Saturday, September 18, 2010

Bobby Parker Is Watching His Step

Bobby Parker has been tearing up Washington D.C. area clubs for the past three decades. This Louisiana native was raised in Los Angeles, but the musical bug hit him, and by the mid-fifties he was playing with Paul Williams' band, backing up numerous R&B legends at the Apollo and on tour. Later he moved to DC, where he was a mainstay in the 14th Street clubs. In more recent years he has played a variety of Washington area venues. Bobby recorded a fine 45 for Vee-Jay which included a superb minor-key blues, Blues Get Off My Shoulder, with the first recording of You Got What It Takes (later a hit for Marv Johnson). A year later, he recorded for the Philadelphia V-Tone label, Watch Your Step, which was based on Dizzy Gillespie’s Manteca (with a bit of Ray Charles influence) that was by Spencer Davis. This record led him to be invited to Europe in the late sixties where Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page was one of his fans, and tried to sign him up to that label. He did record for Blue Horizon, cutting the great It’s Hard But It’s Fair.

The release of Bent Out of Shape by Parker on Black Top will certainly open a lot of ears that haven’t heard these rare records, or seen Bobby in performance. Bobby Radcliff told this writer that twenty years ago, Parker was as good as the better known Chicago stars like Otis Rush and Buddy Guy, and I understand from others, that this recording is not different from what Parker was doing twenty years ago. Having watched Bobby for several years one could sense here was someone special, and this recording captures it. The album is comprised of Bobby’s originals with the exception of the Carey Bell song, Break It Up, that Bobby often opens his live dates with. The remakes of his early recordings are all strong performances. Watch Your Step is a particularly hard-hitting reworking of his V-Tone recording, although without a vocal chorus. The title track is evocative of some of the late Z.Z. Hill’s recordings, but the band here plays with more of an edge, and Parker’s fiery guitar matches his deep soul singing. Bobby’s A-Go-Go actually a mistitled Go-Go Blues),his tribute to the Go-Go music scene, is perhaps the weakest track here, but that aside, the music here is first rate and almost worth the wait for it to come out. This is simply one of the best blues releases on Black Top of the past few years, set apart not only by Bobby’s strong guitar playing, but by his fervent, soulful blues preaching.

This review appeared in the March 1993 (issue 179) of Jazz & Blues Report. “Bent Out of Shape,” is currently out-of-print on CD but one may be able to locate it on ebay or from blues music vendors. Downloads of the album are available on itunes and amazon. I likely received a review copy of this. In my review I did not note that John lennon took Bobby’s riff for a couple of Beatles songs.

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