Book by Jason Walker
“There can be no definitive Gram Parsons story.” –
Delgatto’s statement was true in 1985 and in 1991 when the Ben Fong-Torres biography, HICKORY WIND, was released. Both books, however indispensable, didn’t quite satisfy the “definitive” description. However, with the release of GRAM PARSONS: GOD’S OWN SINGER, Jason Walker has written what I consider the true definitive biography of the pioneer of “Cosmic American Music”. Gram Parsons didn’t invent country-rock (a tag that he HATED), but he was the first to infuse the attitude of long-haired musicians with a rock ‘n roll attitude that played country music (years before the ‘Outlaws’ of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings). He saw little financial or critical success while he was alive and his true-life biography reads like the heartache of your typical country & western song. It wasn’t until many years later that the true scope of his influence was felt.
With a figure such as Parsons, who often gave contradictory statements about his life, it is hard to separate fact from fiction (or legend). But Walker doesn’t sensationalize, which would have been easy with a subject as colorful and legendary as Gram Parsons. Instead he gives is the plain facts without the tabloid-like sleaze. The book is detailed, but not boring with Walker giving enough musical factoids to satisfy the music trivia buff such as myself. (For example: Gram’s group, the Shilohs had a chance to play Ed Sullivan but their manager didn’t think they were ready. Also, interestingly enough, Gram wasn’t interested in country during his early years.)
Walker presents a detailed account of the early years of Gram’s life, also describing the demon’s of Gram’s parents, which ultimately destroyed them and more than likely had a huge effect on the outcome of Gram’s own life. The book answers everything I want to know about Gram: his background, his motivations, inspirations and influences. For example, Gram's father quite college two months prior to graduation, in a trait that Gram seemed to inherit - the inability to finish something he started. Walker also goes into painstaking detail of Gram's early music projects: the Legends, the Shilohs and the International Submarine Band. Another one of my favorite things about this book is that it covers ALL of Gram’s recording projects, including the “lost” Terry Melcher recordings and the “legendary” Keith Richards collaboration.
GOD'S OWN SINGER is one of the best rock biographies that I've read in a long time. I actually had trouble putting the book down, and I can't seem to say that about a lot of books these days. Much like a classic album, I will come back to this book again to find new enjoyment. In all aspects, GRAM PARSONS: GOD’S OWN SINGER is the perfect introductory book for those who are curious about the anomaly that is Gram Parsons.