Thursday, November 05, 2015

Video Gram

It's time for the first post of November, starring an innovator of Cosmic American Music who'd have been 69 today.
People call what Gram Parsons started "country-rock". Gram Parsons hated that term, perhaps more than any two words in the English language. Nowadays there's twelve radio stations in every city that play it, and it's called Americana.
Back when he was around, there was no name for it. The rock people (the hippies) and the redneck roots people hated each other... perhaps even more than Gram Parsons hated the term "country-rock".
It's funny how some people can be dead at 25 and wait until age 75 to be buried. Then there's other folks who're the opposite, and cram ten lifetimes into a mere quarter century of one. Gram here is firmly in the latter category.
Possibly the most productive trust fund baby in music history, Gram was heir to a Florida orange juice fortune and never had to work a day in his life. The legend has it that he never set out to merge the disparate realms of country music and rock-n-roll... he just played and sang what sounded good to him in the way it sounded best. Planet Earth would never be the same.
Gram would likely tell you it's all the same, and that music is music and he was just singing a song. These days we take this stuff, embedded as it is the collective consciousness of our country, for granted, as if the perfect synthesis between rock and country -- equal parts twang and bang -- is just a natural facet of existence. As I alluded to earlier, it was not always this way.
Of course the hindsight of history shows us that Hank Williams I was essentially the first modern songwriter, and the 20th century kind of proceeded off him into the Rock era anyway, filtering through R&B. In a certain way, all Gram Parsons did, monumental as his achievement was, was return Rock to one of its fundamental sources and ensure that country would always feed its roots.
He began this journey first in his International Submarine Band -- where the Cosmic American merger took nascent shape -- and then through seminal, terraformative stints in first The Byrds for their impossibly brilliant Sweetheart of the Rodeo LP, and then the equally-as-marvelous Flying Burrito Brothers at the end of the Sixties. All this before breaking out on his own. It's impossible to escape the fact that the entire history of the country-meets-rock project runs through the Nudie suits in Gram's closet. Which should have been declared a national landmark if it hasn't already.
He only made two (watershed) albums before passing away at the ripe old age of 26 from an overdose of hard drugs. He also somehow managed to discover Emmylou Harris -- herself only one of the greatest vocalists of this or any other lifetime -- in the process, and it has fallen to her to continue the man's legacy for lo these many decades. Today's share, which is a killer, is central to that effort.
This is an NTSC DVD of the pre-broadcast tape of the incredible "Sessions At West 54th" program from 1999, convened by Emmylou to promote the tribute album to Gram's music she helped curate, The Return of the Grievous Angel. It has all sorts of Americana heavyweights from Gillian Welch & David Rawlings to Steve Earle in it, all paying homage to Gram's indispensible ouevre and performing some of his most treasured songs.
An All-Star Tribute to Gram Parsons
"Sessions At West 54th"
Sony Music Studios
New York City, NY

01 opening
02 John Hiatt intro
03 Return of the Grevious Angel - Emmylou Harris & Ryan Adams
04 High Fashion Queen - Steve Earle & Chris Hillman
05 Hickory Wind - Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
06 Hot Burrito #1 - The Mavericks
07 dialogue: Emmylou Harris & John Hiatt
08 Sin City - Steve Earle, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
09 dialogue: Emmylou Harris & John Hiatt
10 One Hundred Years from Now - Wilco
11 dialogue: Emmylou Harris, John Hiatt, & Chris Hillman
12 Juanita - Sheryl Crow & Emmylou Harris
13 dialogue: Emmylou Harris, John Hiatt, & Chris Hillman
14 band introductions
15 Wheels - Chris Hillman & Jim Lauderdale
16 dialogue: Emmylou Harris, John Hiatt, & Chris Hillman
17 A Song For You - Whiskeytown
18 In My Hour of Darkness - Victoria Williams & all performers
19 credits

Total time: 55:49

the house band:
Bernie Leadon - mandolin, electric guitar
Greg Leisz - guitars, lap and pedal steel
Buddy Miller - bass
Paul "Wix" Wickens - keyboards, accordion
Ethan Johns - drums

NTSC DVD of the pre-broadcast tape from "Sessions @ W. 54th"
This is a powerhouse performance -- taped on the 26th anniversary of Gram's death -- of the type you often get when you gather a bunch of musicians in one studio and tell them to play what inspired them to become musicians in the first place. Please pull it down and check it out, remembering simultaneously to honor Gram Parsons, the man whose insistence that strange bedfellows make the most passionate lovers resulted in the world-altering combination of two very different but ultimately compatible genres, and who was born this day in 1946.--J.
11.5.1946 - 9.19.1973

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