When you first met Gram, what were your impressions
"He seemed like a nice enough fellow. Regardless of anything else about
Gram, he was a Southern boy: very polite, raised in a kind of genteel
society, and there was a certain inherent kindness and humour that was
always there, and you could spot it right away. It was in the way he carried
himself. Even when he was drinking, it was there. He had a great smile.
He had a way of making people feel comfortable. "I'd heard his name, but
I didn't really know that much about him - and at that point in my life,
I wasn't impressed by anything. I was the jaded, cynical, old 25 year-old:
I'd had a baby and a broken marriage, and I'd worked as a waitress and
I'd been on food stamps, and I had so much experience."
When he called you he asked you to pick him up from Baltimore and
you turned him down...
"I said, 'Excuse me - I have to work tonight. You can take the train -
I'll pick you up at the train station.' I can't believe I had the moxie
to do that. But I couldn't afford to lose a day. And it was fifty miles
away, and it was raining. And I had a Pinto! A tiny little car. The funny
thing is, that night, somebody rear-ended me. I'm surprised I didn't go
up in flames. That was the thing about those cars: they found out later
that if you were rear-ended in a certain way, they exploded in flames.
But that was the beginning of the relationship with Gram."
Was it clear from the opening moments that he had this evangelical
attachment to country music?
"I don't know if I spotted that right off. I didn't really know what he
was up to. I didn't realise how committed he was to country music until
we started working together and working up all those country songs [laughs].
I just saw an opportunity. I was very opportunistic at that point. I had
to raise a child, and I got offered a ticket out to Los Angeles to work
on a record, and I thought 'Gee, I'm going to get on that plane before
they change their minds.' It was a round-trip ticket and I got a free
meal on the plane [laughs]. "You've got to understand: even though I had
this wonderful safety net with my parents, I was still trying to make
it on my own and raise my daughter. I just thought, 'Well, I'll just check
this out.' I didn't really have any idea what kind of record we were going
to do. Gram I had only sung - what? - three songs together. It didn't
become clear until we'd actually sat awhile and started singing a little
bit - and for me, until we were out on the road. "One night, I was listening
to a tape of the show, and I heard his singing. We were doing The Angels
Rejoiced Last Night, that Louvin Brothers song, and I went, 'My God -
this guy is an amazing singer.' All of a sudden it just hit me. Before
that, I'd been so focused on trying to learn my parts, and learn the songs,
and play guitar and keep up with the band - 'cos I'd never worked with
a band before. I'd been so trying to just get up there and do the gig
and follow Gram, that I hadn't been listening. I'd been listening with
part of my brain, in order to function - but I hadn't been listening with
my heart, I guess. And I finally heard it, and I fell in love with his
voice. And I started to get it."
You've said that prior to that, 'I couldn't get past the idea that
country music was politically incorrect.' Can you explain that?
"You have to understand: perhaps it was my only way of reacting to Civil
Rights and everything with the South. Obviously, I loved the South - I
was born in the South, I had people I dearly loved in the South who probably
went to their graves not understanding how black and whites could co-exist,
and they were good people, they'd just been raised a certain way. I couldn't
throw those people away. But the music of the South represented all that
bad stuff. So maybe that was it: that was how I could resist my Southern
culture, because a lot of it was corny, a lot of it was bad - and how
do you get past those hairdos? And those outfits? I never listened to
country music, but my brother loved it. Johnny Cash was okay, 'cos he
did Bitter Tears, the song about the Indians. He was okay. I don't know
where I'm going with this..."
Merle Haggard's Okie From Muskogee is quite an important record here...
"I should have suspected the hypocrisy in the hippie music movement. Merle
Haggard was okay when he did The Lonesome Fugitive and Mama Tried, 'cos
he had been in prison, so he was one of the good guys who had gone against
the establishment. But as soon as he did Okie From Muskogee, everybody
moved away from him like a bad smell. But it was a good song. There were
a lot of people out there who were just bewildered by what was going on:
good people who probably would have been against the war in Vietnam, but
if they had to choose, they weren't comfortable with those crazy hippies
that were jumping up and down and taking their clothes off."
And where were you in all that?
"I was a single mother working three shows a night, six nights a week,
in the clubs in Washington DC. I had other fish to fry."
Do you recall having conversations with Gram about his family background
- his mother and father, and so on?
"It would come up, and I would glean a little bit here and there.
And now, I can't remember how much I learned from him, and how much I
learned about it after his death. It all kind of runs together. The actual
time I spent in hours and minutes that I spent with Gram was very small.
We spent very little time together, and most of the time together we spent
Do you recall a perception that he had quite a lot of pain?
"Oh yeah. But he didn't whine about it. He wasn't a whiner. Is sardonic
the word? I don't know. If he hadn't made his peace with it, he wasn't
going to air his laundry. He might joke about it a little bit. It was
a part of him, but he just wasn't a whiner in that way."
Were you concerned by his excessive side?
"It freaked me out. I wasn't used to that. I'd never been around heavy
drinking, and certainly...I'm not about to say that I didn't know about
drugs...and I'd heard that he'd had a heroin problem, but he was done
with that, and the alcohol was taking the place of that. The drinking
did bother me, but when you're really young, you don't think that you
or anyone you know that age is really in any trouble. I was naive about
it. I look back on it now and I think, 'How could I not have known that
he was in trouble?' But he seemed to be getting better. He had stopped
drinking. That might have been what killed him: that he started to get
straight and then he went back to it."
When you were recording GP, was his drinking a source of frustration?
Seeing his talent compromised?
"Well, with GP, I didn't know Gram that well. I just thought, 'Well, that's
the way he functions.' And I thought, 'I can't even believe this record's
going to come out. It seems so untogether, 'cos Gram's so out of it.'
And when the record actually came out, I went, 'Well, okay.' And they
offered me the tour and I went, 'Sure.' Once again, I was looking out
for number one. And I couldn't get used to the drinking. The first show,
we got fired because we didn't have any beginnings or middles or endings.
I thought, 'Well, I guess this is how people work up songs.' Gram would
just sing something once and he'd go on to something else. I had a tape
recorder going, and I was just taping everything, so I could learn it
all later. I was no fun at all, let me tell you [Laughs]."
I read somewhere that you said, 'He couldn't hit all the right notes
and his voice would be breaking up. At the time, I was a bit prissy: "Well,
really - I sing six nights a week, three or four shows a night, and I
never lose my voice." I was such a goody two shoes.'
"[Laughter] That's true! I was such a pain. 'This is just not professional!
This is not professional!'"
You did a lot of knitting, apparently.
"Crocheting. I actually did some knitting too. I got to where I could
knit socks, which is not easy. I could turn a heel."
The cliched perception of Gram's life is that, around the time of
Grievous Angel, he was in decline. But the album suggests the precise
opposite of that...
"[Softly] Yeah. I felt he was on the upswing. He had stopped drinking.
He seemed to me like he had more and more sober moments. He seemed healthier.
But I do remember Bernie Leadon coming over. We had a funny old softball
game, just a bunch of crazy hippies pretending they knew how throw a ball,
Phil Kaufman being the umpire - just a fun day, out in the sun. And I
heard Bernie say, 'Gram looks terrible.' And I thought, 'It's not true
- he doesn't look terrible.' In my mind, because I had got so close to
him, and because he was sober, I could only see that he was getting better;
getting out of an abyss. Maybe I was just in denial, I don't know. But
his death came as a real shock to me, because I thought that if he had
been in any danger, he had escaped, or he was on his way out of that."
It hadn't even slightly crossed your mind that he might die in those
"No. Absolutely not. A lot of that had to do with my naivete. And
just being young and thinking, 'Well, this just can't possibly happen.'
And also, he was so important in my life. I was looking to him for so
much. And the music had become so important: I was a part of something
that seemed bigger than both of us. All I could see was the future, and
all the work we were going to do, and all the great music we were going
to make. It just seemed like it was the beginning, instead of the end.
It never occurred to me that it could be the end."
Does that mean that when Gram did die, there was a certain part of
you that irrationally felt angry about it?
"Oh, I was very angry. I don't think I was angry at him, but I was angry
at the world. I was almost sick with anger. It's that feeling, like someone
comes along and hacks your arm off with a machete. It happens every day:
the world opens and swallows someone up. But it had never happened to
me. It was first experience with that kind of abrupt, unexpected loss."
Did you think that it was the end of road for you? I guess your perceived
your music, 100 per cent, in terms of a partnership. "Oh yeah. Oh
yeah. I was dealing with the loss of my dear friend, someone I loved,
the loss of the music we were going to make - and just on my line, 'Well,
how do I go back to being just me?' "I had found my voice through Gram,
so how could I possibly think about singing without him? But being me,
somebody who can't sit still for very long, I just thought, 'Well, I've
got to make music.' So I started trying to get something that had something
to do with Gram. I drove up to Connecticut, where Barry Tashian and his
wife Holly lived, because Barry was an old friend of Gram's, and he had
worked on the first record. I thought, 'Well, Barry'll know what to do.'
And he said, 'Yeah, that's a really good idea - we can put a band together
and play on the weekends.' I went, 'I don't think that's going to work.'"
I read a Phil Kaufman quote: 'If Gram hadn't been married, then definitely
something would have happened between the two of them.' Do you think that's
true? "Oh yeah. And if he hadn't died. We were definitely moving that
way. A couple of weeks before, I'd finally accepted the fact that I was
in love with him. But, you know, why even tell him? I was going to see
him in a few weeks. I had all the time in the world. And then he died,
so I never even got to tell him.'"
Had you hinted at those feelings?
"I think there was a certain sweet kind of flirtatiousness going on, but
it was still at that stage, where it hadn't been spoken. We knew we cared
about each other, but we just never got to that particular point. The
end came where it came, and so that's the story."
But you were mulling over telling him, so to speak?
"I was savouring the moment. I didn't want to say it over the phone. I
wanted to say it to him in person. But I never had the chance."
And he was about to get divorced...
"Oh, he had already separated from Gretchen."
The Ballad Of Sally Rose fictionalises the possibility of a relationship...
"[Hesitantly] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah."
When did you notice the elevation of Gram into a cult figure?
"Right away. I think there's something about someone dying young and in
their prime that is just irresistible, especially if they are genuinely
talented. And in the case of Gram, his work stands the test of the time.
The greatest PR stunt you can perform is dying young. But Gram would be
a bit bemused by all this worship stuff. He'd probably have a good laugh