The pioneering country rocker who co-founded the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas and the Desert Rose Band is joined by longtime sidekick Herb Pederson for a dazzling two-night stand at Hughs Room (2261 Dundas West) Wednesday and Thursday (April 11 and 12).
What album changed your life? Listening to Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs perform four songs live on the Vanguard album Newport Folk Festival, 1960 (Volume 2) made me go, "Oh my god, what's that?" By 1961 I was in high school and already immersed in old-timey string band music, but hearing the high-energy bluegrass of Flatt & Scruggs with the Foggy Mountain Boys really struck a chord. I put aside my guitar and started learning to play mandolin right away.
What was your wildest experience onstage? It's hard to pick one show, but it would have to be during the early days on the road with the Byrds. When Mr. Tambourine Man hit the top 10, it was like Beatlemania, with screaming girls coming out of their seats and right up onstage. I mean, for a 19-year-old kid used to playing honky-tonks in California, suddenly being swarmed by girls trying to tear off your clothes in the middle of a show was... well, it was kinda surreal.
Can you recall a particularly memorable moment with Gram Parsons during the Burrito Brothers days? We had a show in El Monte, about 30 miles east of Los Angeles, and I couldn't find Gram anywhere. Someone said he thought he might be with the Rolling Stones, who were in L.A. to do some recording. So I went over to the studio and, sure enough, Gram was sitting there doing nothing. I said, "Gram, we've got to be onstage in two hours." Mick Jagger hears the commotion and comes over and says "Gram, get up. You've got a show to do. We're working right now, and you have a responsibility to play for the people who've paid to see you." It was a good lesson. Amidst all the rock-star self-indulgence, you can sometimes lose sight of the bottom line: when people are putting down their hard-earned money, you need to go out there and perform to the best of your ability.
What's the strangest rumour you've ever heard involving yourself? For years I've seen it written that Gram Parsons wrote Sin City, when I'd written more than half of it while Gram was still sleeping. I had the first verse, part of the second and the chorus and then woke up Gram who helped me finish it, and we zipped it out in 30 minutes. Sometimes you can be tinkering with a song for weeks or months, but everything about Sin City just worked. I played it last week, and it still stands up pretty well today.
What ever happened to that dark blue Nudie suit you famously wore with the Burritos? Up until about three years ago it was in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but I got mad at them and pulled it out. I didn't agree with some of the people they were nominating, especially because so many really deserving artists have been overlooked. So I gave my Nudie suit to the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage, where it's on display in good company here in Los Angeles.