A man in front of a take out window.
Gram Parsons. Photo by Ginny Winn

When it comes to the gospel of Gram Parsons, David Prinz is a true believer. 

The co-owner of Amoeba Records came under the spell of the pervasively influential musician when he happened to hear the first album by the Flying Burrito Brothers, 1969’s “The Gilded Palace of Sin.” As an urbane New York teenager who identified with rock and soul, being struck by the thunderbolt of Parsons’ high lonesome tenor and Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s pedal steel guitar twang led to an existential crisis. 

“I was sick to my stomach,” Prinz said. “It was country music, which was so not cool in my circle, but I fell in love with Parsons and he’s been my one of my favorite singers ever since. There’s never been a voice quite like that. He would have been much more famous if he’d stayed alive even a few years longer. It’s like a mission to put him back into the world.”

Parsons died of an overdose in 1973 at the age of 26, and in his brief sojourn he essentially conjured the pervasively influential wellspring of country rock and its various tributaries as the architect of the epochal 1969 Byrds album “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” and his subsequent Flying Burrito Brothers work. His vision of what he called “Cosmic American Music” encompassed the nation’s multifarious musical heritage, what one of his biographers described as “a holy intersection of unpolished American expression: Gospel, soul, folk, Appalachia, R&B, country, bluegrass, blues, rockabilly, and honky-tonk.” 

In his latest effort to share his Parsons passion, Prinz is in the midst of producing the first major new trove of unreleased music by the troubadour in almost a decade. Recorded at Philadelphia’s Bijou Theatre March 16, 1973, the live album “Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels: The Last Roundup” captures Parsons on a particularly good night with his final band, featuring Nashville pedal steel veteran Neil Flanz, Mountain drummer ND Smart II, bassist Kyle Tullis, guitarist Jock Barkley, and the glorious Emmylou Harris, whose work with Parsons catapulted her into stardom. 

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“It is an incredible soundboard recording that truly captures the sheer beauty of Gram and Emmylou singing together,” said Prinz, a Pt. Reyes resident who lived on the border of Noe Valley and the Mission from about 1982 to 1992, “when we opened the first Amoeba Music in Berkeley. I still miss it.”

Gram Parsons and Emmy Lou Harris. Photo by Ginny Winn
Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons. Photo by Ginny Winn.

The Fallen Angels had toured throughout the winter of ’73 to promote his solo debut album GP, gradually evolving from an under-rehearsed combo into a cohesive band. “The Last Roundup” documents the group’s second-to-last club date, delivering loose but authoritative versions of songs such as the wry protest number “My Uncle,” the sharply observed “Streets of Baltimore,” an exquisitely rendered “Love Hurts” and classics like “California Cottonfields” and “Jambalaya.”

Prinz is hardly alone in his love of Parsons’ music. An Amoeba Music Kickstarter campaign aiming to raise $50,000 has attracted more than double that figure, and runs until Jan. 16. Working with Parsons’ daughter, Polly Parsons, the store is looking for support to fund remastering, rights payments, cover art, album printing, and distribution with the goal of releasing the music on double LP and CD on Record Store Day Black Friday in November. There are a number of delectable offerings for vinyl fans, including three 10-inch records with Harris’s previously unreleased demo album and two records of home recordings by Parsons (from 1969 and 1972). 

  • An Album cover
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“Emmylou was so moved by it that she’s allowing us to feature her previous unheard first album demos as a Kickstarter reward to shine more light on this performance,” Prinz said. “Those three 10-inchers, this is the only time they’ll ever be available. One of them includes a version of ‘Two Hearts,’ which has also been labeled ‘Hot Burrito #3,’ a legendary lost Gram song. He played it live a few times, and everybody has always wondered whatever happened to that song.”

So, where did the tapes come from? Steel player Joe Goldmark, one of the owners of Amoeba San Francisco, is longtime buddies with Neil Flanz, who was the steel player in Fallen Angels. Goldmark held onto the music for decades “as he felt it truly captured the band and was the best show of the tour,” said Prinz, who first heard it back in 2007, when he was in the midst of an earlier Parsons project, the two-disc Flying Burrito Brothers set “Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969.”

Wrestling those tapes from Grateful Dead sound engineer and legendary LSD chemist Owsley “Bear” Stanley proved to be a herculean task (though treasures from Stanley’s archives have been flowing in recent years). By the time Prinz shepherded the Avalon Ballroom set into record stores, he had moved on to other projects, and all the other Parsons materials he’d collected went on the backburner. It wasn’t until 2020, when Amoeba’s flagship Hollywood store was in the midst of moving to a new location, that the Bijou Theatre tape resurfaced.

“I had all these ambitions to put out this archival series, like a Byrds show from the Kaleidoscope before they went to England ,” he said, referring to the short-lived psychedelic club on the Sunset Strip. “When we were moving the LA store, I found this box with the tape. I had heard it back in 2007, but were working on the other one and I kind of forgot about it, and how good it was.”

Prinz has some first-hand perspective. He caught several of the shows on that 1973 tour, and recalls that Parsons wasn’t in top form in New York City. He sounds utterly in his element at the Bijou Theatre. It’s a performance keyed to win new converts to the Parsons congregation, which would suit Prinz just fine. He’s a man on a mission who’s determined to share this treasure “while I still have the energy to put it out,” he said. “If I don’t, who else will?”

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  1. Rock historian @PamelaDesBarres has great memories of being an avid fan of @TheFlyingBurritoBrothers and @GramParsons. She has a YouTube video retelling some sweet stories about Gram. He did a lot in a short time of 26 years. Imagine if he had lived longer. RIP.

  2. The influence of GP stretches far beyond the Byrds and Burritos…no less than the Rolling Stones were influenced by Gram, and early projects by the International Submarine Band also point toward the future of country Rock. Jock Bartley went on to Firefall along with Gram replacement Rick Roberts…both were heavily influenced. I wish the talked about Gram Parsons solo album produced by Keith Richards had happened…just imagine those two harmonizing on Gram, Keith, and country classic songs by the Louvin Brothers and others. Still sends chills to think about it!

  3. Fell in love w GPs music a few years back to the extent that we’ve named our country patch and home in Tipton County Indiana, Hickory Wind. (Incidentally we have a treasure trove of Shagbark Hickories and an almost constant wind from Clinton County, just west of our property.) Rock on in the memory of Gram and Enny Lou!!

  4. While just a small girl in 1973 I was not Blessed enough to be introduced to Gram until the late 90″s by a band that didn’t just play his music but wrote many, many songs about him, his music, his legacy. Thank You Crabgrass Cowboys 🤠 Tampa Florida for Fire on the Desert – the song that gave me Gram. And Thank You David Prinz for the gift you are about to bestow upon the world of music lovers. I still wear my GP shirt frequently to share his talent with everyone I meet.

  5. Gram was so ahead of his time. Sweetheart would have been even better if more Gram vocals had been included. Looking forward to this recording.