Breakfast in Nudie Suits: Out of Tune and on The Run with Gram Parsons, By Ian Dunlop

No country (or western) for old men
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The Independent Culture

When the singer-songwriter Gram Parsons died, aged 26, from a drug overdose at a motel in the Joshua Tree national park in 1973, there was little to suggest that he would become a posthumous icon.

At that point – though his second solo album, Grievous Angel, is now considered a masterpiece of the country-rock genre and an enduring influence on subsequent generations of musicians – he'd never had a hit record. It's no wonder, then, that in Breakfast in Nudie Suits, the bass player Ian Dunlop's recollections of life on the road with Parsons, there's no hint that Parsons was any more than just an amiable Southern boy trying to get his music heard.

Having met in Cambridge, Massachusetts – Dunlop grew up there, while Parsons was studying at Harvard – the pair founded the International Submarine Band. Parsons left for a brief stint with the Byrds, before he and Dunlop were reunited in the Flying Burrito Brothers.

Part travelogue, part rock'n'roll memoir, the book covers the period from 1965 to 1968, when the pair moved between assorted bands and cities trying to persuade people of the merits of country music. Along with all the shows in front of resistant audiences – in rock'n'roll clubs they were booed for their country songs, while in country clubs they were berated for being hippies – Dunlop recalls excruciating showcases for music executives baffled by their hillbilly leanings and love of "Nudie suits" – the spangly, rhinestone-encrusted outfits first popularised by Hank Williams.

While Dunlop was a bit-part player in the scene, he moved in lofty circles. He hazily recalls hanging out at Peter Fonda's house (the International Submarine Band had a cameo in Fonda's film The Trip) and smoke-filled rehearsals with Brandon de Wilde, the child star who was trying to make it as a musician.

But besides the jams and the pot-smoking and the conversations about the evils of the record industry, not a lot happens, and you can't help wishing that Dunlop had stuck around to record Parson's more interesting period, when he went solo, met his vocal foil, Emmylou Harris, and recorded his greatest works. There's little glimpse of the triumphs and tragedies to come, just a sense of two friends aimlessly adrift. And had there been any warning signs as to Parsons' fate, you imagine that Dunlop would have been too stoned to notice anyway.