On Being Guitar Blues Legend Bobby Parker by chefjimi

Posted on 7/07/2010 by Chefjimi

"The best stuff I ever heard was by a bloke called Bobby Parker"
Robin Trower

"He is one of the few remaining guitarists on this planet that can pierce your heart and soothe your soul. He inspired me to play guitar"
Carlos Santana

Then there's these little morsels of truth; John Lennon, who lifted the signature riff from Mr. Parker’s “Watch Your Step” for not just one, but two Beatles hits: “I Feel Fine” and “Day Tripper.” Led Zeppelin created their “Moby Dick” from the same source, as did Deep Purple for "Rat Bat Blue'. Robert Plant has openly acknowledged that Mr. Parker’s first record “Blues Get Off My Shoulder,” as the disc that inspired him to start singing.

With all that said, Mr.Parker must hold some kind of a world record for being the musician that singularly inspired so many with so little. Mr. Parker’s discography is not loaded down with hits, nor does he have all that many releases to his name. Nevertheless, he’s made each one count, most notably “Watch Your Step.” which was released in 1961. Mr. Parker managed to say more with its introductory guitar riff than most artists say in their entire careers.

These accolades are not to be taken lightly. Anyone who can garner these quotes and others like them should be a household name. And yet how many of us have heard of, or are familiar with Bobby Parker ? In this interview I attempt to get down some facts about him, the music and the scores of people he has played with. I hope you enjoy it, and maybe learn a little bit too, as I did.


Good afternoon Mr. Parker, I was fortunate enough to see your performance at the Chicago Blues Festival on Saturday, a great crowd even with the rain came out to see you. And a great set by you and your band.

Bobby Parker:
Chicago was fun day, even with the rain, fun to meet everyone, and see people enjoying themselves. Things are blossoming again for me, it's really great. We are all excited at what has been going on. There was a show after at this club where we all got down, man it was so cool, first time I played there.

Yes, I spoke to Cadillac Zack about it, he offered this quote "Bobby Parker's performance was legendary. His band was tight and and his singing and guitar playing was fiery." Sounds like I missed a good one !
Bobby, your history reads like a 'who's who' of R&B, Blues etc. Having played with Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Pee-Wee Crayton, the list goes on.

I was lucky enough to come thru that era when all this stuff began. I met everybody that was anybody in Rock & Roll, or the Blues coming up. I saw all the stuff that went down during that time, the heartaches, hardships, and all the good stuff too. I met everybody. I was on these shows, they were called the Top 10 Review, put on by Irving Feld. They went out every year, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Big Bopper, Richie Valens, Buddy Holly. It was just amazing the history that transpired. I was in so many bands playing behind these great artists, and had the chance to play with all these cats, I was in the house band at the Apollo, The Regal in Chicago, and the Howard Theater in DC. We were a traveling band, just played so much great music in those days.

How did you get started, was it a 'inspired moment' or gradual immersion?

I started out as a kid, I was introduced to guitar when I was about 12 years old. I had a paper route in my neighborhood, there was an old guy who would sit on his porch and he'd pick on his big ol' acoustic guitar, so I would open the gate and deliver his paper to him, and man it would sound so great ! I loved going there and I'd be fascinated by the music.
So one day he asked me ...'son, you want to come up here, you know how play this thing ?”, I said "oh no sir, I don't". But he knew my daddy from up the street so he let me take that guitar home and work on it. It took me no time to start playing, see my Mom was a gospel singer, we are originally from Lafayette Louisiana, in New Iberia area, where all this music was, so I had this knowledge and love from them, it didn't take me long to learn.

I was discovered while at talent show in school, I won that show like five or six weeks straight, by playing the one Blues song I knew “Reconsider Baby''. Otis Williams and the Charms was my first band. They were sorta like the Jackson Five, a little band/doo-wop group. After that I joined Bo Diddley. We then went straight to Chicago and Chess Records (Phil and Leonard). That was where I got indoctrinated to all that funky stuff. Funny guy too, he would do this old thing called 'Hambone' …

Yeh that became the 'Bo Diddley' beat, correct? Otis Taylor did Hambone at the Chicago Blues Festival. Now did Bo let you play out while with him, or were you restricted – did he let you play any of those funky Bo Diddley guitars ? (we laugh)

He wasn't a single stroke player like me, I played Licks, he found me, He said 'you one of the best young lick players I know, you wanna hang with us” and I said yeh man.

That was in Chicago ?

Yeh, that's where I met everyone. Muddy, Wolf, Little Walter - Jimmy Reed - he was up the street with the other label. . .

Vee-Jay I believe.....

Yeh I think that was it, so I was in awe of all these people. I mean they weren't famous at this time. They only got famous when Clapton, Page and them started imitating them. They all had their times, but they also had lives, with drinking, child-support and having a great time, just ordinary cats. Traveling with Bo we covered the whole country, and that's when I met the Paul Hucklebuck Williams Band, a great guy who helped artists learn how to deal with the road and all the stuff that goes along with it.
I was with Big Joe Turner, Little Walter, Ruth Brown, T-Bone Walker, Smiley Lewis – all these people in that era, but some people hadn't come forward enough to be in the South to play with each other, so we played on a segregated basis in old Tobacco warehouse's.

So was that the chitin' circuit ?

It was the beginning of the chitin' circuit, all that great music was being played by a lot of black people, that's all it was. But the young white teenagers wanted to hear this music. They eventually integrated cos they had to hear Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and everybody else. I knew it wouldn't last long – all that negative stuff – see the music was changing everything.

How did you wind up in DC ?

Well we would travel in the big shows, with these stars like Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, but Paul Hucklebuck was a great guy, it was a big band like 20 people, like Count Basie but it was the Blues. So we would return from the Apollo and these theaters to the Howard Theater in DC and things were changing for me. There were all these people screaming for me ! Like 3,000 ladies wanting to meet me, screaming for Bobby ! I thought this might be a city I could stay in (we laugh at the thought, both agreeing that it was a no-brainer). And the rest is history. I been here ever since, this was back in the early 60's. So I started forming my own band, and that's when my idea for 'Watch Your Step' started to come around. And man, I recorded that and the whole United Kingdom, went berserk, 'da-dadadada da dum da dum...” (he is singing the riff !).

Well yeh, when I heard the lick from 'I Feel Fine” by the Beatles, I was like, I know that riff....sorta like Ray Charles 'What I'd Say' but not quite. And Led Zeppelin covered it in Moby Dick....

Well I counted over 600 variations of that riff. McCartney and Lennon knew what they were doing. They were entrepreneurs, they were also lucky, they got Isley Brother licks, Bobby Parker licks and made them work. Ya know it was gonna happen anyway, sooner or later it was gonna get into the open, the music was too good to stay isolated and separated.

CJ: And we are all better for that. Now you grew up in California ?

Yeh, I was raised up in California, we left for there whenI was about 7 years old. We were looking for a better life for us all. My father was a repairman for Wurlitzer and other juke box companies like that. He had a route downtown and he would take me with him to service the machines on Saturday's , and I did not want to do that! Yet once I went I found that there were always blues bands there. They would rehearse and that's where I met Lowell Fulsom, T-Bone Walker, a young Etta James and Johnny 'Guitar' Watson.

CJ: Your current band is really tight, and it's a big band kinda sound, that's cool, I love that sound of horns and keys etc., just a great groove sound.

My current band has been together for 15-20 years. We are a band not just an artist. I got recording studio in my home, Pro-Tools and other stuff, so I got a lot of stuff coming out soon. A lot of original stuff that I have put together over the last thirty years.

CJ: So I can expect to hear some more covers of your songs (we laugh) like I didn't realise the great Little Milton covered you on 'Blues Get Off My Shoulder', did you know Milton?

Yeh we did a lot of shows together, we played together on the stages. Lots of people did cover that song, they re-arrange it and claim it as theirs.

There seems to be a lot of that these days, sampling and taking riffs....Did you ever come to an agreement with Led Zeppelin etc., on yer stuff and Moby Dick riff...?

Jimmy Page wrote me and wanted to meet me cos he loved my riffs and 'Watch Your Step', so I had sent him a note that we were playing in these various venues and he wanted to meet me and come over. Well I was playing the military circuit, and in Florida we were playing when my buddy on stage next to me says there's Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, sitting next to the stage out front. I'm like no way, but he was there and we tried to get him up on stage but he refused. So a couple of months later he calls me and says to go over to this music store by my home and pick up a new Teac recorder that he bought for me. Tells me to put some stuff on it, and so I did and I would send him tapes every so often. So lo and behold Mick Fleetwood gets wind of it, so he wanted to play with me. So he introduces me to Peter Green after his nervous breakdown to kick it around and we all played together. They all knew each other and 'Watch Your Step' that riff, was still in everyone's ears. So I'm in England and tearing it up, but then Hendrix was hot there and he was burning up his guitars and breaking them on stage and all this, and I wasn't about to do this, so I was feeling out of place, so I came back to the US.

Now Bobby, there is this story about how you were given $2,000 to put out a demo for Led Zeppelin's label, but you never did it? Is there any truth to that story?

When all this happened there was so much going on cos I was still hot in Europe, there was just so much going on, people all in my face, nothing negative but everyone pulling in different directions, but it was all fine it all worked out. We still friends, but we never got it together enough to go into the studio.

Carlos Santana has been quoted saying you inspired him to play, how did you meet him?

I was playing in Mexico and Carlos was just a kid, and trying to play but he was so nice, and he was practicing, then he got his stuff together real good now ain't he?

Damn straight, real good. Now, Bobby, was there one stage of yer life, or time while you were playing that seems most memorable to you?

Well, you know playing in these old Tobacco warehouses and playing with T-Bone Walker. That has got to be one of them. T-Bone, was a sharp little cat, he was always playing the greatest shows he could every night. Would always be dressed up nice, and always giving lessons to the players in the band, just by watching him entertain. We were paid to entertain and put on shows, and T-Bone taught us about that, and more.

Bobby, there is so much history involved with you and your career is there a way for fans to inform themselves after they read this interview?

Well yes there is, we have a site that is dedicated to me and my music. It is at http://http// . It is a great site, we spent alot of time getting it just right. You can listen to my releases 'Bent Out of Shape' and 'Shine Me Up' in their entirety. We are on also FaceBook, so please stop by and become friends.

Yes, the sites are really quite good, especially your personal web site. Bobby, thank you for taking the time to talk with me, it was great to see you in Chicago and hope to see you again.

reprise: So Mr. Parker is quite a story, a genuinely sweet man, who is very accepting of the past, but looking forward to the future. He is touring regularly these days and is hoping to re-establish his link with his many fans while hopefully inspiring a new generation of musicians. Personally I would love to see him accomplish his goals. Check him out if you get a chance, and tell him chefjimi sent ya !

Until the next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease

If you enjoyed this serving of the Blues, you might want to check out my other articles, as I roam around seeking out the Blues wherever they are happening.

all photos used by permission
courtesy of artist, Danspix, and Leslie K. Joseph

copyright © 2010 – bluesuitspeaks, all rights reserved.

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