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Boulder to Birmingham

by

Emmylou Harris



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Emmylou Harris cowrote this song with Bill Danoff after the death of Gram Parsons. The song has become famous for its heart-rending chorus:

I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham
I would hold my life in his saving grace
I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham
If I thought I could see, I could see your face


The song is specifically about Parsons, but the song became a source of comfort for many people who could relate to the sentiment of losing someone close to them.
Early in her career, Harris toured with Gram Parsons and sang on his 1973 album GP. Parsons, who was a Country-Rock innovator, mentored Harris at a time when she was struggling in the business - her first album went nowhere and she was playing bars in the Washington DC area before teaming up with Parsons. They became good friends and showed incredible chemistry on their recordings and performances.

Later in 1973, they were working on an album together when Parsons died of a drug overdose. The album, Grievous Angel, was posthumously released in 1974. Harris was devastated by Parson's death and expressed that sadness in this song. She said learning that Parsons had died was "like falling off a mountain."
Harris wrote about half of the songs on her 1969 debut album, but this was the only one she had a hand in writing for her second album, Pieces of the Sky. She wrote the lyrics to the song, and Bill Danoff composed the music.

Danoff and his wife Taffy Nivert were well known in the DC music scene; they had co-written the John Denver hits "Take Me Home Country Roads" and "Friends With You." The year after Harris released Pieces of the Sky, Danoff had a huge hit with his group the Starland Vocal Band in "Afternoon Delight," which is titled after the appetizer menu at a DC restaurant/bar called Clyde's Of Georgetown. Harris had a regular gig there in the early '70s.
After Gram Parsons died, two of his friends stole his body and set it on fire in the Mohave desert, which they claimed was Parsons' directive. The line in this song "I was in the wilderness and the canyon was on fire," is often interpreted to be about this burning, but it was actually a reference to 1974 wildfires in the Coldwater Canyon section of Los Angeles, which is where Harris recorded the album.
Brian Ahern, who had previously worked with Anne Murray, produced the Pieces of the Sky album. This song is a great example of his production strategy, which was to focus on the voice. There are no background vocals and the various instruments - including acoustic and pedal steel guitar - are carefully mixed to accentuate the singing.

Ahern stayed on as Harris' producer and the two formed a romantic relationship. They married in 1977 the same month Harris' third Ahern-produced album, Luxury Liner, was released. They divorced in 1984.
The Hollies recorded this for their 1976 album Write On.
A cover by the Alternative Rock band The Fray appears as a bonus track on the iTunes deluxe version of their third album Scars & Stories. They persuaded Harris to appear on their version but nearly fell out with the Nashville legend when working on the song with her. "We met and sat down with Emmylou," singer Isaac Slade recalled to Jam! Music. "She showed us the ropes. She scolded me a little bit and put me in my place because I was getting a little rock star and giving Emmylou advice, which is something you don't do. You listen and don't talk. And we just did it in one afternoon."
Emmylou Harris
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