Garrison Starr GIRL I USED TO BE

Garrison Starr
Girl I Used To Be
Soundly Music

Every Inch a Wonderful Singer as She Is Songwriter.

With 15 albums behind her and a Grammy Nomination too; you’d imagine at the very least I would recognise Garrison Starr’s name …… but nope; it meant nothing to me before I heard a track from this album on my friend Richard Leader’s AMERICAN PIE radio show and; while inundated with albums to review; I immediatly Googled her name and sent a rather needy e-mail to her ‘people’.
Without dragging up Garrison’s back-story for you; it’s fair to say that after a reasonably succesful career by most standards she became disillusioned with the Record Industry and disappeared for a while; but that ‘itch’ that musicians have didn’t go away; only to come back spasmodically releasing singles for good causes and a couple of DIY albums; until now.
The fairly simply produced Dam, That’s Breaking perhaps sounds like an a-typical modern Country tinged singer-songwriter break up song; until you actually sit back and listen intently to Garrison’s use of language and especially metaphors on a song that eventually feels like a punch to the heart.
Just writing a ‘good song’ isn’t always good enough; although plenty have made a good living doing just that …… but Garrison Starr is every inch a wonderful singer as she is songwriter … check out the hauntingly beautiful Don’t Believe In Me, if you don’t believe me.
Even without listening on headphones, the casual listener can’t help being dragged in by the poignancy in her voice during Just a Little Rain and/or Nobody’s Breaking Your Heart; but when you do I swear you won’t help yourself closing your eyes and concentrating on every word, stanza and note and feel emotionally drained at the end.
To all intents and purposes these songs are ‘simply produced’ by Neilson Hubbard; but don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security; there isn’t a wasted note in a single song; with the band cleverly and instinctively winding their music around Ms. Starr’s minor-epic and often soul searching songs like Run, Downtown Hollywood and the finale The Train That’s Bound For Glory …… painting pictures with words?
You’re not kidding!
Normally I like to be a bit ‘left of centre’ with my choice of Favourite Song; but that song Richard played is guaranteed radio play on any discerning show; and anyway Mrs. Magpie insists it’s the ‘best song she’s heard in years’ ……. so if The Devil In Me isn’t Garrison Starr’s finest ever song; and she has had a Grammy Nomination in the past …… there must be something amazing that I need to check out ASAP.
I’m not sure what to say that won’t sound patronising; as I’m sure Garrison has ‘heard it all’ over the years and that’s how artists become so jaded; but Hell ….. this really is a fabulous album and sits comfortably alongside recent albums by Ashley McBryde, Gretchen Peters and Kacey Musgraves to name three; but sounds nothing like any of them; which is a good thing.

Released March 12th 2021
https://www.garrisonstarr.com/home

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Hoth Brothers Band TELL ME HOW YOU FEEL

Hoth Brothers Band
Tell Me How You Feel
Self-Release

The Sound of New Mexico

I can’t remember why I missed the previous the Hoth Brothers album; but I did …… perhaps it was the judicious use of banjo; which I’m no lover of; but on sitting down overdosing on this release on a sunny Winter’s Sunday; I can only apologise to Bard, Boris and Sarah ….. the fault was mine; not yours.
As I say, I’m no lover of The Banjo; yet Bard Edrington’s delightful and intricate picking style; which opens the dark and majestic Judith sounds quite perfect; and I can’t imagine this tale with a guitar as lead instrument.
This s followed by Tell Me What You’re Thinking; one of those Folk Songs that may be about love (lost or broken?) or perhaps it’s a political statement hiding in-between the lines …. whichever; it is rather delightful and will unravel even more, I’m sure.
A couple of weeks ago I was part of an online discussion (argument!) about what Americana Music actually was/is.
If only I’d had this album to hand I would have won hands down!
This is because The Hoth Brothers Band somehow use many different constituent parts of traditional and Modern Folk Music; add a variety of Country spices to the broth and come out the other side with tales and stories that sound totally timeless and will mean as much to someone listening in Delaware, Arizona or New York City.
With 17 songs on offer, this trio offer so much, there’s even the danger of sensory overload, with Trouble and Desire being a sharply observed Country Song; of the Cowboy variety then is followed by the jaunty Country Gospel of Pappy’s Last Ride (about a man’s love for his aging dog) and a couple of songs later on One Hard Rain they couldn’t be more contemporay with this three-part harmony, acapella song about the Covid Pandemic sweeping the world …… yikes; when you hear this for the first time it will take your breath away.
Again; the sequencing is exemplary as that powerful song is followed by a powerful and heartfelt song about the human condition; Poor Man’s Light; leaving you absolutely breathless; even though it’s a slow and easy acoustic song.
Like so many albums today; there are no obvious ‘singles’ here; why would there be? The Hoth Brothers aren’t ever going to trouble Brittany, GaGa or Stormzy in the Top 40; so they just follow their collective hearts when it comes to writing and recording songs; which also made it a problem selecting a Favourite Song.
Would it be Sarah Ferrell’s turn at lead vocals on Wilding of Robby? Quite possibly; as on many another album it would be an undoubted highlight; as is the dark and brooding; Boogieman Mesa and Cliff Fendler had me Googling this flower.
But, there has been one other song that has intrigued and tantalised me from Day #1; Behold The Passage; one of those songs that sound absolutely timeless; as if it was first heard in a cantina back in the 30’s then past on by word of mouth through the coffeehouses of Greenwich Village and eventually coming out of the musical ether in 2020 as The Hoth Brothers were compiling songs for this release. I love it’s tragic beauty btw.
While the trio of Boris McCutcheon, Bard Edrington V and double bass player extraordinaire, Sarah Ferrell wrote the first 16 songs here, in one combination or another; the final words are left to a New Mexican songwriter that I’m not aware of; Lewie Wickham …. on Rough Ragged Edge; and it’s a song that capture the essence of Americana in a way you are unlikely to ever hear again.
I said earlier I overdosed on this album last Sunday; and I advise you to too, as the trio invoke so many memories of Townes, Woody, even early Dylan alongside a million others on this advert for the very best and deepest of Genuine Americana via what they themselves call; The Sound of New Mexico.

Released 20th January 2021
https://www.hothbrothers.com/

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Ben de la Cour SHADOW LAND

Ben de la Cour
Shadow Land
Flour Sack Cape Records

A Satisfying, Yet Disturbing Trip Into the Dark Heart of Small Town America

The first time I came across Ben de la Cour was a couple of years back when he was playing a short unofficial fringe slot at the 5 Spot in East Nashville. The place was dark; last night’s beer smell was drifting through the space and apart from myself, the attendance was pretty sparse for this late afternoon show.
Elements of that noirish atmosphere lace this 2020 release (2021 in Europe).
“God’s Only Son” opens with a Calexico-flavoured tale of criminal behaviour, with a voice that is soaked in rawness and melody. “High Heels Down the Holler” doesn’t get any brighter – A Tom Waits trashcan rhythm and grinding guitar, evokes a mood of sexual danger and exploitation
If you’re looking for a little fun on Friday night”…but you really wouldn’t want to go there….
“The Last Chance Farm” is Rod Picott like in its melodic delivery and narrative tale of a first day in rehab
The kingdom of salvation
Hangs upon a rusty nail
Beneath a proud old painting
Of a ship with golden sails
Let them have their revelations~
in the television light
The last chance farm is waiting.
– it’s dark world with only glimmers of light.
“In God We Trust.. …All Others Pay Cash” is a Bluesy boogie which isn’t going to find favour amongst those with a neoliberal capitalist worldview, because it’s like
putting candles on dog shit and calling it cake.
The delicate finger-picking of “Amazing Grace (Slight return) is a Guy Clark alike story of the kind of relationship that you know is doomed to fail, yet in itself has a kind of inevitable tragic beauty.
Title track “Shadow Land” pulls the trick of cheerful West Coast melody and even darker lyrics such as
It’s an empty world
Getting emptier every day”.
“Basin Lounge” rocks along in the style of Hayes Carll’s “KMAG YOYO,” with its subterranean homesick lyrical avalanche and boogie piano.
Things get darker and harder on “Swan Dive” which opens with an account of watching someone falling to their death from a height in a suicide fall, which in turn becomes a visual metaphor for the effect of emotional let-down
it’s a whole new world when you peek through the cracks”.
There’s little let up in the resignation and wry observation of “From Now On”
is it going to be this way
from now on?
most definitely, it seems.
“Anderson’s Small Ritual” is Prine-like in its picking and couplets and focus on and celebration of eccentricity
Never trust any man
If he don’t have no scars
and finds a purpose and celebration in being out beyond the edge because
tomorrow ain’t a promise
The life you save might be your own.”
Musically, “Harmless Indian Medicine Blues” with its distorted fuzzy vocals is Jim Morrison in intent and is a crazy messed up free-form psychotic nightmare put to words and music – it’s what it’s like to be on the edge and about to fall
“I Woke Up Screaming From an Opium Dream” – the final track again is situated on the brink of life/death and salvation and is struggling for purpose in a world where a “man’s a monkey on his dunghill”.
“Shadow Land” isn’t an easy listen – and a Google search will help the listener to gauge how much is persona and how much is from within – Ben de la Cour has lived a life that allows him to speak from authority about that which he sings; and hopefully there’s catharsis and healing in this satisfying yet quite disturbing trip into the dark heart of small town America.

Review by Nick Barber
Released April 9th 2021

https://www.bendelacour.com/

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Johnny Ironsights MURDER MOUNTAIN

Johnny Ironsights
Murder Mountain
Self-Release

Tales of Criminality, Hopelessness and Memories, Translated into Verse

Recorded in his home studio in Phoenix, Arizona, during the 2020 Pandemic, Murder Mountain by Johnny Ironsights is an album of songs that burn like a fuse towards what you know is an inevitable destruction.
Outlaw Country meets in your face Punk, tinged with an ash of slow burn Gothic-Americana.
Less of a mash-up, more of a retooling.
The title track, “Murder Mountain,” is a cinematic crime-infested story of isolationism and drugs. It would work wonderfully as a soundtrack to a film such as Winter’s Bone, and is perfect as the kick-off single for the album, yet my ears keep going back to “Three Nickels for a Pack of Smokes,” with it’s warm nostalgia and playful melody.
“Before the Quake (Summer of ’95)” tells a tale of friendship, open mic nights, and teenage dreams.
Nostalgia without the novelty.
Ironsights’ voice, big and bellows-like, may be the closest Americana has to the rocker Meatloaf; a voice which envelops the songs, strengthening them, enriching them. Ironsights has big ideas and isn’t afraid to chase them in a song. True tales of criminality, hopelessness, memories, translated into verse. Fearlessness is one of the best tools a songwriter can have, and Ironsights knows it.
In the closing song, “When I’m Gone, When I’m Dead” Ironsights exclaims
Like birds trying to fly with broken feathers,”
and I wonder: Is he wishing or invoking?
Drama is no stranger to popular music, as death has long been a part of folk music. Ironsights is doing an admirable job of keeping up the tradition.
If I have any complaints about Murder Mountain it would be that Ironsights’ punchy vocals can get a little tiresome, and as much as I love a good pedal steel, it could use a rest on a few of these tunes (a bit meandering – ‘less is more’?)
Yet Ironsights does have a way with words and storytelling that causes many of these songs to rise way past any perceived musical faults.

Review? The legendary Roy Peak
Released March 5th 2021

https://johnnyironsights.com/

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RMHQ Music Hour Ep:9

RMHQ Music Hour Ep:9

Time is flying by; it’s the end of February and just as we can see light at the end of the Covid Tunnel here’s the 9th edition of the Rocking Magpie Music Hour.
Plenty of brand new songs of course but some Classic and not so Classic oldies too; and this week’s Gateway Album; courtesy Robert Connolly Farr features not one but TWO wonderful songs from one artist in two legendary bands!
The closing track this week comes from Kinky Friedman ….. his version of Lee Marvin’s (I was born under a) Wanderin’ Star; a song I played over and over again deeop into the night after my prostate operation; 6 years ago.

Stay safe; wear a mask.
BUY DON’T SPOTIFY

Sara Petite#9 PodcastCrash, Boom Bang
Uncle Brent and Nstone#9 PodcastSalt and Lime Single
Shawn Pittman#9 PodcastTake a Real Good Look
Grainne Duffy#9 PodcastDon’t You Cry For Me
Robert Connelly Farr#9 PodcastIf it was up to me
Robert Connelly Farr#9 PodcastGateway Selection #1
Robert Connelly Farr#9 PodcastGateway Selection #2
Robbie Robertson#9 PodcastCrazy River
Ox#9 PodcastEl Camino Pt 1
Sarah King#9 PodcastWar Pigs
George Welch#9 PodcastShe loves you
Joanna Conner#9 PodcastPart Time Love
Teenage Fanclub#9 PodcastSparkys Dream
Susan Anders#9 PodcastWave That Rocks Me
Kinky Friedman#9 PodcastBorn under a wanderin star

Randy Lee Riviere WYOMING

Randy Lee Riviere
Wyoming
Wilderness Records

Real Heartbreakingly Honest and Raw Native Americana.

An epiphany point in the life of Randy Lee Riviere, the man originally from Northern California but now residing in the Big Sky State, occurred when he decided to make an album using his real name, as opposed to his previous incarnation of Mad Buffalo. Not that there had been anything wrong with the former moniker, 4 albums all with a cast list of the very best musicians and producers containing songs with strong melodies and even stronger subject matters, eloquently delivered without any shadow of recrimination.
Recorded at Grammy winning producer Kevin McKendree’s Rock House studio in Franklin Tennessee, Wyoming has 13 original songs that have the benefit of granite solid contributions from McKendree’s own undoubted keyboard and guitars skills, plus the talented multi-instrumentalist James Pennebaker. Add into the mix the renowned drumming of Kenneth Blevins plus David Santos on Bass and you have one very high class backing band.
I was initially drawn to producing this project because of the depth of Randy’s lyrics,” Kevin McKendree states. “He cares deeply about our environment, his family, Native American culture and the beauty of the Western land. His lyrics illustrate those things in a very moving and poetic way. The songs all have something ‘classic’ about them, though they are brand new. Randy made it clear to me that he wanted the music to paint a picture of the vast Wyoming landscape.
I think we accomplished that.

Musically, I personally found it impossible to categorise and fit into any accepted genre (which is a good thing from my point of view). Lyrically the subject matters contain a fair element of frustration and angst. Ostensibly, Randy is a storyteller and a very good one, at that.
Wyoming rightly kicks off with “Lots to Say” which has a chug-along tempo and Randy declaring
I know what I need to do
complimented by the chanted chorus of several “whoas” and Pennebaker’s sweet pedal steel.
Our Town” slows things down with Randy pleading
why tear it down, this old town, it’s got worn down.
This is our town, don’t let them bring it down”.
Throughout, there is a good balance between the up-tempo and slower numbers, nicely sequenced, ensuring musical variety. Further good examples of the ballad types are the very melodic “Fences”, “What I Want” with more great pedal steel and then some beautiful fiddle on “Eighth Wonder of the World”.
Of the more upbeat tracks “Keep Your Eyes on Your Station” has a catchy refrain of
get your mind off vacation”,
Break my Heart” contains some Keith Richards type power chords and stinging electric guitar solos from Kevin.
However, there’s a very special resonance with “Boys” which has young Yates McKendree guesting on terrific lead guitar. Randy wrote the song about his own children, so getting McKendree Junior to illustrate how the musical DNA flows to the next generation is a masterstroke in making family connections.
In “Red Rain”, which has some gentle piano and sensitive mandolin, Randy recollects time spent with his Grandpa and his tales referring to a Native American boy who lives through so many changes, eventually ending in horrific violence, at the historic Battle of the Little Big Horn, a hard rain ….. indeed a Red Rain.
It was tough deciding which was my favourite track, whilst I liked the piano & pedal intro to “Morning”, and the opening lyrics “Hey misty dawn, tell me when are you coming home
I kept coming back to “Riverdale” with it’s punchy guitar licks and the repeated lines of
All I have has gone for sale, there ain’t no river in Riverdale
culminating in an apt definite, musical dead end.
The album actually concludes with the title track, a soulful, meandering instrumental that allows all the musicians to shine. Kevin McKendree has, yet again, completed another very fine job producing an obvious set of well written songs without ever letting the instrumentation to over-ride the prose.
However, for me, inviting his long time friend James Pennebaker to sprinkle his ‘pixie-dust’ on numerous stringed instruments is what magically brought the songs to life.
Forget the usual, banal lyrics of lost love and drunken rejections, there’s no baby done left me or dog dying in any of these compositions.
Randy Lee Riviere has dug deep, his consciousness empathetically highlighting the stupid, illogical, irrational decisions made by man in the misguided pursuit of the dollar bill at the inevitable cost, not just to the land but sadly to all of us, as mankind.

Jack KiddMessin’ with the Kidd” on lionheartradio.com

https://www.randyleeriviere.com/
February 26th 2021

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RMHQ Music Hour Episode:8

Here we go with our 8th Music Hour podcast ……. the usual something old, new and Blues including three new tracks from Johnny Mastro, Sara Petite and KB Bayley; some rocking Blues from Big Harp George and Wily Bo, and loads of cool Roots music via Sarah Shook, Eve Selis and Danny & The Champions of the World.
Shipcote who who co-hosts the Jumping Hot Club in Newcastle had his 60th birthday this week; so we played his Mr Wonderful track as a treat FROM ME TO HIM; FROM HIM TO ME!.
The Gateway song comes from RMHQ writer Roy Peak who selected Patti Smith!
Stay safe ….. wear a mask.

1Big Harp George#8 PODCASTChew Before You Swallow
2Wily Bo#8 PODCASTWho’s Loving You Tonight?
3Sarah Shook#8 PODCASTDamned If I Do; Damned If I Don’t
4Bill Meyer GRAND NATIONALS#8 PODCASTWe ain’t giving up on love
5Roy Peak#8 PODCASTQueen of the Knock Out Rose
6Roy Peak#8 PODCASTintro
7Roy Peak#8 PODCASTPatti Smith FREE MONEY
8Johnny Mastro#8 PODCASTChild Wolf
9KB Bayley#8 PODCASTBlood Red Lullaby
10Sarah Petite#8 PODCASTFloating With the Angels
11Shipcote#8 PODCASTMr Wonderful
12Danny and the Champions of the World#8 PODCASTNever Stop Building That Old Space Rocket
13Eve Selis#8 PODCASTRussellville

Sara Petite RARE BIRD

Sara Petite
Rare Bird
JTM Music

The Benchmark for What Country Rock Should Be About in the Mid-21st Century.

I was 99.9% sure I recognised Sara’s name, so checked through my old reviews ….. nothing; so checked out the hard drive …… nothing ……. then rang Graham Anderson who runs the Jumpin’ Hot Club….. nada; he’d never heard of her either.
But by this stage I was already hooked and had the album on heavy rotation in the RMHQ office and my car too.
Why the fuss when you listen to so much music; you may well ask.
Take a quick listen to opening song Feeling Like an Angel and if this innocent looking young lady from San Diego out of (the other) Washington, doesn’t just break your heart, but win it over like you’re a hormonal teenager again; then you are reading the wrong review.
Sara has a distinctive and very individual set of vocals; which somehow sounds like the offspring of Bobbie Gentry and Tom Petty filtered through Ashley McBryde who was singing Kitty Wells songs at a party hosted in Janis Joplin’s honour.
The song itself; and the haunting backing from her band are as sure to break your heart as kitten video on YouTube will.
As the band kick up some trail dust on the next song Runnin’; the only thing missing is Sarah purring, “Are you ready boys?” as an intro.
Twang guitar? Pedal-Steel? A bass that sounds like the strings are covered in rust and a drummer who can shake the foundations when necessary, but keep time like a Swiss watch at others?
What’s not to like?
Add them to Sara Petite’s introspective, heart-rending and Insurgent Country power-ballads like Missing You Tonight, Floating With the Angels and the hip-hop inspired, tear jerker, Working on a Soul and you have the benchmark for what Country Music should be about in the mid-21st Century.
I’d love to think that I will see Sara blasting out The Misfits and/or Crash, Boom Bang at the CMA’s or the Ryman one night; but will be more than happy to be in a jam-packed Cluny in downtown Newcastle one hot and sweaty Friday night; and you will too.
I’ve got a horrible feeling that Sara Petite will be deemed ‘too Country’ for Country Radio and the CMA’s etc. so with songs like Medicine Man and the sublime Keep Moving On, in her bag, let’s claim her for Americana, Country Rock and/or Alt. Country because she’s a keeper.
When I first played RARE BIRD, the rambunctious and anthemic Scars stood out; not least because of the opening power-chords which are immediatly toned down for Ms Petite to opine;
I’ve got Scars
I wear my tattoos on my heart
Imprinted little lessons like a tortured work of art..
Scars
Some are rough and some are faded.

Man o’ Man; this is ‘one of those songs’ that you will come back to years and years in the future, be you man, woman or whatever …… but one lonely night, it will come back and haunt you like a dear departed loved one.
Trust me here; if this song did come on the car radio; you would have to pull over to the side so you could hear it unencumbered then scramble to find a piece of paper to write her name down on …… then missing your appointment drive straight to a Record Store to buy it.
For once I can’t say it any better than a quote on the accompanying Press Release;
Sara is as American as apple pie and Harley Davidson.
She is gritty, she is wild, she is tender with a soul of a child.
I will leave the last words to Sirius Outlaw Country Radio DJ Mojo Nixon …..
Sara Petite can sing a buzzard off of a slop wagon!

Released 26th February 2021.
https://www.sarapetite.com/

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RMHQ Music Hour PODCAST Ep:7

RMHQ Music Hour
Podcast #7

Just when I thought I couldn’t get more excited about music; the Music Hour is really becoming a thrilling rollercoaster ….. trying to fit 12 – 14 songs into a 1 hour programme ….. so much great music; so little time!
This week there’s a classic Dr Feelgood track because they have a retrospective coming out at the end of March; this slickly links into a band from just down the road, The False Poets who genuinely are the one band I’m excited about seeing this year.
Last week we introduced you to Lisa Gains and she sent us her new single; plus someone in Ireland heard the programme and sent us an album by a singer-songwriter called; enigmatically A. Smyth ….. trust me ….. it’s a diamond!
Our Emily Zuzik Gateway song spurred Bobbo Byrnes to get in touch to say he was a friend of hers and they regularly play a Songwriter Night hosted by someone called Michael Ubaldini ….. who coincidentally I had reviewed many years ago and had only unearthed an album of two days previous;y!
This week’s Gateway Song comes from Dean Owens; and while I like to keep that a ‘mystery’ …… it’s a singer I’ve loved for 50 years!
This week we end with something a bit leftfield; Billy Bob Thornton! Yup ….. that Billy Bob Thornton; and it’s great , from a CD I bought in a second-hand record shop in Dublin many years ago.

ENJOY …. Stay Safe ….. Wear a Mask.

1Dr Feelgood#7 PodcastShe’s a Wind Up
2False Poets#7 PodcastStick or Twist
3Beth Lee#7 PodcastYale St and 45
4Dean Owens#7 PodcastTombstone Rose
5Dean Owens#7 Podcastintro
6Dean Owens#7 PodcastRonnie Lane (The Poacher)
7Geraint Watkins#7 PodcastReason to Live
8Roseanne Reid#7 PodcastTentsmuir Sky
9Bobbo Byrnes#7 PodcastFavourite Photograph
10Michael Ubaldini#7 PodcastBar band dues
11Kat Danser#7 PodcastFrenchman St Shake
12John Paul Keith#7 PodcastI ain’t Done Loving You Yet
13A Smyth#7 PodcastYeah you said
14Lisa Gains#7 PodcastWinter Blues
15Billy Bob Thornton#7 PodcastWalk of Shame

HICKORY WIND Ben Fong-Torres

Hickory Wind
Ben Fong-Torres
This Day In Music Books/Extradition Publishing

Romance, Mystery, Double Dealing and of course Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll.

I’d like to think of myself as a Gram Parson’s ‘Fan’ but when push comes to shove I actually only own a re-release CD of GP/Grievous Angel; and I couldn’t even find that earlier today (perhaps it’s in the garage?).
But; I sort of ‘know’ a lot about him ….. he carries the same kind of mythology as James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison and in more recent years; Kurt Cobain.
Live fast, die young ….. leave a beautiful corpse (or not).
So; I was thrilled to receive this book to fill in the blanks, cross the I’s and dot the T’s regarding the stories I sort of knew.
To some degrees I found it quite odd that Gram’s younger years are very well documented; but now I think about it, his family affairs; especially the stories around the Snively family; of whom he was born Ingram Cecil Connor III into; via his mother were one of the richest families in The South; because of their vast empire growing, canning and selling citrus fruit were actually quantifiable as many stories made the Press and the people involved who are still alive, are/were compos mentis; while his late teenage years and beyond are riddled with holes because every single participant was generally off their head on booze, pills or worse!
It’s no surprise to read that Gram had his ‘demons’ and they were probably even genetic, with the Snively Fortune that he was so dependent on, was whittled away by various relatives who drank, did drugs and married badly and often …… do you see a theme already developing?
We will never know; but it would be interesting to know what real effect his birth-father Cecil Sr. really had on him.
Cecil Sr was a highly decorated pilot in WWII Hero; yet was made to feel as if his wife Avis had married ‘beneath herself’; which eventually took its toll one Christmas Day ….. and the family tale of the family still celebrating the holiday before the children were told will send a shiver down your back.
A born showman, Gram loved the limelight in his school years and from a very young age used his musical gifts alongside his good looks and natural charm to woo girls older than himself; and ones who still spoke fondly of this time … even though he was a philanderer from a very young age; when the book was first drafted twenty years after his death.
It was probably that combination that carried him through what was quite an unsuccessful career; the facts speak for themselves Gram Parsons’ recordings in whatever format never sold; even though he was held in such high regard the Superstar names that came to his rather wayward gigs over the years beggar belief; especially when Robert Plant and Jimmy Page and/or others, would go out of their way to see him fall around a stage in front of a couple of hundred people and come back again.
As Fong-Torres himself alludes to; you have to take many of the anecdotes about recording sessions with a grain of salt; as a lot of time had passed and the people retelling tales were undoubtedly zonked out at the time!
But; that apart …. some of the stories are truly amazing!
Gram’s time at at school and then College are illuminating and very much colour in areas of his musical education that I wasn’t really aware of, and made me smile to see he was always slightly behind the curve; but he never let that stop him promoting himself like a Star.
Gram joining the Byrds made no commercial or musical sense at the time and he more or less blew his audition as a pianist, which was what they were looking for; but he got hired and convinced McGuinn to change the band’s direction and they did; but he had gone by the time Sweetheart of the Rodeo was released …. and flopped; but has subsequently been the totem for what became Country Rock (as Gram dreamed) but he had already moved on.
Then as he shifted from band to band looking for a ‘direction,’ I wasn’t aware that the Flying Burrito Brothers had been something of a franchise with several people taking up the mantle and passing it on to someone else when a better offer came up; and like Gram’s legacy have become a ‘Great and influential band’ only with the advent of history to help their memory.
As was their won’t in that era, band members came and went at will; so it’s quite funny seeing all of the names that recorded or played with Gram in these years who have gone onto multi-millionaire superstar status creating variants on Gram’s original themes.
Another joy for me was reading about Gram meeting Emmylou Harris ….. well; reading all three or four variations!
There’s a key point in this story too; where Gram speaks to Emmylou and invites her to visit and record; naturally wary, Emmylou turns him down citing the costs involved driving 50 miles or so; he paid up but it was evident that he had no concept that someone else may not have access to unlimited funds like he did. This crops up elsewhere when his bands; regardless of how unsuccessful they were could still stay in good hotels, eat well, do copious amounts of high grade drugs …. and travel by train.
One of the things I thought I ‘knew’ about Gram Parsons was his time with and influence on the Rolling Stones. It’s fair to say that he was great friends with Keith Richards; and it says a lot about the other interviewees in the book, that Keith is one of the most cognitive participants!
It appears Gram was actually seen as little more than a hanger-on; albeit a very close one; but history shows that he was little more than a bit-part player; which for me is one of the saddest parts of this sad tale.
Then of course there is Gram’s death and its aftermath.
The build up; and in particular the recording of GP is well told and much of it is probably on the truer side of fact; but still a bit blurry; but his time in the Joshua Tree Motel will never fully be known.
By my thoughts there are five accounts of the final couple of hours, with at least one person probably not even having been there.
While several people have made a career from this association others just fled the scene and disappeared (until years later when they got in touch with Fong-Torres after the original publication) the facts seem to be a bit more bland than the myths would have us believe; it’s more than likely that after years of systematic abuse his body; aged 26 gave up following a smallish dose of morphine and his heart gave up.
Then….. of course ….. the story doesn’t end there.
Again; there are actual facts and ‘the story’ … did he really have a conversation at Clarence White’s funeral when he said he wanted a less conventional send off and set up the chain of events that led to Phil Kaufman taking a dilapidated hearse to the airport and conning them into giving him the coffin.
Kaufman’s DIY cremation isn’t even the most bonkers thing to happen those few days; after being arrested and paying a smallish fine Phil held a wake/party to celebrate Gram’s like and recoup his losses …… about 200 people turned up paying $5 a head and being served ‘Gram Pilsner’ especially labeled for the event; and the opportunity to buy ‘memorabilia‘ while acts as diverse as Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett and the Cryptkickers, a Johnny Cash ‘Looky-Likey’ act and ….. Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers played into the wee small hours.
In between, his shyster step father took what was left of Gram’s ashes to New Orleans where he was finally laid to rest.
This backfired on Parsons Sr. and he never got to see a penny of Gram’s limited estate.
As we all know the Myth of Gram Parsons has grown and grown, with many people making good from their acquaintances, and as the book meanders to a close via the reemergence of some the women in Gram’s life who want to clear up any misconceptions; the only person I can see who comes out untarnished is Emmylou Harris; who although coy about her ‘relationship’ with Parsons has continued to carry the flame for her musical partner well into the 21st Century.

Even though HICKORY WIND was first published in 1991;now with additional interviews and updates it’s still a page turner full of romance, mystery, double dealing, sex and drugs and Rock & Roll and the stories behind the songs.
Sitting discussing this earlier in the week I considered the nods towards a potential film of Gram’s life … but as my wife pointed out; there’s too much here for a two hour film; but this is bang on for a Netflix mini-series; the type that if you didn’t know the background you would shake your head and say; “That wouldn’t happen in real life.”
But it did!

Released February 18th 2021
https://www.viveleshop.com/collections/books/products/hickory-wind-the-life-and-times-of-gram-parsons-ben-fong-torres