Keith Glass Arrived In The USA The Day Before Gram Died.
My first ever international flight landed in Los Angeles the morning of the 18th of September 1973. It was the day after my 27th birthday. The previous decade had been filled with discovery: performing, playing music and starting a family and a business.
Influences had been the popular music of childhood, a penchant for Jazz and Blues and a personal realisation over about a five year gestation period that a Country music thread had always been in there too. On finishing up a two-year stint in the stage musical Hair I’d started a country band. It is no exaggeration to say that the person who had most influenced this direction was Gram Parsons and his concept of ‘Cosmic American Music.’
From the Byrds Sweetheart Of The Rodeo through the first two Flying Burrito Brothers albums to the recently released GP I’d taken it all in and listened afresh to Merle Haggard, George Jones to find the core soul of this white bred music was not so different from the R&B we were besotted with in the late 60’s.
Now I was at the western entrance to the Holy land of most of my musical dreams I duly headed out to Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood the very next day to check out Nudie’s Western Wear and the famous Palomino Club. Nudie was in fact standing out front of his store puffing on a big cigar. Inside I found outlandish outfits pegged for big name country artists – The Burrito’s iconic first album cover was, alas, nowhere to be seen among a mass of memorabilia. Faron Young was playing the Pal that night so perhaps it is worth noting the title of one of his early hits “Live Fast, Die Young (And Leave A Beautiful Memory.) Something Parsons was doing at that time not so far away in Joshua Tree.
Events get a little hazy after that. The first news I remember hearing of the death was on a TV news broadcast I saw in my hotel room after the abduction and attempted burning of the body, that was probably on the night of the 21st. If it was in the LA Times earlier I missed it and so it seems had the hip crowd in and around The Troubadour down on Santa Monica Boulevard. I was there one of those early in LA nights for a show by Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge. I met up with singer Ross Ryan and his manager Al Maricic outside (they were in LA for the Capitol label release of Ryan’s album My Name Means Horse.)
Entering the club I noticed a still greasy haired Waylon Jennings (and The Waylors) seated at a centre table eyeing off the Hollyweird crowd suspiciously. The show soon turned into a guest extravaganza with performances by Gordon Lightfoot, Bobby Nuewirth, Jennings - of course and former band mate Jim McGuinn – there was no mention of the death of Gram. If they knew they were not saying.
A point to be made is at the time it was simply another OD by an overblown, no hit ‘rock’ star. It was the body abduction that made news and then the gradual recognition we had lost somebody very special. Someone it could also be mentioned who could be indolent, lazy and very charming or a complete asshole. Chris Hillman who knew Gram better than most still seems to have these mixed feelings. Still history has deservingly placed Parsons as an Americana icon and I still marvel at the happenstance of arriving in the place it all happened just as he was leaving.
The July issue of Rhythms features The Last Interview plus an interview with Michael Bate. There are also interviews with Emmylou Harris, Polly Parsons, Chris Hillman, Joey Burns of Calexico, plus Jordie Lane & Clare Reynolds.
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