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Richards Leads Parsons Tributes

For Keith Richards, it was “another goodbye to another good friend” as the Rolling Stones guitarist headlined a pair of Los Angeles-area tribute concerts over the weekend to Gram Parsons, the late country rock pioneer who was too much of a hellraiser even for the Stones. Norah Jones, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakam and John Doe were also among the performers at “Return to Sin City: A Tribute to Gram Parsons,” which took place on Friday at the Santa Barbara Bowl and yesterday (July 10) the Universal Amphitheater near Hollywood. The events were organized by Parsons’ daughter, Polly, who said she hoped to raise between $50,000 and $70,000 for the Musicians’ Assistance Program (MAP), which helps people in the music industry get treatment for drug and alcohol problems. Her father, who died of a tequila and morphine overdose in 1973, aged 26, was a trust-fund kid from Florida with a love of country music. When he came to Los Angeles to be a rock star in the late 1960s, he brought his southern stylings to the Byrds for one album before co-founding the Flying Burrito Brothers. He also recorded two solo albums, but never enjoyed much commercial success. Perhaps most importantly, he became a trusted member of the Rolling Stones’ inner circle, renowned for being able to supply the band with copious amounts of drugs. He particularly bonded with Richards, who told reporters backstage on last night that Parsons taught him the “finer points of country music … the difference between Bakersfield and Nashville, for example. Because I didn’t know there was one.” The extent of Parsons’ uncredited influence on such Stones songs as “Wild Horses,” “Country Honk” and “Torn and Frayed” has been a matter of debate for years. “When you’re playing with somebody for a few years and you do a lot, things rub off that you’re not really aware of immediately,” Richards said. “It’s not sort of a matter of, like, ‘I nicked that lick’ … It’s like osmosis, and we osmosed a lot!” The Flying Burrito Brothers managed to cover “Wild Horses” before the Rolling Stones released it in 1971, and Richards led a group rendition of the ballad near the conclusion of last night’s concert. He began his set with two tunes from Parsons’ solo career, singing a duet with jazz diva Norah Jones on the Nashville standard “Love Hurts” and then performing “Hickory Wind” by himself. Jones, who announced that the shows were “the best two nights I’ve had in forever, since I was five years old,” had the most time on stage, also focusing on Parsons’ solo work. She performed “Streets of Baltimore,” provided a showcase for former Parsons guitarist James Burton on “Cry One More Time,” and took to the piano for “She.” Besides Burton, the house band also included another Parsons alumnus, Al Perkins, on pedal steel. Steve Earle introduced some political commentary by declaring that the Flying Burrito Brothers’ draft notice song “My Uncle” would have sounded outdated a few years ago, but was particularly relevant these days. He was also the only performer to acknowledge Parsons’ many co-writers, in this case, Chris Hillman, who played with Parsons in both the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. For his part, former X punk rocker John Doe hailed the Musicians’ Assistance Program as “a really great thing for all of us who get high.”