They say this was the guy who told all those acid rockers about the true beauty of American country music. The Byrds were one of the first big groups to make the move and he was with them when, in 1968, they released one of their greatest albums, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, perhaps the first country rock album ever.
What a life he lived – his troubled rich-kid upbringing, his time as a folky with the Shilos, how seeing Merle Haggard smacked him awake, landing with the Byrds, forming the Burritos, his collaboration with Emmylou Harris, all those drugs, his O.D., the theft and cremation of his body.
How little the gossip matters. He was the muse, godfather, path crosser, founding member, band member, stand-in, sit-in, jam-in, song writer, song collaborator, celebrant, and partner-in-crime for an ever-expanding spiraling galaxy of musicians. Whose musical life has he not touched?: International Submarine Band, Dillard and Clark, Flying Burrito Brothers, Country Gazette, Manassas, Eagles, Emmylou Harris, Byron Berline, Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, Buddy Emmons, Delaney and Bonnie, Rolling Stones, J.J. Cale, and every single other mother who put some country and some rock in the same song.
This song, “She,” seems to me to be a portrait of a slave or indentured worker in the Old South.
The music is sentimental, reminiscent of a Great Songbook song, like “They All Laughed,” (George and Ira Gershwin) or “Blue Moon” (Rogers and Hart), until the refrain soars in:
Ooh, but she sure could sing.
Ooh, she sure could sing.
And then you know this is a tale about the transcendent power of music. An unidentified “he” – her owner?, her boss? – looks down upon her, pities her, and loves her. But the point of the story, I think, is that her music leaves her wanting for nothing and allows her to give joy to others. She seems to be utterly without guile, to be complete and fulfilled, and yet oblivious of the cause of her inner peace:
She never knew what her life had to give her,
And never had to worry about it for one single day.
Gram Parsons is kind of out of tune on some of the high notes, and his voice is uneven and lonesome sounding. With this rough singing, he leaves to our imagination the perfection of the voice he celebrates.
Gram Parsons & Chris Ethridge, “She” Irving Music, Inc./House of James (BMI) (1973). From Gram Parsons, GP, Reprise Records, MS 2123 (1973). Photography – Barry Feinstein; Album design – Vicki Hodgetts, Camouflage Productions.