Gram Parsons was born Ingram Cecil Connor III on 5 November 1946 (Parsons was his stepfather’s surname). His grandfather owned and operated a citrus empire that was once responsible for one-third of the state’s crop.
As a child, Parsons attended a prestigious boarding school and later moved on to Harvard. But he never graduated, deciding to concentrate on his music.
Parsons’ early life was straight out of a Tennessee Williams play: privileged Southern gothic upbringing; a father who committed suicide and a mother who boozed herself to death; heck, even a wicked step-dad. Add to that little lot a debilitating weakness for drink and drugs, his womanising, his squalid death and bizarre desert cremation, and you’ve got a story that’s just waiting to be told . . .
With a voice that was haunted and almost fatalistic, his groundbreaking subject matter of draft dodging and drug smuggling, his musical debates with God, and his kaleidoscopic view of a freewheelin’ America as a cosmic jungle of hippies, truckers and cowboy angels, neither country music or rock & roll knew quite what to make of him.
He died a squalid death at the Joshua Tree Motel in the Mojave Desert on 19 September 1973 after feasting on marijuana, Jack Daniels, Tequila and morphine, with possible side orders of cocaine and barbiturates. Little wonder the ice suppository his companions applied failed to revive him. He was only 26.
His corpse was famously stolen from LA International Airport – where it was being shipped to New Orleans to his step-father – by manager Phil Kaufman and friend Michael Martin, and then cremated (in a rather amateurish fashion with five gallons of gasoline) in the desert at Joshua Tree – in accordance with Parsons’ wishes.
Parsons’ final album, Grievous Angel, was released posthumously in 1974, and while he never became a star in his lifetime, his influence seeped through; into rock via The Eagles and The Rolling Stones and, later, Elvis Costello, The Lemonheads and The Thrills, and back into country music via his muse Emmylou Harris.