Proceeds from "Return of the Grievous Angel" will go to benefit the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation's "Campaign for a Landmine Free World." The Campaign is providing critical leadership to get the mines out of the ground, to provide limbs, wheelchairs and rehabilitation to landmine victims, and to educate the American public about the global landmine crisis.
June 10, 1999 Billboard
BY CHRIS MORRIS
LOS ANGELES -- A galaxy of stars will pay homage to the late forefather of country/rock on "Return Of The Grievous Angel: A Tribute To Gram Parsons," due July 13 from Almo Sounds.
Georgia-born singer/songwriter Parsons helped forge the Byrds' groundbreaking 1968 country/rock album "Sweetheart Of The Rodeo." He went on to found his own pathfinding country/rock group, the Flying Burrito Brothers, which he fronted from 1969-70. He then left to explore his own brand of "cosmic American music" on two Warner Bros. solo albums. Before his second solo record was released, the hard-living musician died in a motel room in Joshua Tree, Calif., on Sept. 19, 1973. He was only 26.
Though Parsons' body of work is relatively small, it has deeply influenced three generations of musicians: L.A. country/rock bands of the '70s, such as the Eagles and Poco (who respectively recorded the Parsons tributes "My Man" and "Crazy Eyes"); early-'80s L.A. "cowpunk" bands like Lone Justice, Rank & File, and the Long Ryders (whose leader, Sid Griffin, wrote a book about Parsons); and the alt.country bands of the '90s, from Uncle Tupelo on down.
Almo Sounds artist Gillian Welch, who performs "Hickory Wind" on the tribute album with partner Dave Rawlings, sees the pervasive impact of Parsons in her work and that of others.
"His music really played a part in my finding old-time country and then further on," Welch says. "Through him, I got into Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, and then after that I got into Lefty Frizzell ... You put a certain kind of band together, and you play with a certain attitude, and you kind of sound like the Flying Burrito Brothers. I don't think that's going away anytime soon. Those records found a peculiar place. They influenced a ton of people. I think that's gonna stick around."
"Return Of The Grievous Angel" was co-executive produced by Almo Sounds GM Paul Kremen and Emmylou Harris, who first rose to prominence as Parsons' vocal partner on his solo works "GP" (1973) and "Grievous Angel" (1974).
Harris -- the 1999 recipient of Billboard's Century Award, the magazine's highest creative honor -- duets on three tracks on the tribute album: with Sheryl Crow on "Juanita," with Beck on "Sin City," and with the Pretenders on "She."
Other participants include the Cowboy Junkies; Evan Dando & Juliana Hatfield; the Mavericks; Steve Earle & Chris Hillman (who co-founded the Burrito Brothers with Parsons); Elvis Costello; Lucinda Williams & David Crosby; Whiskeytown; Wilco; and the Rolling Creekdrippers (an ad hoc group featuring Jim Lauderdale, Victoria Williams, ex-Jayhawks member Mark Olson, and Buddy and Julie Miller).
Some of the proceeds from "Return Of The Grievous Angel" will benefit the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation's campaign for a land mine-free world. The campaign provides leadership to get mines out of the ground; to provide artificial limbs, wheelchairs, and rehabilitation to mine victims; and to increase public education about the global land mine crisis.
Kremen says he was inspired to put "Return Of The Grievous Angel" together after seeing Harris perform at the Fillmore in San Francisco several years ago; during a break in the show, Wilco's then-new debut album was played in the club.
He recalls, "I thought, 'It's amazing, because she just played a bunch of Gram's songs in the first set, and he was such a massive influence -- so clearly delineated in this new Wilco record. Wouldn't [a tribute] be a great idea?' "
Kremen says that after he joined Almo Sounds -- whose founders, Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert, had released Parsons' albums with the Burrito Brothers -- he "realized that half of Gram's publishing catalog lived at the Rondor publishing affiliate that Jerry and Herb owned ... It just made so much sense for Almo to do this project that I slowly started approaching Emmylou.
"I didn't want to do it without Emmylou," he adds. "It's like doing a John Lennon [tribute] without Yoko -- and that happened, and it was a disaster. I knew [Harris] would bring a certain weight to the project and that would, in turn, bring the weight of some higher-caliber artists."
Harris says that when Kremen approached her, he "tried every way in the world not to use the word 'tribute,' because he knew that I felt that there's just this plethora of tributes going on. And at some point you say, 'There's probably too many of them.' But I liked Paul. I liked his energy, and I thought in the case of Gram, it wasn't so much a tribute as an introduction to [him], because a lot of people don't know who he is. They've heard his name; they haven't really heard his music. Let's face it: Gram has not exactly torn up the charts."
In assembling the project, Harris says, "We wanted to pick artists who have sort of carved their own niche, who, like Gram, sort of went their own way. That's one of the things we're trying to get across -- he sort of colored outside the lines, so to speak."
Some of the artists were longtime Parsons fans: Costello, who performs "Sleepless Nights" on the album, first recorded a Parsons song in 1981, while Dando and Hatfield had played "$1,000 Wedding" in their club act long before they cut it for "Return Of The Grievous Angel."
Harris herself had not volunteered to perform on the album. "I was invited," she says. "I never invited myself. I just thought, 'I'm not gonna do a track. If anybody wants me to sing on it, fine. If they don't, that's fine.' I was just directing traffic and issuing invitations."
However, the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde and Beck both asked Harris to duet on their numbers. Crow's original plan to record with Jakob Dylan never bore fruit, but she spontaneously came up with an alternate plan when she sat down with Harris in New York.
Harris recalls, "I said, 'Do you still want to do this thing for Gram?' She said, 'Yes, let's do it tomorrow. Let's you and I sing something, and let's do it tomorrow' ... So I went in the next day. We just cut it live, and that's the second pass."
Cowboy Junkies' ethereal version of "Ooh Las Vegas," an uptempo number in its original rendition by Parsons and Harris, was serviced to radio in late May.
Of the label's promotional plans, Kremen says, "We have a huge press campaign going. We're working all the late-night network shows. We're hoping to put a 'Sessions At West 54th' together on this. 'World Cafe' is doing a syndicated radio program on it. In addition, we'll be doing oodles of NPR stuff."
A live event is also a possibility. "We may be putting a concert together later in the summer," Kremen adds. "Probably in September, where we'll try to get as many of these folks together as possible."