“Return to Sin City: A Tribute to Gram Parsons”
On Saturday, July 10, 2004, my old band buddies and I made the pilgrimage to the Gram Parsons Tribute Concert at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles, California. We were all thrilled with the chance to see Keith Richards again with a fantastic line up. Our hearts always quicken when we happen to hear a Gram song. We were not disappointed.
However, before we go on, I must confess, everybody ought to know what’s on my mind. I have been a hardcore fan for a long, long time. My family and I have made numerous trips to Joshua Tree for years and my son’s name is Gram. Need I say more?
The party included great performances backed by the Sin City All Stars, featuring the legendary James Burton on Telecaster and Al Perkins on Pedal Steel Guitar (both featured on Gram’s solo albums GP and Grievous Angel). Both gentlemen brilliantly filled out every number they played on and showed off why they have earned true “god head” status.
The featured performers were some of the brightest stars in the business well known to many non-traditional country fans, including Keith Richards, Norah Jones, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, John Doe, Jim Lauderdale, Raul Malo, Jay Ferrar, Jim James, and Kathleen Edwards.
The material was a timeless collection of songs either written or co-written by Parsons. Gram also had a wonderful taste in selecting tunes to cover from R & B to Country, which were also represented.
Parsons always had a distinctive quality of warmth and heart in his voice in all his performances, so it had to be a challenge for the artists to take on this material and make it their own.
The group was definitely up to the task and you could tell every performance was from the heart. Some of the highlights included: Raul Malo, former Mavericks lead vocal, sang a perfect “Hot Burrito No. 1”. John Doe, of X fame, sang a faithful version of “Hot Burrito No. 2” and “We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning.” Lucinda Williams blew away the crowd with “Sleepless Nights” and “A Song for You,” while Steve Earle brought out the lesser known anti-draft song “My Uncle” as well as the smokin’ “Luxury Liner.”
Dwight Yoakam really kicked the program in to high gear, backed by his own band on, ”Wheels” and “Sin City.” Norah Jones brought a blues feel to “Streets of Baltimore” and “Cry One More Time,” but she put the crowd on their feet with her version of “She” that brought tears to fans eyes. Keith Richards brought people to their feet just by walking on stage. He performed a duet with Jones on “Love Hurts,” he then performed a duet with Jim Lauderdale on Gram’s classic “Hickory Wind.” I had heard Lauderdale sing this tune many years ago in Twenty-Nine Palms out at Joshua Tree and he keeps getting better and better.
Richards came out for the encore with help from his friends on the Stone’s “Wild Horses,” which Parsons actually recorded first. He spoke about how much of an influence Gram had on music and quoted his own lyrics, saying this “was another goodbye to another good friend.” The show ended with Sylvia St. James and the House of Blues Choir singing “In My Hour of Darkness” followed by a rocking “Ooh Las Vegas.”
It was a great night and was taped for future DVD release, so be on the lookout. This was not one to miss. I only hope Gram’s daughter Polly can set it up again sometime.
Gram Parsons Tribute Concert
Gram Parsons is not nearly as well known as the Eagles, Willie Nelson or Jackson Browne, but he’s probably been more influential. That’s why a fairly eclectic yet acclaimed assortment of luminaries including, but not limited to, Keith Richards, Norah Jones, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Kathleen Edwards John Doe and Jim Lauderdale) agreed to join Polly Parsons and play a tribute concert Saturday night at the Universal Amphitheater.
One could only wonder why after all these years it finally took Parsons’ daughter Polly to bring together some of music’s most talented musicians and singers united in their love of Parson’s brand of country music, but the show did not disappoint. From the first notes played by The Sin City All Stars, until the evening’s last note of “Wild Horses” died out, Parson’s music soared, given new life through some of pop’s most affecting and original artists. Song’s like “Wheels, Dark Side of the Street, She”, and “Hickory Wind”, which explore themes of disillusionment, loss and remorse, yet also filled with hope, warmth and comfort, were realized sublimely with such distinctive vocalists as Williams, Jones and Earle. How perfectly natural to hear Norah Jones perform “She,” or Dwight Yoakam glide along on top of “Wheels” (performed with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), while Lucinda Williams’ version of “A Song for You,” would have made Parsons proud. One thing that made this concert so enjoyable was that it was obvious that the performers stood in awe of the enigmatic singer/songwriter who could sing songs about broken dreams with a voice and persona that was part choirboy and part Elvis. The love that was in the room was undeniable.
It would be a gross omission not to acknowledge the phenomenal performance of veteran guitarist James Burton, (who not only played guitar for Gram but also back in the day with Elvis), who filled the room with tasty licks and a beautiful warm tone on his hollow body Telecaster. Not to mention Al Perkins, whose nuanced pedal steel playing sounds as alive and haunting today as it did on Grevious Angel from 1973. Of course, any true fan of popular music had to be enthralled with Keith Richards not only appearing and performing with the otherwise somewhat countrified group, but sharing memories of his time with Parsons while the screen showed a picture of a very “relaxed” Richards jamming on a guitar while a blissed out Parsons looks on.
Although it is doubtless that everyone in the audience had their favorite performers, the fact remains that it didn’’t really matter who was singing lead, Gram’s presence dominated the preceedings. Whether it was the band’s inspired and joyful playing, the bejeweled Nudies suits worn by James Burton, Al Perkins, and Dwight Yoakam, or the tenderness and spirit of the songs themselves, the feeling was definitely uplifting – his music was resurrected with elegance, grace and a reverence by artists who have been deeply touched by his music.
Gram Parsons links: