Thursday, November 10, 2011

A few years back my friend Mike loaned me his copy of Twenty Thousand Roads, David N. Meyer's excellent biography of Gram Parsons.

What a great read. And what a tortured soul. Gram was a poor little rich boy who made some amazing records but fell victim to drug abuse at the tender age of 26.

When Parsons was hanging out with The Rolling Stones during the Exile On Main Street recording sessions, Keith Richards warned that Gram was using a dangerous amount of heroin. When Keef is "running your intervention," Meyer writes, "you know you're in trouble."

In 2007 Marti and I made a rock 'n roll pilgrimage to one of Gram's favorite places to hang out: the lunar landscape of Joshua Tree Monument in the California high desert. We even made a macabre necrotour of the Joshua Tree Inn, where Gram checked out for the last time. Some strange shit went down with the country-rocker's remains back in September 1973. Following Parsons' wishes, one of his rowdy friends retrieved the coffin at LAX, drove out to the desert and burned it at Joshua Tree. It's become part of Gram's legend. I had to see the place. I've been a fan of his music forever.

While I was reading the book I was spinning a lot of Gram's tunes, from the restored takes of his vocals on The Byrds' Sweetheart Of The Rodeo to his great songs with the Flying Burrito Bros. to his late solo albums, which introduced the wonderful voice of Emmylou Harris.

Marti heard me playing their version of "In My Hour Of Darkness" and said, "Hey, that song was on The Country Tape! That was the first time anyone ever made a mixtape for me."

I had compiled The Country Tape in 1978 for Marti to play in her babyshit brown Datsun 510 while commuting between Amherst and Springfield, Massachusetts. Although the cassette had been gathering dust on a shelf in recent years, it had served as a soundtrack for many of our roadtrips back in the day. So in 2008 I dug out the tape and decided to recreate it on CD -- a 30th Anniversary Edition, if you will, with a few minor changes and several additional songs. I was all over iTunes, Amazon and 7 Digital harvesting tracks from the past . . .

01 Under Suspicion Delbert McClinton
02 Help Me Kris Kristofferson
03 When I Get My Wings Billy Joe Shaver

04 In My Hour Of Darkness Gram Parsons
05 I Dream Of Highways Hoyt Axton
06 Lookin' For A Love Neil Young

07 She Never Spoke Spanish To Me
Joe Ely
08 You Asked Me To Billy Joe Shaver
09 Till I Gain Control Again
Rodney Crowell

10 Sold American Kinky Friedman
11 A Song For You Gram Parsons
12 Sweet Virginia The Rolling Stones

13 Breakdown (A Long Way From Home)
Kris Kristofferson
14 Let The Rough Side Drag
Jesse Winchester
15 You Never Even Called Me By My Name
David Allan Coe

16 Footlights Merle Haggard
17 Coat Of Many Colors Dolly Parton
18 Arizona Telegram The Alpha Band

19 Desperados Waiting For A Train
Guy Clark
20 One More Cup Of Coffee Bob Dylan
21 Against The Wind The Highwaymen

This mix of country, country rockers and folkies represents a huge chunk of the music Marti and I love best. In the three decades since I made The Country Tape we've heard a dozen or more of these artists in live performance. We've met quite a few of them as well.

One of our favorite Paris memories is of singing with Kinky Friedman on the sidewalk outside Brentano's English Language bookshop in the avenue de l'Opera. It was a sunny summer afternoon. Kinky, who also writes detective novels, was on a European book promotion tour. Accompanied by a former Miss Texas of a certain age in full rodeo girl drag, Kinky grabbed his guitar and led us in a singalong to his Merle Haggard parody, "(I'm Proud To Be An) Asshole From El Paso." It doesn't get any more down home than that here in the City of Light.

I'm so happy to have a remastered CD edition of The Country Tape. YOU CAN DOWNLOAD IT AS A ZIPPED MP3 FILE SET HERE.

Marti and I always have a trip or two planned for the not-too-distant future. Invariably, this old favorite comes along for the ride.