Bobby Parker – Soul of the Blues
Rhythm and Blues Records RANDB060
52 songs – 153 minutes
The world of music is full of people who deserved far more attention than they received during their lives, and guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Bobby Parker is among the best. But despite being a major influence to John Lennon, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana in the ‘50s and ‘60s and performing regularly around Washington, D.C., and at blues festivals until his passing at age 76 in 2013, his musical legacy and talent has been overlooked despite his importance.
This two-CD set – the first-ever compilation that focuses solely on his music – should change that. One listen, and you’ll be wondering why he flew under the radar for so long.
Born in Louisiana, but raised in Southern California, Parker was influenced heavily by T-Bone Walker, Lowell Fulson, Pee Wee Crayton and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, but developed his own stinging attack on the six-string. An equally soulful vocalist, his career began after winning a talent contest sponsored by R&B legend Johnny Otis and Otis Williams scooped him up to provide backing for his chart-topping doo-wop group, The Charms.
Parker subsequently toured by Bo Diddley, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, then moved on to work with jazz and blues bandleader Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams, who revolutionized R&B by being the first person to incorporate honking saxophone into his sound. He launched a solo career in the mid-‘60s and never looked back.
His recording legacy under his own name is pretty limited, including about a dozen 45s and two stellar CDs – Bent Out of Shape and Shine Me Up – for the Black Top imprint in the ‘90s. Santana was so pleased with Bobby’s re-emergence that they shared billing during an arena tour in 1994.
Parker’s best known for the 1961 single, “Watch Your Step,” a tune that charted on both sides of the Atlantic and was subsequently covered by Santana, the Spencer Davis Group and several other British rockers. The Beatles used Parker’s now-familiar hook for the opening bars of “I Feel Fine,” and Led Zeppelin borrowed it for “Moby Dick,” too.
Accompanied by a detailed, 24-page booklet, this set includes vocals that Bobby recorded between 1956 and 1969, several stunning instrumentals and other fabulous fretwork culled from the catalogs of The Emeralds, Diddley, Williams, Noble “Thin Man” Watts and several others as well as some previously unreleased songs he recorded for a radio broadcast in 1995. There’s so much material here that they’re not enough space to detail it all. Here are the highlights:
The hits come fast and furious on disc one, beginning with “Sally Lou.” Parker penned the tune for The Emeralds. Released in 1954, he lays down a loping rhythm on the strings throughout, while his attack turns to single-note responses and stop-time leads for Diddley’s “I’m Looking for a Woman.” But his talent comes to the fore in a four-song set backed by the Paul Williams Orchestra, vocally mimicking a horn solo to open “Titanic” before launching into a melismatic, first-person recounting of the luxury liner’s sinking and delivering guitar fills that were way ahead of its time — work that continues in “Once Upon a Time, Long Ago, Last Night” and the interesting “Up, Up, Up,” which has an extended instrumental break.
Bobby’s front-and-center for most of the remainder of the disc, highlighted by the original ballad “Blues Get Off My Shoulder,” “(Baby) You Got What It Takes” – a Parker song that was a Billboard Top 10 hit for Marv Johnson and resurfaced with other accreditation in recordings by Marvin Gaye and others – the afore mentioned “Watch Your Step,” the vocal workout “It’s Too Late Darling” the instrumental “Night Stoll (Part 2),” “Hot Gravy” and “Soul Party (Part 2)” and the blues “Don’t Drive Me Away.”
A six-song block from the radio broadcast opens the second set, with far more of Bobby’s guitar skills on display, including a great cover of “Born Under a Bad Sign,” the self-penned “Bent Out of Shape,” “I Call Her Baby,” “Break It Up” and “Bobby-a-Go-Go” as well as a heaping helping of pleasers from Bo, Hucklebuck, Thin Man and more.
Run, don’t walk, to buy this one. Bobby Parker was a treasure. This one’s going on my short list for historical album of the year, and, once you hear it, you’ll probably feel the same way, too.