The International Submarine Band is best remembered as country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons' first band, which isn't surprising since the group received almost no publicity when they were active in the late '60s. Though the band never quite realized their potential, their sole album, 1968's Safe at Home, suggests the path Parsons would later follow.
Parsons formed the International Submarine band with guitarist John Nuese, bassist Ian Dunlop, and drummer Mickey Gauvin while he was studying theology at Harvard in the mid-'60s. Parsons dropped out of college in 1966 and had the band move its operations to New York, where they began developing their synthesis of country and rock. By the end of the year, they had recorded two singles for Goldstar which were ignored. The group also recorded an album, which went unreleased; the tapes were later lost.
Early in 1967, the band moved out to Los Angeles on the advice of former child actor Brandon DeWilde, who told the band he could get them into the movies. The International Submarine Band did indeed appear in a movie -- Roger Corman's The Trip, which starred Peter Fonda. However, the group's music was erased, with the psychedelic blues of the Electric Flag overdubbed on the ISB's performance. Still, the band benefited from its performance in The Trip, since it increased their profile in the L.A. underground; Fonda even recorded Parsons' original song "November Nights." However, relations between the bandmembers were beginning to fray, and Dunlop and Gauvin left the group in the spring of 1967. A few months later, Parsons' childhood friend Jon Corneal joined as a drummer, and they hired a temporary bassist in order to audition for Lee Hazlewood's LHI Records. On the basis of the audition, the group landed a contract. LHI's in-house producer, Suzi Jane Hokum, was hired as the group's producer and Chris Ehtridge was hired as the group's bassist. By the end of 1967, the International Submarine Band had completed their debut album, Safe at Home.
Although the group's fortunes were beginning to improve, Parsons left the band in February of 1968 to join the Byrds. However, he hadn't told LHI that he intended to leave the Submarine Band before he became a Byrd, and he had to sell his rights to the ISB name to Hazlewood in order to avoid a lawsuit; Hazlewood was also able to prevent Parsons' vocals from appearing on his first album with the Byrds, 1968's Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Following Parsons' departure, the International Submarine Band attempted to replace the vocalist, but they couldn't find any possible candidates. By the time the ISB's debut album, Safe at Home, was released in the spring of 1968, the group had broken up. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine