Gram Parsons: The Last Roundup

"When I first listened to the tape I thought, this is so good that if I do anything else in my life, I have to make sure the world hears this," David Prinz says with obvious intensity. "That's how I really feel. It makes me happy that all these Gram fans are finally going to get to hear what he was really like live."

The love of music can drive human beings to astonishing lengths. For Prinz, cofounder/owner of California's Amoeba Music chain, that fervor revolves around the work of country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons. Despite the often-outlandish mythology that's grown up around this shooting star since his tragic 1973 overdose at age 26, Prinz has made it his quixotic mission to find, restore, and release unreleased Gram Parsons live shows. It's a process that involves the often-insurmountable challenge of legally clearing the ownership of source tapes by financially settling with everyone involved. It's not a struggle for the faint of heart or wallet.

In 2007, in this magazine, I wrote about Prinz's first Parsons project, Gram Parsons with The Flying Burrito Brothers, Live at the Avalon Ballroom, the first release in what Prinz then called the Gram Parsons Archives. After a nightmarish clearance tussle, Prinz and his partner in the Parsons projects, Gram's daughter Polly Parsons, needed a break. When he and Polly finally decided to ready another release, they launched a Kickstarter campaign, which eventually raised $133,944. Several 10" EPs of unreleased Gram material, which Prinz admits are of lesser sonic quality, were used as rewards in the Kickstarter appeal. The ultimate goal was the album presented here, The Last Roundup, by Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels.

Released on CD and double-LP on the Amoeba Music label for the November 2023 Record Store Day, The Last Roundup documents an unreleased March 16, 1973, show at the Bijou Café in Philadelphia, highlighted by Gram's duets with Emmylou Harris, his singing partner on both his solo albums. The source for this new release is a soundboard cassette given to the band's pedal-steel player, Neil Flanz, on the night of the show. Flanz had it converted to a CD, which eventually ended up with the ever-resourceful Prinz. The vinyl was pressed at Microforum in Toronto, Canada. The Last Roundup uses a cover photo Gram intended as the cover art for his second release, which became Grievous Angel. The passion, endless time, and financial resources Prinz is willing to expend on sonic restoration is heroic. He plans to press more LPs if the initial RSD run sells out.

"It's a great show," Prinz says of the Bijou performance in a recent telephone interview from California. "Gram was totally on and totally present. And Emmylou was always the consummate professional. You could hear their voices, which is the most important thing if you're really into Gram, to hear what he's doing and the nuances. And I've never heard them so clearly over the instrumentation, rather than having to pick them out through the instrumentation.

"The sound off the tape was pretty good," Prinz continues. "It had some issues. It had dropouts, some volume modulation, some underlying static, and more than anything, had distortion. That was the biggest problem. Distortion is so hard to get out. Originally, for sonic restoration, I went with Paul Stubblebine, the guy who remastered the Avalon show and did a really good job. He worked on the Bijou tape for a year or so. He got the distortion out, but he took some of the life out of it, too. A friend then said, 'You have to use Gary Hobish, he's the best archival sound guy in the world.' So, I call Gary, he's in San Francisco, and I go to his lab and he's a big Gram fan. He starts showing me stuff he can do with the voices, the instrumentation. He's like a magician, this guy. He's amazing.

"We did at least 20 passes on it," he says with a knowing tone, remembering the endless listening. "At the end, though, there was one thing we couldn't fix, which was in the track 'Sin City.' It had this underlying static, underlying hiss, and Gary couldn't get it out. I thought, I know somebody who can get it. Shai Fishman; he's the head of noise reduction at Wave Audio. So, I brought Shai in and $5000 later, there's no more underlying static," he recalls, laughing. A launch party for the album was held shortly before Record Store Day at the Grammy Museum in Hollywood, with Sierra Ferrell performing. The next day, Prinz and Polly Parsons went to the storied Chateau Marmont for lunch. There, on a turntable set up in the great room where Gram sat for the cover shot of his debut album, GP, they put on The Last Roundup.

"It sounded so good," Prinz raves. "A lot of people don't quite understand why people love Gram the way they do, and Gram and Emmylou the way they do, but I think if you listen to this, you will get it."

Reached in her car in Los Angeles (where else?), Polly Parsons said she has learned more about her father through The Last Roundup. "This is an intimate performance full of clarity, and you can hear the joy. And to be honest, the innocence and the beginnings of something for Emmylou. You can hear her authenticity and her vulnerability. It's kind of like peeking through a window of time that is priceless. It allows you to feel an essence of my father that few ever got to know. To me, it feels like a love letter."

Glotz's picture

This is a a lot of fun and intimate, if lacking a bit of polish. Gram and team do sound very engaged and connected to each other on this.

The sound is solid, but Gram Parsons And The Fallen Angels - Live 1973 is a definite step up in SQ. Emmylou does sound fragile and childlike for sure. Prinz likes to interrupt a lot throughout too, lol.

I am hoping there are more gems in the GP Archives, but I won't get my hopes up.

Anton's picture

It seems Parsons looms ever larger over time.

He and Emmy Lou really had synergy.

That cover gave me a real sense of Deja Vu.

Glotz's picture

I listened to it again today via Qobuz at work. Very small feel of the studio stage that lends an intimacy to the delivery.

I feel like Gram's presence will never fade.

uclarob1's picture

When will cd version be available?