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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The Eagles song written in tribute to Gram Parsons

Before any of the Eagles even thought about forming a band, they were already the biggest names on the country rock circuit. When talking about putting together their debut record, Don Henley famously said that every member needed to have the right chops, looks, and vocal ability, or the band wouldn’t have been able to get off the ground. While Henley and Glenn Frey were veterans of Linda Ronstadt’s touring group, Bernie Leadon had been a descendant of The Flying Burrito Brothers.

First moving from Florida to the west coast, Leadon found himself in the country act Dillard and Clarke, featuring Gene Clarke from The Byrds. As he started to prove himself as a fixture of the country guitar community, Gram Parsons invited Leadon to join The Flying Burrito Brothers, where he served time playing both rhythm and lead parts before the band dissolved.

Although Parsons would never get his band off the ground, he would become a fixture in American music. His impact on country music would become a favourite amongst fellow rockers like Keith Richards, who would count him among his best friends during the sessions for The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. 

As Parsons moved on to a solo career, Leadon was tipped off by Ronstadt about Frey and Henley’s project, joining the band just before they secured Randy Meisner on bass from the group Poco. Throughout their self-titled debut and the follow-up Desperado, Leadon delivered a showcase on blending country and rock and roll together, incorporating his signature banjo-esque guitar playing with aggressive fury.

While things started to change on the band’s third effort, On the Border, Leadon was given the shock of a lifetime when he heard that Parsons had passed away. After assembling his solo album, Grievous Angel, Parsons was pronounced dead after an overdose of morphine mixed with tequila. Never given a proper burial, Parsons’ body was stolen by a few of his country-rock buddies and burned in Joshua Tree.

The improper burial was incredibly troubling to Leadon, who recalled in Life in the Fast Lane, “They left him; that’s what was so stupid. If you’re going to cremate someone, do a little research, you know, and like, do it properly. But don’t go leave him in the desert by the side of the road half-burnt. That’s not cool”.

Distraught about the experience, Leadon poured all his sorrow into writing the song ‘My Man’ for the album. Though the lyrics don’t contain any abject references to Parsons, it’s easy to see who Leadon is talking about, singing about a man who has got it made and how everyone has to keep living just the same while he’s gone.

Even though Leadon would get his tribute on the record, tensions were also boiling in the band. Considering their pivot towards a mainstream rock style, Leadon was thinking about leaving the band throughout the album’s production, especially with the addition of new guitar player Don Felder on tracks like ‘Already Gone’.

After a few too many compromises, Leadon was sent packing, with the rest of the band co-opting solo star Joe Walsh into the mix. Leadon left a legacy, but this touching tribute is among the Eagles’ most honest recordings.

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