Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Let's Ride With Little Junior Parker

It is odd to hear Herman ‘Little Junior’ Parker referred to as a fairly obscure figure in the history of African-American music as Dave Penny does in the liner notes of the excellent two-disc, Fantastic Voyage public-domain reissue, Ride With Me, Baby: The Singles 1952-1961. Parker in his unfortunately brief career was a significant and influential figure on the blues circuit. He headlined the Blues Consolidated tours with Bobby Bland at the time his Duke recordings were consistently on the charts. His Sun Recordings were covered by Elvis Presley, and Magic Sam was among many Chicago bluesmen to adapt some of his recordings. On his recording of Take Me To The River, Al Green dedicate the song to Parker, his cousin, who had passed on.

Fantastic Voyage has compiled all of Parker’s singles for Modern Records (One 78 and a duet with Bobby Bland); all of his Sun recordings (including alternate takes), and his Duke recordings through Annie Get Your Yo-Yo. In all there are 55 selections that showcase Parker’s smooth, soulful singing and harmonica style influenced by the second Sonny Boy Williamson, backed by solid bands including the Blue Flames with Matt Murphy) or Matt’s brother Floyd) on guitar to recordings with the Duke records house band led by tenor saxophonist Bill Harvey and trumpet player and ace arranger, Joe Scott.

Included are such landmark recordings as Feelin’ Good, and Mystery Train made for Sun and numerous hits for Duke that include Next Time You See Me, Mother-In-Law Blues, I Wanna Ramble, That’s Alright, Sitting and Thinking, Barefoot Rock, Sweet Home Chicago, Stranded, Driving Wheel, and In The Dark. It is interesting see how his music matured as his backings became more sophisticated and urbane. His rendition of Jimmy Rogers’ That’s Alright stands up well to Rogers’ original and his recording of
Sweet Home Chicago predates the song becoming the overdone blues anthem of recent years. There was a warmth in his vocals and when he played the harmonica on his recordings it gave a downhome feel to the urbane Duke sides.

He would continue to record for Duke for several more years and then for Mercury/Blue Rock, and Capitol. He continued to have some chart success until he passed away in 1971 from a brain tumor, not quite yet 40 years. Dave Penny provides a a concise survey of Parker’s life and music and full discographical information is included. Little Junior Parker was finally inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame thirty years later and now we have this very welcome, overdue and highly recommended, reissue of Parker’s singles from the first decade of his recording career.

This was a purchase.

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