If you’ve never heard of Gram Parsons, The International Submarine Band, or the Flying Burrito Brothers, you could be forgiven for your lack of knowledge. I had not heard of them myself until my reading about the forgotten aspects of Rock & Roll History led me to reading The Secret History Of Rock, where I discovered a long-dead country rock visionary  whose obscurity hid the fact that his influence still continues in my own rock & roll tastes. After all, anyone who grew up with a love of country-rock or heartland rock like the Eagles or Poco or Kansas or John Mellencamp or Bruce Springsteen or the Counting Crows or Edwin McCain or Hootie & The Blowfish or Augustana or related acts (and truth be told, I have spent my whole life enjoying many of these bands and others like them) has a debt of gratitude to this Harvard drop-out whose womanizing and drug experimentation did not prevent him from having a massive (if largely unrecognized) influence on rock & roll by basically inventing country rock. And again, judging by the “influence” standard of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, any time a person or band creates a genre of Rock & Roll that proves enduring and popular, credit needs to be given where it is deserved, even if the band or singer involved had no contemporary popular success whatsoever. After all, Velvet Underground is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for precisely that reason, and Big Star (who deserves their own spot in this series on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame if they are not inducted first) has precisely the same case.
The Contribution Of Gram Parsons/The International Submarine Band/The Flying Burrito Brothers
This may seem a somewhat unwieldy combination of names to induct into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (but see also Faces/Small Faces and Parliament/Funkadelic), but Gram Parsons (and John Nuese, who persuaded him to play the country-rock style that Parsons is remembered for) were not a cohesive and long-lasting outfit, and so Gram Parsons’ work in spreading country rock through a variety of outfits deserves recognition. Those core members of Parson and Nuese’s work in the various bands they led deserves recognition, just as Gram Parsons deserved recognition for his work in the Byrds, but did not receive it when that band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Despite a lack of popular success, there are several albums Gram Parsons was involved in that were fundamental in creating country rock, which was soon taken up by others and brought to a mass audience after his death. These albums include: The International Submarine album Safe At Home , The Flying Burrito Brothers albums The Guilded Palace of Sin and Burrito Deluxe , The Byrds album Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, which was the first mainstream country rock release (thanks to the presence and influence of Gram Parsons) , and Gram Parsons’ own solo albums GP and Grievous Angel (which also feature the work of Emmylou Harris, also deserving of induction with Gram Parsons and his other associates) . Together, this body of work forms an enduring foundation for country rock that would be popularized by a wide variety of roots and heartland rock and outlaw country successors. The widespread influence of Gram Parsons can be taken from the fact that his death in Joshua Tree inspired the U2 classic album by the same name as well as part of the narrative in the Better Than Ezra Song “A Lifetime” about stealing a body to honor the wishes of the deceased . And what is more rock & roll, sadly, than a premature overdose and enduring posthumous influence?
Why Gram Parsons/The International Submarine Band/The Flying Burrito Brothers Is A No-Brainer For The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
The case for induction for Gram Parsons (and the bands that he was involved in) rests on several sound foundations. For one, he was vital in founding an entire genre of rock & roll music, country rock (along with the related genre of heartland rock), that has achieved massive popular and critical approval and enduring popularity for the last four decades. Not only did Gram Parsons invent this genre of music through his work with the International Submarine Band, the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and his duet work with Emmylou Harris, but his direct influence of artists extends from the Rolling Stones to the Eagles (as well as Emmylou Harris’ solo work after his demise) and on from there to a vast music audience. Even during his brief lifetime he was recognized as visionary, and the importance of his music and approach has only grown stronger with time. Despite the major addiction problems and moral failure of his life, his work is a reminder of how his talent was able to endure despite the waste.
Why Isn’t Gram Parsons In The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?
I don’t know. Gram Parsons should be in both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Hall of Fame, and he is a no-brainer for both given his seminal importance in both genres of music. It would be highly hypocritical for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (given the moral turpitude of most rock & roll musicians) to deny Gram Parsons induction on account of his drug abuse or womanizing, and perhaps it is the sheer difficulty of determining who deserves to go to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with him that has kept him out of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame so far. If so, that problem can be corrected with some work and a little trouble.
Verdict: Put this guy in already. Making the world safe for country rock, outlaw country, and heartland rock is a massive achievement that is far beyond the level of any but the most important musicians in rock & roll history. His story is a tragedy of wasted talent, but his achievements are still worthy of induction anyway.