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YouTube Gold: Gram Parsons

Hugely influential but self-destructive, Parsons died at 26. He had already changed American music forever.

Gram Parsons
American singer, songwriter and musician Gram Parsons (1946 - 1973), circa 1969.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Gram Parsons didn’t quite make it to the 27 Club, dying at 26, which seems impossibly young to have had as much influence in popular music as he had.

Parsons grew up in Florida and saw Elvis Presley in 1956, when he was just starting to explode. It had a profound influence on Parsons, who was just 10 at the time.

Music was his way out of a prosperous but unhappy family life and he began performing in his teens.

When he started, rock and country were seen as very distinct genres but he smashed that boundary. He loved both and introduced one to the other. Today you hear bands like Alabama or the Chicks who are just about rock ‘n roll, and endless rock bands with country influences from The Rolling Stones to the Eagles to Travis Tritt, who is sort of all over the place musically. He’s country! He’s rock!

Take your pick.

Parsons had an enormous impact on music. He hung out with the Stones and was an influence on some of their greatest albums and songs in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

Tragically, a family history of addiction visited him as well and Parsons spun out of control, ultimately dying of alcohol and morphine.

The less said about his last night alive and what happened to his body after his death the better.

But the music, probably much like Parsons himself, is sweet, haunting and unforgettable. Take Hot Burrito #1, a song about a man who was a woman’s first lover and who misses her desperately. Elvis Costello also does a lovely cover of this but calls his version I’m Your Toy.