It’s a black and white photo, now nearly 40 years old. In it, Keith Richards sits with Gram Parsons, holding a Gibson Hummingbird guitar, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. They are both sitting perched on the stone surrounds, on the verandah of an old house. Near them sit two women, petite and blonde. In the photo it’s clear the two men are more interested in each other than they are their partners. Both are lost in the music they are creating.
The photo, perhaps better than words, describes much about the making of the album Exile on Main St. The Stones have been forced out of Britain pursued by the tax man and the police. Richards is holed up in an old French villa, his best buddy for now not Mick Jagger but Parsons. Both of them are junkies. Parsons is one of many musicians coming and going at the villa but he more than anyone else has a connection with Richards that is deeply felt. Gram told anyone who wanted to listen that he wanted to make “cosmic American music”, Richards was on the same trail.
From what we know after time spent together each day, Richards would retire to the basement of the house they were staying in, the Villa Nellcote, in the South of France and channel the vision Parsons and he shared to make the music that would become the bedrock of the Rolling Stones most controversial record, Exile on Main St