Rhino Factoids: Gram Parsons leaves The Byrds

Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Rhino Factoids: Gram Parsons leaves The Byrds

47 years ago today, Gram Parsons' brief tenure as a member of The Byrds came to an abrupt conclusion when he decided to stand up for his political beliefs.

After building his reputation as a folk musician via his work with the International Submarine Band and relocating from Boston to Los Angeles with the rest of the members, Parsons found himself out of a gig when the band broke up. (Sadly, their album Safe at Home didn't see release until after they were already defunct.) As such, when Chris Hillman found himself in need of additional Byrds members after David Crosby and Michael Clarke left the band, Parsons found himself joining their ranks. That wasn't how the band's label saw him, unfortunately: contractually speaking, he was only a salaried sideman, which - according to Hillman - “was the only way we could get him to turn up.” But if you look at the credits of The Byrds' 1968 album Sweetheart of the Radio, he's credited as if he was a member, and there's no question that he had a lot to do with the overall sound of the album as well as the songs contained therein, most notably “Hickory Wind” and “One Hundred Years from Now.”

So what led to his departure from the band? In the summer of '68, The Byrds were in the UK and making plans for a South African tour when Parsons, after having a chat with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, decided that he wasn't into the idea of touring a country that was into apartheid. As such, he left The Byrds and loitered around the UK for awhile, chilling out at Richards' house. Eventually he returned to L.A. and reunited with Hillman to form The Flying Burrito Brothers, but never again would Parsons fly with The Byrds.