1969 DESERT TRIPPIN’ | GRAM PARSONS, ANITA PALLENBERG & KEITH RICHARDS

Anita Pallenberg, Keith Richards and Gram Parsons at Joshua Tree © MICHAEL COOPER

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Gram Parsons and Keith Richards first met back in 1968.  Gram was with the Byrds; touring Europe to promote their landmark Sweetheart of the Rodeo record.  When Gram told Keith the band was headed to South Africa, Keith was like– “Man, we don’t go there.” The sanctions and the embargo were on. So Gram quit the Byrds, right there and then. Gram, with nowhere to stay, crashed with Keith in London and fed his friend a steady diet of classic Country music– which would seep its way into the Stones’ sound soon enough.

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As a songwriter, Gram worked very much like I do, which is knock out a couple of chords, start to spiel and see how far it can go. Rather than sitting around with a piece of paper and a pen, trying to make things fit neatly together, if you just get on the microphone, things come to you. Lines come to you that you wouldn’t dream of, because they have to come to you in a split second. Gram liked to do that. But he would also work very hard — harder than I ever did — on honing it down.  It’s difficult for me to pick one of his songs as a favorite. ‘Sin City’, on the Flying Burrito Brothers’ first album, is great. I love ‘I Can’t Dance’, on GP. But you’ll never get a full portrait of him from one or two songs.

–Keith Richards


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Keith Richards at Joshua Tree © MICHAEL COOPER

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In 1969, Keith Richards, Gram Parsons, and Anita Pallenberg took a trip (quite literally, I’m sure) to the Joshua Tree  National Park.  (The amazing photos of that epic trip were taken by Michael Cooper.) Joshua Tree was a place Gram Parsons was quite fond of.  He’d spend days there on LSD getting lost, chasing UFOs, whatever. Tragically it was there that it all ended for Gram.

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The drugs and drinking — he was no better or worse than the rest of us. He just made that one fatal mistake — taking that one hit after he cleaned up, still thinking he could take the same amount. And it was too f*cking much. But he didn’t get into dope because of us. He knew his stuff before he met us.  I think he was just getting into his stride when he died (In ‘73 Gram Parsons fatally overdosed from a lethal combo of morphine and alcohol). His actual output — the number of records he made and sold — was pretty minimal. But his effect on country music is enormous. This is why we’re talking about him now. But we can’t know what his full impact could have been.

–Keith Richards


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Anita Pallenberg at Joshua Tree © MICHAEL COOPER

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Gram Parsons at Joshua Tree © MICHAEL COOPER

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Keith Richards and Gram Parsons at Joshua Tree © MICHAEL COOPER

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Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg at Joshua Tree © MICHAEL COOPER

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Keith Richards at Joshua Tree © MICHAEL COOPER

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Keith Richards at Joshua Tree © MICHAEL COOPER

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Anita Pallenberg, Keith Richards and Gram Parsons at Joshua Tree © MICHAEL COOPER

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Keith Richards at Joshua Tree © MICHAEL COOPER

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Anita Pallenberg, Keith Richards and Gram Parsons at Joshua Tree © MICHAEL COOPER

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41 thoughts on “1969 DESERT TRIPPIN’ | GRAM PARSONS, ANITA PALLENBERG & KEITH RICHARDS

    • Gram fused Rock & Country like no one else, and influenced not just the Stones, but also The Eagles and a sh*tload of other bands to follow~ Wilco, Sin Volt, etc.

      God bless Gram Parsons.

  1. Not surprisingly, Keef looks at home here….and I’m also guessing this is one of the beginning moments where Keef learns the open D tuning via G.P.? Can someone clarify this?

    • Hi;
      Keith learned open tuning with Ry Cooder in the late 60’s, when he played on a few sessions for the Stones. Keith plays open G a lot but very rarely open D (Street fighting man), which is Ry’s preference.
      By the way, Open D is called “Vestapol”. To make a long story short, in the XIXth century, high society women in the area of Boston used to play songs in their parlors during parties. (That’s where the name “parlour/parlor guitar” comes from). One of these songs was about the siege of the city of Sebastopol. This song was played in open D. When moving down south,this tuning first know as “Sebastopol” became “Vestapol”.

  2. Pingback: KEITH RICHARDS & GRAM PARSONS 1971 | SUMMER IN EXILE @ VILLA NELLCOTE « The Selvedge Yard

  3. I always wonder what could have been with Gram. I know he was hanging out with Keith during the recording of Exile on Mainstreet, not sure he contributed on any tracks, but his influence if still felt by s lot of artists. A musicians musician if you know what I mean.

    • Richards believes that Gram Parsons is most likely among the chorus of singers on “Sweet Virginia”, but no one truly knows. One thing we do know is the influence through osmosis that Gram had on the Stones, particularly “Wild Horses”…

      “Mick and Gram never really clicked, mainly because the Stones are such a tribal thing. At the same time, Mick was listening to what Gram was doing. Mick’s got ears. Sometimes, while we were making Exile on Main Street in France, the three of us would be plonking away on Hank Williams songs while waiting for the rest of the band to arrive. Gram had the biggest repertoire of country songs you could imagine. He was never short of a song.” — Keith Richards

      http://theselvedgeyard.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/keith-richards-gram-parsons-1971-summer-in-exile-villa-nellcote/

  4. no one appears to be having fun. are they too cool to show joy or too smacked out to know. probably both. richards always appears to have contempt for the folks. arrogance and heroin go together well.

  5. Damn it, I have very little knowledge about Gram Parsons, I’ve been meaning to get to him. If anyone feels like suggesting an album or something to get me started, please do.

      • Thanks everyone, i’ll be checking these out Friday night with some drinkies, can’t wait!

    • most would say Gilded Palace Of Sin, but my vote is for G.P. seems a little more subtle/nuanced/esoteric – and i feel honest. some country classics thrown in for good measure, and boy could Gram sing them classics, but it has what i feel is his best moment: Song For You. the real deal.

  6. Thank you for a really informative and fascinating post. I have been a big GP fan for years and really appreciate you backgrounding this episode. Love your blog. Motorcycles and country music. It doesn’t get any better! Gerry, Auckland, New Zealand.

  7. JP these photos are unreal man. That solo shot of anita is so great (hudson bay jacket?). Thanks so much for putting this together. Great start for the next 5. cheers -matt

  8. WOW….how great you have these photos right before i am about to head out to Josh Tree for a camping trip of my own (sans LSD).

    I am going to experiment with long exposure night photography…i will put them up on my web site and let ya knwo when they are live.

    Everything should be blooming or on its way there…amazing!

    • Michael Cooper took these shots, pretty clearly noted under each one.

      I’ll admit that I tweaked the sepia and exposure a little bit to my liking too.

      JP

  9. Great blog and awesome photos. Gram Parsons is the father of Americana or mother depending on which role Merle Haggard fills to round out the parentage.

  10. Thank you for the photos of one of the most influential songwriters of the ’70’s. Imagine if Gram were alive today, and what he could have accomplished!

  11. I was a mere teenager when Linda Ronstadt invited a somewhat inebriated Parsons onto the Troubadour stage to duet with her on some (probably J.D. Souther) tune, and we all were thrilled to see this “Local” Hero share the microphone with Her Barefooted Majesty. After some sotto patter wherein we assumed they agreed on the song, what key, etc. they turned to the crowd and launched into TWO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT NUMBERS. Two or three missteps later, she politely allowed him to retreat back into the (disappointed, but forgiving) crowd. A foreshadowing of what was to come all too soon…
    I believe it was noted by Mr. Richards some time after Gram shed the mortal coil, that by recording “GP” and “Grievous Angel” with the peerless Emmylou Harris, he had laid the groundwork for his generation’s very own George And Tammy–A completely foreign thought to my then-teenaged mind. However, in the months that followed, I realized that (as always) Keef had spoken the truth, and what a spectacular, albeit abbreviated legacy he (and THEY) left us. George Jones, the Elder Statesman of Pure Country, with sometime Wife Tammy Wynette epitomized the breathless perfection of Country’s Golden Era. I often wonder where the REAL Country Rock fusion may have taken us if “God’s Own Singer” hadn’t been called home prematurely to play “That Bigger Room”…

  12. Gram joining The Byrds for Sweetheart of the Rodeo pretty much made it cool for hippies to dig country music. If he never wrote a great song – which he did, often – he’d still be a legend just for fusing San Francisco with Bakersfield in the late 60s.

    I personally can thank Gram Parsons for a sizable chunk of my record collection, because it was by going backwards through him (and The Byrds and Burrito Brothers) that I gained access to a whole lot of other great country and western music.

  13. Pingback: THE ROLLING STONES | ROAD WORN, FORLORN & ALMIGHTY GUITAR PORN « The Selvedge Yard

  14. It is even more to Gram parsons credit that when he bailed on the Byrds’ South Africa tour there were not sanctions and an embargo imposed by the US. US anti-apartheid sanctions and limits on US persons doing certain business were mandated by Congress only in about 1986.

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