premonition in song? The verse about a young country singer with a “silver-string guitar” creeps ominously close to
self-mythology. Future Eagle Bernie Leadon contributes dobro on this rousing hymn to those who have passed, and
Linda Ronstadt adds vocals -


To celebrate completing the recording of "Grievous Angel", before heading out on tour, Parsons headed up to Twentynine Palms Motel in Joshua Tree National Park to party. On 19/9/73, he lost consciousness in his room, and couldn't be revived. The short life of Gram Parsons was over at age 26, from an overdose of morphine and alcohol, (the same combination that killed Hank Williams at age 29), yet, in barely 5 years, he had altered the shape of American music.

There was a strange, now legendary aftermath. His close friend and tour manager Phil Kaufman - whose infamous
exploits earned him the nickname “the Road Mangler” - stole Parsons’ body from LA International Airport while it was being readied to ship to Parsons' home state of Louisiana - against the singer’s stated wishes. His step-family wanted
to bury Parsons at home, but Parsons had had a difficult childhood, suffering the deaths of both his natural parents,
and had reportedly requested that he be cremated and his ashes scattered at the Joshua Tree.

Kaufman and a friend drove Parsons’ body out to the Joshua Tree National Park, where Kaufman and Parsons had previously agreed that they would each burn the other’s body in the event of their deaths. Kaufman kept his promise
by pouring litres of petrol into Parsons’ casket and throwing in a match - which, of course, caused a big loud explosion, drawing the attention of park rangers, but only partially burnt the corpse. Kaufman and his accomplice were arrested,
but as there was no law at that time against stealing a body, they only faced fines of '300 each for illegally starting a
fire in the National Park and $750 costs for damage to the coffin.

Parsons was eventually buried in Garden of Memories of Metairie, Louisiana while Kaufman, to recoup costs, staged the Gram Parsons Funeral Party. Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers headlined the event, hosted at Kaufman's house. Admission costs plus the sales of specially-printed Gram Parsons t-shirts and beer bottles re-labeled as "Gram Pilsner" raised $800. In 2003, a movie titled "Grand Theft Parsons" chronicled the bizarre episode.

There ended up being a memorial at Joshua Tree after all, although it's not officially acknowledged by the park - it's a concrete slab that simply reads "Safe at Home," referencing a 1968 album by Parson's ISB - this features near the start
of the slide-show for 'She', the last of the songs posted 2 days back.

Now that I can finally leave town and back to the bush, I'll be taking a short break of at least a week from this history, while I decide on the next artist as we start heading into the seventies.
 

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Now that I've completed, in more depth than most, Gram Parsons too brief history, just a bit of my opinion here -
Have waited for your Gram post. He's one of my idols, his voice just breaks your heart, he's the epitomy of southern gothic and has influenced so many musicians who matter to me. Having just written on a post on why rating art diminishes it I do feel a touch hypocritical in asking why the f*** isn't this man in the Rock and Roll Hall of fame but it needs to be asked.
Absolutely - and not just the Rock and Roll but also the Country HoF - he should be an obvious inclusion in both (I have along the way noted a few glaring omissions from the Country Music HoF).
And that's before we even talk about the whole Emmylou and discovering her thing, have there ever been two more perfectly matched voices?
Not that I can think of - at least as a male/female combo they were in sync not just in musical terms but also emotionally. As I pointed out a few times in the history, Gram himself learned from the best in the Louvin Brothers.
 

Gough

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A few years ago Chris Hillman was doing a guitar and mandolin show at the Festival which my brother and I went to, he played some Byrds, stuff, a bit of solo stuff and then the did Christina's Tune and the place exploded, it was choc full of Gram fans who wanted to bask in the glow by association. Jordie Lane (Denise Scott's son) is an Australian folk artist who I saw supporting Billy Bragg when he did his Guthrie show and he told about how he wrote almost all of one his albums at room 8 at the Joshua Tree Inn and then went out into the desert and burned the guitar he used to write the songs with.
 

Professor Knowall

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I'm back in town to continue this history - and, sorry to say to some, but after the deep, influential albeit troubled genius of Townes Van Zandt and the pioneering cosmic beauty of Gram Parsons' music, I'm objectively compelled to return, at least for now, back to the commercial mainstream of the time with an artist who had a huge 1970 crossover hit that was still widely remembered at the 50th anniversary of its release.

Elizabeth Haaby was born a long way from the South, but close to the Canadian border in Minnesota in 1930. At age 16 she married Casey Anderson. Liz had a daughter, Lynn at age 17 in 1947 and then started working as a secretary. In 1957 they moved to Sacramento, California where Liz starting writing songs. Casey was a member of the Sheriff's posse, taking part in the National Centennial Pony Express Celebration. Casey convinced his wife to write a song in honor of the Pony Express. The song she wrote became the official song of the Centennial celebration in 1960.

Liz Anderson began publishing her songs and made friends within the burgeoning Bakersfield Sound scene during the early 1960s, with her first hits recorded by Del Reeves and Roy Drusky in 1964. In 1965, Drusky and Merle Haggard both had a top 10 hit (Merle's first) with Anderson's 'All My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers', for which she won a BMI award. She also wrote Haggard's # 1 hit, 'I'm A Lonely Fugitive' and Conway Twitty's first country hit, 'Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart'. Liz went on to become country music's most successful female songwriter, publishing over 260 songs during her career, recorded by pretty much every major country star, and along the way earned 5 BMI awards.

Meanwhile, Liz's demo vocals were noticed by Chet Atkins who signed her to RCA in 1965. Her initial singles did well
and her third, 'Game of Triangles', with Bobby Bare and Norma Jean, became a top 5 hit, with another top 5 hit, 'Mama Spank', in 1967. But it was just at this time her teenage daughter, Lynn, "stole" her limelight. The Haggard connection proved crucial to launching Lynn’s own music career. In Nashville with her mother, she sang informally with Haggard at a private party. Slim Williamson, owner of the small Chart Records, was present and promptly offered Lynn a recording deal. Liz wrote a number of her daughter's early hits, including her 1967 debut single 'Ride, Ride, Ride', as well as her first big hit, the top 5 'If I Kiss You (Will You Go Away)' (also in 1967). Lynn would later have her biggest success in the 1970s, becoming one of country music's most successful female vocalists. So it's the vocalist daughter, Lynn, rather than her highly successful song-writing mother, Liz, that is the our latest subject.

For 2 years during the late 1960s, Lynn was a regular on the nationally popular variety “Lawrence Welk Show”. WSM DJ and Grand Ole Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs, said - "Lynn Anderson really helped expand the boundaries of country music because there wasn't a lot of (it) on network television at that time." So for the first music selection, we have the smiling fresh-faced teen, Lynn, making her debut on the Lawrence Welk Show with her first top 5 hit, written for her by mother, Liz, 'If I Kiss You (Will You Go Away)' -


Just a few months later in 1967, another Liz Anderson penned song for her daughter went to # 4, it's success largely attributed to Lynn's performance on the Lawrence Welk Show. Despite the somewhat muted sound, the performance is worth a watch, especially the bit where Lynn startles the then well known accomplished accordionist, Myron Floren, by ruffling his hair -

Anderson eventually departed the Lawrence Welk Show amid objections to singing in stereotypical haywagon settings, but went on to appear on numerous other variety shows.

'No Another Time', released in 1968, with Lynn accompanied by a solid hillbilly sound, charted for 14 weeks, reaching # 8. Here, the singer shows she's a pretty good sport, seeming to give her lover 2 free swings at cheating before striking him out. Not all I've met have been so accommodating -


'Big Girls Don't Cry', not be confused with the 1962 Franki Valle and the Four Seasons megahit of the same name, was also released in 1968. Surprisingly, it only peaked at # 12 in the U.S, but reached # 1 in Canada. It's now regarded as a significant development in Anderson's artistic development, showing a vocal range and subtlety not previously revealed. Ironically the lyrics have a daughter giving some advice to her mother, when in reality the song was again written by Mother Liz for her daughter -


'Flattery Will Get You Everywhere' reached # 11 in 1969. It was Anderson's 5th major hit. What I most like about this is the start - we have the great Nashville A-Team steel guitarist Lloyd Green setting the tone, allied with the classic Ray Price beat, taking us back to the late fifties, before Anderson joins in, completing the classic country sound. The lyrics, again written by her mother, Liz, are, based on my experience, truthful and should be taken as good advice -


In just 2 years from 1967 to 1969, we've seen a young Lynn Anderson become a major country music star, singing mostly bright, light, cheery tunes (no Townes Van Zandt influence here) that matched her personality, and helped in no small part by the song-writing genius of her mother Liz - and aptitude Lynn didn't inherit. Instead, as if being the daughter of one of country music's top songwriters wasn't enough, in 1968 Lynn married Glenn Sutton another of the very best country songwriters and the major record producer at Columbia.

It took a couple of years for Anderson to finally get to # 1, but in 1970, one song launched Lynn's profile right up to the very top of the tree, with a song celebrated even 50 years later. Tomorrow will bring that song and the apex of Lynn Anderson's singing career.
 

Professor Knowall

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While ascending the country music stardom staircase, Lynn Anderson was also a serious horse breeder and a champion award-winning lifelong equestrian. Her parallel career as an equestrian began when she won the California Horse Show Queen title in 1966. She competed in show horse and cowgirl events such as cutting (separating a single animal from a cattle herd) events for many years and raised horses at her ranch in Taos, New Mexico. She often alternated between performing concerts and participating in equestrian shows - "I'd go sing at a concert, then fly to a horse show, then
fly back the next night for a concert. I was real serious
... ".

Anderson also bred horses, most notably quarter horses. Among her bred horses, Doc Starlight, helped start a bloodline for cutting horses in the US. She was a lifelong member of the American Quarter Horse Association and the cutting horse events were her favorite, winning 24 national and world championships. She also became involved in therapeutic horse riding programs for disabled and troubled children. But time to return to the music of this real life cowgirl, as we drop
back into 1969.

I said yesterday that Anderson started her career singing generally sang light, bright, breezy songs, so here's another example. 'That's a No No' reached # 2 in 1969, her 7th major hit single. For me, Anderson's singing is very nearly overshadowed by steel guitar great, Lloyd Green, really ripping it up -


It's been too long since I've had Bluegrass in this history, so here's 'Rocky Top'. The husband-and-wife songwriting
team Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, who also penned the #1 hits "All I Have to Do Is Dream" and "Wake Up Little Susie" for the Everly Brothers (see post # 393), wrote it while staying at The Gatlinburg Inn in Tennessee where one can stay in the Rocky Top Suite where the song was written. They were working on slow-tempo songs when they took a 10 minute break to write something livelier and proved the Hank Williams rule - the best songs are written in less than 20 minutes.

The real Rocky Top is a peak located in the Appalachian Great Smoky Mountains of Eastern Tennessee, but the song's location is fictional. In 2014, Lake City, Tennessee was officially renamed Rocky Top. It peaked at #33 for the Osborne Brothers in 1968, but it became much more popular in 1970 when Anderson's version went to #17, a big success for a bluegrass song. Many other country singers have taken a crack at it, including Dolly Parton, Buck Owens, John Denver, Conway Twitty, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. In this upbeat bluegrass tune (albeit with drums instead of the traditional slap bass and a heretical electric guitar), a country boy - or in this case, girl - moves to the city and reminisces about his home-sweet-home of Rocky Top, Tennessee, where the air is as fresh as the moonshine is potent and the women - or the men in Anderson's version - are wild -

Though not amongst her chart topping hits, Anderson continued to perform and record bluegrass numbers intermittently for the rest of her life - including an entire (and more traditional) bluegrass album in 2004.


The album, "Stay There 'Til I Get There", recorded in 1970, was produced by hubby Glenn Sutton and was their first production together. The pair would go on to collaborate frequently during Anderson's career. Sutton would not only produce but also compose several of her biggest hits. Three of the album's songs were penned by Sutton, including
the record's title track, 'Stay There, Till I Get There'. I reckon you can tell it's been written by a male - who among
us hasn't made or received that phone call in the early hours of the morning (way more than once), telling us to stay
right where we are (though not necessarily in any sort of friendly tone)? This relatable song reached # 7 in 1970 -


Also included in the 1970 album 'Stay There 'Til I Get There', were 3 covers including Glen Campbell's 'Honey Come Back'. Anderson shows she can talk the lyrics as well as sing. Her version was too good to omit here, despite it never being released as a single -


And now the reason Lynn Anderson made it into this history. In late 1970, the sound of 'Rose Garden' dominated the country - and pop - music airwaves, for weeks - worldwide. The song had previously been recorded by its composer, Joe South, for an album, but Anderson wanted to record it the first time she heard it. Anderson later the problem for Sutton and his boss Billy Sherrill was the line “I could promise you things like big diamond rings" - They thought it was not a line that a woman would say to a man. Therefore there could not be a female vocal on that particular song”. Nevertheless, with a spare 10 minutes at the end of a recording session, she persuaded the studio musicians to accompany her on 'Rose Garden'.

The head of Columbia, Clive Davis, happened to be in Nashville, and heard a playback of the song. In his memoirs he wrote that: “I flipped out; the crossover potential seemed obvious.” He promptly decreed that 'Rose Garden' be issued as a single. With the subsequent airplay, Anderson’s powerful alto voice and the arresting opening lyric, “I beg your pardon... I never promised you a rose garden”, the record became a huge hit, not only in the US, where it topped both the country and pop charts, but was a # 1 hit on the pop charts across Europe and in Australia and # 3 in the U.K. The record sold more than 3 million.

As for the song itself, it's message is simple enough - don't be down in the dumps, it doesn't matter if things ain't perfect, cheer up and let's go out on the town and enjoy living it up while we still can -


The runaway success of 'Rose Garden' netted Anderson the Best Female Vocal Performance Grammy Award and in 1971 the CMA named her Female Vocalist of the Year. Over the last 50 years, 'Rose Garden' has been covered by numerous times by artists including k.d. lang, Martina McBride, Suicide Machines and Southern Culture on the Skids. However, it's crossover pop appeal resulted in Anderson's music in the following years often departing from its country roots into the then pop and adult contemporary sound, which resulted in some more big hits (though nowhere near as successful as 'Rose Garden'), but with rather banal light songs which haven't dated well. But there were exceptions, so tomorrow will see out the rest of Lynn Anderson's music career.
 
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Professor Knowall

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While Anderson never quite duplicated that crossover worldwide phenomenon of 'Rose Garden', she racked up 14 more Top 10 hits on the country charts through to 1974, including the # 1 'How Can I Unlove You', 'You're My Man', 'Keep Me
in Mind' and 'What a Man, My Man Is'. However, hoping to cash in on more crossover success, the songs sounded more Country-pop, that was very popular at the time, giving country songs a more pop-edged sound it, by adding orchestral instruments and way over-produced sound. These songs haven't dated well and based on these objective reasons - and subjectively I just don't like them - I'm skipping these big hits and going for more enduring songs with a country flavour, even if a majority (though not all) my selections for today are covers rather than originals. If you want to check out the songs named above, they're all on youtube - but you've been warned, those smooth but trite romantic pop dirges just ain't (IMO) all that good. Here are some better ones -

'Sunday Morning Comin Down', written by an up and coming songwriter, Kris Kristofferson and now a country standard, was first recorded in 1969 by Ray Stevens before becoming a # 1 hit for Johnny Cash (see post # 341). Anderson then recorded a version - with some lyrics slightly changed to represent a female's point of view - for her top-selling # 1 1970 album "Rose Garden". This song is a marked departure from Anderson's usual repertoire of optimistic or not to serious themes that suited her personality. Though it doesn't have the rawness or sense of despair of the Cash version, it's an interesting contrast with some nice touches, including the gospel choir for the chorus, giving this song of loneliness and despair a not so desolate vibe -


'Cry' is a 1951 pop song written by Churchill Kohlman and first recorded by Ruth Casey but the biggest hit version was recorded by Johnnie Ray and The Four Lads in 1951. Ronnie Dove also had a big hit with it in 1966. Anderson had major success in with her 1972 (semi) countrified version, released, which hit # 1 in the U.S. and Canada and also charted # 16 on the U.S. Adult Contemporary Chart. It's enduring popularity as a standard and great melody led me to include it over some of Anderson's bigger, original but more mundane country-pop hits that haven't aged as well as this -


'Listen to a Country Song' was originally recorded by Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina on their 1971 album "Sittin' In", however it was first released as a single by Anderson in 1972 from her album "Listen to a Country Song" and peaked
at # 4 in the U.S and # 1 in Canada. Of course I chose to include this because it really is a country song, with country lyrics and a thoroughly country accompiament, amongst all the POP-country (capitals are deliberate) stuff Anderson
was coming out with (not that I blame her - they sold well at the time, but they've aged badly) at the time. Perhaps
she was reminding her fans - or reassuring herself - that her heart was still with more authentic country music.

The song itself hardens back to a time (but still within the memory of many country music fans in 1972), where people living in the country, often without electricity, provided there own musical entertainment - and spawned so many of our country music heroes. It also has some inventive lyrics, like rhyming Sue with jujitsu -
"... My brother Jack sneaks out from the back tryin' to get to sister Sue
Watch him closin' on the ground about turnin' around she knows a little jujitsu
.."


'Top of the World' is a 1972 song written and composed by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis and first recorded by the soft-pop group, The Carpenters, who originally intended the song to be only an album cut. Anderson covered the song in 1973 for her album "Top of the World" and was the first single released from her album, becoming the first hit version, reaching # 2. The success of Anderson's version then prompted the Carpenters to re- record an upgraded version from their original album cut, topping the US pop charts in December 1973. Anderson's also later re-recorded the song for her 2004 album, "The Bluegrass Sessions". It's another of those cheery, optimistic songs with lyrics and vibe that so suited Anderson's cheery personality -


Anderson's had a daughter with husband, Glenn Sutton, a Songwriters HoF inductee, but they were divorced in 1977, after she was promised more than a rose garden by Louisiana billionaire oilman Harold Stream III. During this marriage, she concentrated on her equestrian and fund-raising activities, but still made the upper regions of the country charts with POP-country singles such as ‘Isn’t It Always Love’ and ‘I Love How You Love Me’. This marriage produced 2 more children, before her second divorce in 1982.

Anderson remained one of the top female country singers into the 1980's. Her last top 10 record was 1984's 'You're Welcome to Tonight'. After spending time on her ranch, raising horses and participating in equestrian events, she began recording again in 1992. She was especially popular in the U.K, appearing several times at the annual international country music festival at Wembley Stadium. Anderson also starred as a country singer in "Wreck on the Highway",
a BBC TV play in 1990.

Anderson had finished her last album in 1988, concentrating on her cowgirl and horse breeding careers and raising her family when in 1992 she came out with her first album in 4 years, containing all new material. The album had a Western theme, with songs reflecting this. The title "Cowboy's Sweetheart" fitted Anderson's own personal profile as a national champion professional equestrian and horse cutter and breeder in addition to her music business. Songs included on
this album were new songs for Anderson to record, but many were cover versions, including her 1980 top 30 hit, 'Even Cowgirls Get the Blues', as well as Patsy Montana's 1935 classic Western hit, 'I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart', and Slim Whitman's version of the classic 'Red River Valley'. Pop songs with a Western theme we're also included such as Gogi Grant's 'The Wayward Wind' (a duet with Emmylou Harris) and Cole Porter's 'Don't Fence Me In'.

'Red River Valley' is a folk or cowboy (or in this case, cowgirl) song. The song was known in at least 5 Canadian provinces before 1896 and was probably composed at the time of an 1870 expedition to Manitoba's Red River Valley. It expresses the sorrow of a local woman as her soldier lover prepares to return to the east - though in Anderson's version, she has reversed the genders, so the singer is a cowgirl. What's more, Anderson turns this traditional ballad into an absolute Western swing honky tonker. Given that Anderson was also a champion real life cowgirl as well as singer, this seems
an appropriate way to finish her music -



"The Bluegrass Sessions", released in 2004, earned Anderson her first Grammy nomination in over 30 years. That same year she was arrested in Texas, for drunk driving. Anderson released a new CD of original songs entitled "Cowgirl" in 2006, all of the songs penned by her acclaimed songwriting mother, Liz Anderson, who later passed away in 2011.

Battling with alcoholism (so what lay beneath her cheery exterior?), Anderson had several more arrests for drink-driving. Following her last 2014 arrest in Nashville, she apologized to her fans in a statement and went into rehab. In 2015, she seemed poised for a comeback, releasing a gospel album to positive reviews and appeared at the CMA Music Festival. However, after being hospitalized for pneumonia following a trip to Italy, Lynn Anderson unexpectedly died of a heart attack in 2015. She was 67 years old.

In 2018, the Lynn Anderson Rose Garden was dedicated at her final resting place in Nashville, and included a rose variety named after her, In 2020, 50 years after the release of her signature song 'Rose Garden', the song was widely celebrated in country music circles, including special recognition at the CMA awards. A special pink vinyl edition of the song was also released.

When the history next returns, it will be with a living legend of American music and without doubt one of the greatest (and I don't need to add "country" here) - recently named by the BBC as the world's most popular celebrity.
 

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