Born in 1946, in Winter Haven, Florida, Gram Parsons was one of the most influential artists in the intersection of country and rock music. As a member of some of the most iconic bands of his era, including the International Submarine Band, the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, Parsons had a profound impact on the popular development of the genre that would come to be known as “country rock.”
While his family’s main residence was just across the border in Waycross, Georgia, Parsons attended high school in both Jacksonville and Winter Haven. His family life was always troubled—his father committed suicide when he was 12 and his mother died from cirrhosis when he was 18. Yet it was amid this unhappiness that Parsons found escape in listening to rock and roll music, including Elvis Presley and the Kingston Trio.
While attending one semester at Harvard University in 1965, he discovered country music, which shaped the course of his musical career. These influences are clear in the group he formed in Boston, the International Submarine Band. After relocating to Los Angeles and recording their only album in 1967, Parsons was recruited by the Byrds and greatly contributed to their seminal country rock record, Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
By 1969, he had left the Byrds to form the Flying Burrito Brothers. It was with this group that he reached the zenith of his Merle Haggard-meets-psychedelic-rock sound, affectionately referred to as “Cosmic American Music.”
Parsons went on to influence and work with high-profile artists like Emmylou Harris, the Rolling Stones and the Eagles.
Tragically, his life was cut short by a drug overdose in 1973. While he never achieved the commercial success he so rightly deserved, his short career left an indelible mark on rock and roll music that is still felt half a century later.