Polly Parsons, the delightful daughter of Gram Parsons – who learned of his 1973 death from the local TV news, when she was 5 – spent a couple of years putting together an all-star tribute concert to her dad.
The event, held at the Universal Amphitheatre (R.I.P.) on July 10, 2004, helped raise money for a musicians assistance charity. Performers included Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Jim Lauderdale, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle and Jim James. But the cherry on top was Keith Richards. Polly and her team had to hire a private jet to fly him from and back to his Connecticut home. The cost was worth it, if you think of all the people who bought tickets specifically to see Gram’s BFF/mentor-protégé in this unusual setting. Not to mention the boost it gave to sales of the concert DVD, Return to Sin City – A Tribute to Gram Parsons.
Keith came backstage briefly before the show to pose for some photos (see above) and to answer one question each from four invited journalists (transcript follows). Mine was the third question, and his answer was the longest but it wasn’t as Stones-specific as I had hoped.
The concert was sublime, a real eye-opener to the timeless music of a cult country icon who went too soon. Keith did “Hickory Wind” and dueted with Norah Jones (pictured) on “Love Hurts.” And I’m in the video’s audience shots. I interviewed Polly at her place in L.A. a few weeks beforehand. I’ll get that online one of these days. She now runs a rehab facility in Texas, and Keith helps out a little bit financially here and there.
KEITH, POLLY TOLD ME THAT YOU WERE THE FIRST ARTIST WHO REALLY ENCOURAGED HER ON THIS PROJECT. SO NOW THAT YOU’RE HERE AND IT’S HAPPENING, WHAT’S THE FEELING LIKE, ONSTAGE AND BACKSTAGE? (DAVE SCHULPS, PREMIERE RADIO)
It’s great … I’ve been hearing about it for a few years and she’s pulled off a great job, and it’s about time we said hello to Gram again. How could I resist? It’s as simple as that and he’s a great friend of mine. Miss him a lot. Still do. And I have a feeling he’s around tonight.
WHAT WAS GRAM’S CONTRIBUTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC?
In the short time, really, that he had. Without going into the “what if?” etc., his influence on it is enormous. After Gram, every other country singer saw another new way to deal with it, instead of the old … And he opened doors. Really. That’s what he did. Because he didn’t have enough time to do enough stuff, although he’s left us some great songs. I sung ’em with him enough, over very lonely nights and odd places. Very odd places!
KEITH, CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT HIS INFLUENCE ON YOUR GUITAR PLAYING? THE NASHVILLE TUNING, PERHAPS, AND HOW MAYBE SONGS LIKE “TORN AND FRAYED” AND “COUNTRY HONK” WERE INFLUENCED BY HIS STYLE (ME!)
I guess. Yeah, I guess. Y’know. When you’re playing with somebody for a few years and you do it a lot, things rub off that you’re not really aware of immediately. It’s really sort of later on, y’know, you say, “Oh yeah.” Because it’s not a matter of, like, “Oh, I’ll nick that lick” or “I’ll take that thing.” It’s like osmosis! And we osmosed a lot! The other thing … is the finer points of country music that he pointed out to me, the difference between Nashville and Bakersfield, for example. Because I didn’t know there was one, you what I mean! The different styles. And also he introduced me to an amazing new area of musicians, pickers like James Burton. Another reason I’m here, the great JB. Al Perkins, who worked with the Stones with us on Exile On Main St., I think, I haven’t seen him for 30-odd years as well. How time flies!
THIS IS A DOUBLE BLESSING TONIGHT. WE’RE NOT ONLY HONORING GRAM BUT ALSO THE MUSICIANS ASSISTANCE PROGRAM. YOU MUST HAVE FEELINGS ABOUT BOTH?
Yeah. I hope I never have to apply! But I think it’s a wonderful thing, y’know. And I’m happy to be a part of it. Unless I break some more ribs, I won’t be calling up for anything! Hopefully, yeah. Touch wood!
NOTE: Unrelated to the above story, my gossipy rock bio Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles is available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com
Copyright © 2004, 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING