“For me, music is like the center of everything. It’s something that binds people together through centuries, through millennium. It’s undefinable.”
“I grew up listening to American music even though I was in England… When I first heard Robert Johnson and Lead Belly, I [was] hearing an echo — an echo in my bones. An echo that I shouldn’t be hearing because it’s not within earshot.”
Where Did You Sleep Last Night – Lead Belly
What I found about the blues and music, tracing things back, was that nothing came from itself. As great as it is, this is not one stroke of genius. This cat was listening to somebody and it’s his variation on the theme… So you suddenly realize that everybody’s connected here. This is not just that he’s fantastic and the rest are crap; they’re all interconnected. And the further you went back into music and time — and with the blues, you go back to the 20s — you think, thank God for recording. It’s the best thing that’s happened to us since writing.
“I first heard country music on a pirate radio station… [It] immediately pulled chimes within me. It was the melodies, I think, and also the guitars. That pedal steel’s a heartbreaker, man… And at the same time, there was a certain edge on certain guys. Hank Williams, particularly. You measure country music by this cat…”
Alone & Forsaken – Hank Williams
Of all the musicians I know personally (although Otis Redding, who I didn’t know, fits this too), the two who had an attitude towards music that was the same as mine were Gram Parsons and John Lennon. And that was: whatever bag the business wants to put you in is immaterial; that’s just a selling point, a tool that makes it easier for them to make charts up and figure out who’s selling. But Gram and John were really pure musicians. All they liked was music.
It’s hard to describe how deeply Gram loved his music. It was all he lived for. And not just his own music but music in general. He’d be like me, wake up with George Jones, roll over and wake up again to Mozart.
I absorbed so much from Gram. That Bakersfield way of turning melodies and also lyrics, different from the sweetness of Nashville — the tradition of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, the blue-collar lyrics from the immigrant world of the farms and oil wells of California… We played music without stopping. Sat around the piano or with guitars and just went through the country songbook. He played it all on the piano — Merle Haggard, George Jones, Hank Williams.
“I didn’t see the Stetson and rhinestones. I just heard the music. And I always knew this is the heartland. This is where American music was put in the crucible and came out as, you know, pretty much pure silver.”
You wouldn’t have Waylon Jennings, you wouldn’t have had all of that outlaw movement without Gram Parsons. He showed them a new approach, that country music isn’t just this narrow thing that appeals to rednecks… He loved country music but he really didn’t like the country music business and didn’t think it should be angled just at Nashville. The music’s bigger than that. It should touch everybody.
“There’s been blues and there’s been country music. And let’s face it, those are the two vital ingredients of rock n’ roll. That’s where country music and the blues sort of collided. I always felt myself fortunate to be in a spot where, in America, these few forms of music were somehow merging and creating something else. It was great to watch and be a part of.”
[Excerpts taken from Life by Keith Richards and the Netflix documentary Under the Influence]