JUNIOR PARKER / Junior Parker Mixtape

If you were born in the south in the eighties or later, this week’s classic feature is probably your grandfather’s music. I’m 64 and grew up as a young teen hearing this music. I don’t mean I actively sought out these sounds on the radio or bought these records, or even attended performances by people like Little Junior Parker, which was an early stage name for Herman Parker Jr.
junior parker 01.jpg 
Most of the times these guys performed in night clubs, taverns and bars (is here a difference between the two?), labor halls, rental halls, plus miscellaneous holes in the wall and other assorted entertainment venues.

At twelve I wasn’t hanging out on street corners or in front of those bars. I remember frequently passing a joint on Law Street that was two blocks from our home. The juke box was always blaring when we were coming from school. Sometimes we took the Law Street back way home that required us to walk ten blocks or so but was much faster than the St. Claude route that also required us to spend an extra five cents to catch the nickel bus for the last 14 and a half blocks.

That small, cinder block building with the painted beer signs on the front was off limits to us school children, so we never went in, but even so the music always came pouring out, and “Drivin' Wheel” was one of those songs. A woman with a cigarette hanging from her lips, and maybe a comb stuck in the back of her hair, might be seen exiting or, more often, some slender guy with a pencil thin mustache would be standing sentry, generally with a pool stick in one hand and a Regal beer bottle in the other. This out-of-the-way den of ill repute was ministered to by the recordings of singers who preached the blues.

The music of these southern urban blues singers was literally part of the air we breathed growing up. When I began putting this Mixtape together, it was a pleasant surprise to find out the actual names of some songs I knew by melody, hook-line, or just distinctive guitar riff. “My baby don’t have to work / she don’t have to rob and steal.” Why? Because “I give her everything she want/I am her driving wheel.”

I heard those rough and raucous, adult-themed songs when I was twelve and now over fifty-some years later, those gender defining lyrics still blare in my consciousness even as I intellectually struggle to move far, far beyond their patriarchal orientation.

I could be walking to my car, see a fetching young woman, and the swing of her hips might ignite “the way she walks is like the leaves shaking on a tree.” Other folk had Shakespeare, I had the blues and though later I was introduced to Shakespeare in school, the bard’s sonnets never knocked me out the way Little Junior Parker did.
junior parker 02.jpg 
Junior Parker was a peer of Bobby Bland and B.B. King, and although none of them was born in Memphis (Junior Parker was from the other side of the Mississippi River in West Memphis, Arkansas), all three of them found their calling in Memphis, Tennessee. They even worked in the same pick-up band (the Beale Streeters) for a minute before each of them established a respected solo career.

Junior Parker is the least known of the trio but then he died of brain tumor when he was only 39. Although he was a fine harmonica player, his orientation was the least blues-drenched of the trio. In many ways he was in the first wave of urbane Southern Soul singers.

You can hear sophistication in his music, none of the growling and moaning that Bland and King favored. In fact, Parker not only recorded with jazz organist Jimmy McGriff, he also covered Beatles music. When you hear him croon “Lady Madonna” or especially “Tomorrow Never Knows,” you are hearing one of the lesser known masters of the new blues that would morph into Soul music.

The Mixtape closes with Parker’s melodious harmonica featured on “Way Back Home,” a strolling instrumental from the Crusaders songbook. This is not a song you would expect from either Bland or King, but it is precisely the kind of relaxed, kicking back music that marked the transition from country blues to an urban style of music that was aware of both big city jazz sophistication and the rootsy blues escaping Mississippi.

Think of this as some Jack Black (i.e. Jack Daniels Scotch Black Label) rather than moonshine rotgut or quarter-twice Thunderbird; highly polished Stacy Adams wing-tips rather than steel-toe, unshined brogans; a stingy brimmed, felt sky-piece with a little peacock feather rather than a hardhat or red, polka-dot bandana; and of course, a sharkskin suit with slanted side pockets rather than well-worn overalls.

This is the music of blues people in transition: easily recognized as blues but done up with a strutting elegance befitting someone who worked indoors stocking a warehouse or behind a counter rather than plowing acres behind a mule’s ass. We was still Black and blue but we wasn’t country. Houston, Memphis, Jackson, Montgomery, New Orleans, even Atlanta, way over to Savannah, we had left the fields for big city bright lights but we were the ones who didn’t set off north or west, we stayed south and created a big city sound that reflected our new south conditions. Junior Parker was the John the Baptist of Soul music heralding the soon coming good news of Soul music.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

Junior Parker Mixtape Playlist

junior parker cover 01.jpg 
Funny How Time Slips Away
01 “Funny How Time Slips Away”
02 “Rivers Invitation”

junior parker cover 02.jpg 
Little Junior Parker
03 “Look on Yonders Wall”

junior parker cover 01.jpg 
Funny How Time Slips Away
04 “Lady Madonna”

junior parker cover 03.jpg 
Driving Wheel
05 “Drivin' Wheel”
06 “Someone Somewhere”

junior parker cover 02.jpg 
Little Junior Parker
07 “Blue Shadows”
08 “Tin Pan Alley”
09 “Five Long Years”

junior parker cover 01.jpg 
Funny How Time Slips Away
10 “Don't Throw Your Love on Me So Strong”

junior parker cover 02.jpg 
Little Junior Parker
11 “I Need Your Love So Bad”
12 “In the Heat of the Night”

junior parker cover 04.jpg 
Single (1969)
13 "Worried Life Blues"

junior parker cover 01.jpg 
Funny How Time Slips Away
14 “Tomorrow Never Knows”

junior parker cover 02.jpg 
Little Junior Parker
15 “Way Back Home”

This entry was posted on Monday, April 11th, 2011 at 5:11 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “JUNIOR PARKER / Junior Parker Mixtape”

tayari Says:
April 13th, 2011 at 6:53 am

guess ah ain’t country cuz i’m lovin’ Little Junior Parker

QSR Says:
April 13th, 2011 at 3:48 pm

‘Five Long Years’ and ‘Worried Life Blues’…man, Blues don’t get any blue-er than that. Excellent find. Thanks Kalamu.

Leave a Reply

| top |