By Walter Egan
In late 1970 when I had just completed my studies at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, my band Sageworth was playing the Georgetown club circuit at the same time as a young folksinger named Emmylou Harris. She was singing a Judy Collins type of repetoire, very etherial. She even played the Burt Bachrach favorite "I'll Never Fall in Love Again".
At that time I was under the influence of the latest advancement in folk-rock as purveyed by the Byrds and that new group with the funny name, the Flying Burrito Brothers. What these two had in common was a guy named Gram Parsons. It was he who had steered the Byrds (one of my favorite groups) away from the psychedelic folk-rock of songs such as "Eight Miles High" and into the strange territory of, of all things, country and western music (as it was called) with the album "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" in 1968. And so for the first time I took C&W seriously.
It was the FBB's appearance on American Bandstand in 1969 which sealed the deal for me. As they played "Christine's Tune", lip-syncing while each of them was on the wrong instrument, I felt a connection to the cosmic sense of humor they were displaying. I became a huge fan of the band and the man.
Fast forward to the winter of '70-'71 when Emmy was gigging at a place called Clyde's in Georgetown, and she is approached by one Chris Hillman, who's Flying Burritos are playing down the street at the Cellar Door.(By now Gram has left and is starting his solo career)...and in fact when Chris hears Emmy sing he thinks he has found the female foil for Gram.
After Chris left that fateful night Emmy admitted to me that she didn't know who this Gram Parsons guy was. You've come to the right place, I tell her, and proceed to have her come back to Sageworth House as we called it) on Wisconsin Avenue and listen to my collection of Gram on record, all the while extolling the virtues of this man, my last idol.
The following week Gram came to town and met with Emmy who again was singing at Clyde's on M Street. I happened to be there that night as well, and was of course thrilled to meet this guy whom I had admired from afar for two or three years now. The discussion turned to the prospect of them getting together to harmonize a bit, but they needed a place that was centrally located since Gram was staying in Baltimore and Emmy had a place out of town. So I offered my house, my band's house, Sageworth House.
I was understandably excited the next day as I let this cool, charismatic customer in his Nudie jacket into the house and directed him to our psychedelically painted kitchen where Emmy was waiting for him. As they sat down and began to sing I was all but pinching myself that this was really happening, Gram Parsons was in my kitchen! The first song they tried was the George Jones/ Gene Pitney duet "That's All It Took", then moving on to "Sweet Dreams"; and what a sound they made, their voices caressing one another in sympathetic harmony. It was truly a moment in country rock history, and I had a front row seat all to myself.