Junior Parker

TrackSingle
Feelin' GoodSun 187
Mystery TrainSun 192
Love My BabySun 192
Mother-In-Law BluesDuke 157
Next Time You See MeDuke 164
That's AlrightDuke 168
Stand By MeDuke 330
Driving WheelDuke 335
I Need Love So BadDuke DLP76
Darling, Depend On MeCapitol 2857

spotify-logo-primary-horizontal-dark-background-rgb-sm

 

Junior Parker photo

 

Contributors: Dave Stephens – with Cal Taylor

Well, I feel so good
I’m gonna boogie, I’m gonna boogie, till the break of day

Way back in the early sixties I went on a jag of buying Jerry Lee Lewis singles. I wanted the lot. They were good, in many cases excellent, but that’s not the point today. Some of the later ones might have exhibited elements of desperation from Jerry and Sam (Phillips), or as I prefer to view it, pushing the envelope, as we’d label it today. London HLS 9526 was one of the weirdest of the lot. Let’s leave the flip, Ramblin’ Rose for another time. The A-side, I’ve Been Twistin’, was ostensibly an attempt to cash in on the dance craze so hardly worth a listen you’d think, other than the fact that Jerry was a dab hand at breathing life into corpses. And one listen was enough to tell you that this one bore no resemblance at all to a stiff. In my admittedly hopelessly biased opinion, this was the best twist record ever, only, (a) 99.99999% of the world’s population didn’t know it, and, (b) given the dearth of competition, that’s not saying anything overly complimentary about the record. There was a writer listed, one “Parker”, but that meant nothing to me at the time.

A year or two later with blues records starting to make an impact on those like myself whose original allegiance had been to rock and roll, I thought I’d found the source of I’ve Been Twistin’. John Lee Hooker’s Boogie Chillen bore some resemblance in terms of the jerky rhythm and some of the wording. But I was wrong. It was not until I heard Junior Parker’s Feelin’ Good that I pinned it down. Sam Phillips had plundered the Sun back catalogue, and not for the first time. Junior’s original was every bit as good as Jerry’s version – I’m holding back from calling it a cover – and not just because of the years between them, there was a difference in treatment too. Both discs had validity and, in his own way, Junior Parker was as innovative an artist as Jerry.

But I was right about the connection to the 1948 single from John Lee. No discussion of Junior’s Feelin’ Good can take place without consideration of John Lee’s Boogie Chillen. Now that was a seriously innovative record and, in my book, a shoo-in for a position in a Top Ten of post-war blues. In an essay on the record, Jas Obrecht commented:

“When Hooker recorded the song, he was 31 years old and had recently moved to Detroit, Michigan. Accompanying himself with an acoustic guitar outfitted with a sound-hole pickup and tuned to an open A chord, he framed most of the song’s repetitive, hypnotic feel with a one chord riff that seemed equal parts West African music and Mississippi blues. Hooker had tested the song at house parties before he recorded it. ‘That was done at the old United Sound Systems there in Detroit,’ he recalled. ‘They put a ply board under your feet, and your feet would just tap it. The amp was behind me, one mike. They didn’t have all that stuff they got now. The records was good quality, though.’”

That Parker had used the Hooker song as his base is in no doubt, particularly when you note the presence of “Well, I felt so good that I went on boogie-woogiein’ just the same” in the Hooker record. Elsewhere, Junior’s lyrics come across as a drastically simplified version of John Lee’s with the explicit autobiographical feel of the source more understated in the later song . Effectively, Junior Parker, Sam Phillips and the Sun Studio guys had produced an industrialised version of Boogie Chillen with rhythm section and riffing guitar replacing Hooker’s solitary acoustic with pickup. To their credit, Junior and co had introduced two more components: a more obvious chorus (which swung like the clappers) and more of a two part dialogue in the largely spoken verses. Few critics have commented on the fact that both records were near-as-dammit rap and deserve to be put alongside Diddley’s Say Man as precursors of the genre.

No I wouldn’t quite put Feelin’ Good on the same pedestal as Boogie Chillen – there’s no real substitute for Hooker’s surging guitar and his sheer unpredictability – but it has its merits and, in its own way, was a pointer to considerably more imaginative work to come out of the Sun Studios …

… which included not just one, but both sides of his next single, Mystery Train/Love My Baby. Every reviewer worth his or her salt mentions Junior’s Mystery Train in the same sentence as the Presley classic version of the song (which was released on Sun of course), but relatively few of them pick up on the fact that Scotty Moore had lifted Pat Hare’s driving guitar line from Love My Baby and inserted it bodily into the Presley track, with the result that musically, El’s Mystery Train is far more akin to Junior’s flip than the A-side. I say Pat Hare, but there is some doubt about the man responsible for the guitar work (see Footnotes).

The Junior Parker Mystery Train starts off with train noises and an “All aboard”, though it never develops beyond an easy chugging pace, with lead guitar providing the repetitive, wheels on the track, sound. There’s a mournful air about the whole thing helped by a lugubrious sax from James Wheeler which appears on the second verse. Lyrically, I get the distinct impression that the train is taking Junior’s baby away but there’s ambiguity as to whether he’s on the train or not. The final line, “Well it’s bringing my baby, ‘cause she’s mine, all mine” lets us know that Junior has opted for a happy ending, though of course, that could be self deluding fantasy. Maybe that’s all part of the mystery, since the title doesn’t actually make an appearance. Regardless of the Presley version, this is a splendid record in its own right.

Love My Baby has an identical melody line to Mystery Train but sounds almost a world apart. The whole thing is carried by the guitarist who is totally dominant from the intro onwards, and whose descending arpeggio is the most striking feature of the record. Maybe there’s a slight similarity to the riff used by Howlin’ Wolf on songs like Smokestack Lightning, but on this record there’s none of the brooding intensity that the Wolf brought to so much of his output. Rather, this is an expression of pleasure – “Big fat mama, meat shakes on the bone” – highly desirable stuff obviously, certainly to Junior and many other black males at the time.

I mentioned Howlin’ Wolf; Junior was actually in the great man’s band in Memphis in 1949. Prior to that he had also worked with, and learned from, another blues great, Sonny Boy Williamson II. Add in to all that, the fact that Junior also played with a loose ensemble of musicians who called themselves the Beale Streeters, and whose members included B.B. King, Bobby Bland, Rosco Gordon and Johnny Ace, then it must be apparent to even the most casual blues fan that young Mr Parker had had an unparalleled blues (and blues harmonica) education.

Most Parker biographies list You’re My Angel/Bad Women Bad Whiskey as his first single. Technically the authors are correct but he did appear on a putative single for the Bihari Brothers Los Angeles based Modern Records which didn’t see release at the time. There were two tracks recorded at a session in Memphis on the 24th of January, 1952. The first title was a different version of Love My Baby, which bore very little resemblance to the Sun cut; vocal duties on it were shared between Bobby Bland and Junior (who took the first verse). The second was Drifting From Town To Town; for this one Bland was the sole vocalist and Junior only played harmonica. The backing team reportedly comprised Johnny Ace on piano, Matt Murphy on guitar and Earl Forest on drums. This would appear to be the bulk of the Beale Streeters since Forest usually played with them. This is the record:

Backtracking slightly, Junior formed a band he called the Blue Flames in 1951, this consisted of the bulk of Howlin’ Wolf’s outfit when he moved to Chicago along with guitarist Willie Johnson. Ike Turner, who was acting as a talent scout for Modern Records, discovered Junior and band in ’52, and a recording session was arranged for the label which produced You’re My Angel/Bad Women Bad Whiskey, later that same year. Both sides are worth a listen:

 

The A-side is the jumper; the flip, the slowie. You’re My Angel initially comes across as anarchic sonic murk with instruments competing all over the place; the pianist (Ike Turner himself) could almost have come from another record and a great big booming sax enters on the second verse. But it’s a grower, the delights of which only gradually become apparent. The flip is a much more conventional slow blues with sympathetic and inventive support coming almost solely from the guitarist who is strongly believed to have been Matt (sometimes referred to as M.T.) Murphy. Other instruments are well down in the mix. On this one, Junior’s vocal skills are given a much better showpiece than on the A-side.

Junior’s voice; it’s about time I gave it some attention. Variously described as velvet-smooth, pulsing with emotion, resonating with warmth and elegance, and even sensual. I don’t know of any close comparison in the blues world. Names like one-time label mate Bobby Bland, and the two very different Browns, Roy and Charles, flit across the brain but these are only very partial similarities, Junior was very much his own man. The fact that he was able to switch between the genres of electric down-home blues, the smoother sax-driven uptown variety and even stretch to soul blues and funk, with consummate ease, doesn’t help to pin down the characteristics of the Parker voice, but certainly illustrates its versatility. We’re lucky that, even in the post-Duke years, he didn’t settle to a soul lite cum easy listening role like Brook Benton, even if the format of his output didn’t always match the blues we were used to.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. After the relative lack of success of Mystery Train – Feelin’ Good had hit #5 in the R&B Chart but its successor did nothing – Junior jumped contract and moved to Duke Records. The latter was a label that had recently been set up in Memphis and, shortly afterwards, had been bought out by Don Robey, owner of the Houston based Peacock Records. The fact that his friend Bobby Bland had already made the move could well have weighed into the decision (see also Footnotes).

He stayed at Duke until 1966 and, although his first hit, Next Time You See Me, took some time to come –it didn’t see release till ’57 – it was a big seller in the R&B Chart, and the first of several for the label. A measure of the fame he achieved among the black community was that, in the late fifties and the early sixties, Bobby Bland and Junior toured the southern states as joint headliners on the incredibly popular Blues Consolidated Revue.

Junior Parker Bobby Bland Blues Consolidated

The name Blues Consolidated, was also used by Don Robey as the title for a joint Parker/Bland LP. I sent off for a copy of this via mail order in the mid sixties (though unfortunately no longer have it). I bought it primarily for Bland but the Parker side was a revelation. These were tracks I’d never heard before, even on the more specialised radio shows like the one presided over by Mike Raven. (See the Bobby Bland Toppermost for details on that show.)

The Junior Parker Duke tracks break down into roughly five categories, albeit with overlaps, though as with most things, that’s a simplification.

1. Early attempts to replicate the successful, or semi-successful, Sun era, with sound-alikes and sequels. This is the least interesting period in Junior’s Duke career, though that’s not to say that there weren’t good records made, merely that none were of classic proportions. The sequels even stretched to a record entitled Feelin’ Bad based on you know what. It was chunkier and arguably even better than its predecessor but there was only room for one and I went for the more obvious selection. Junior’s ability to switch from out and out hedonism to the utmost in doom and gloom has to be admired though.

Well here I am again walking down this old street
This time I ain’t feeling so good
Done lost my baby, ain’t got no money, ain’t got no friends
Let me tell you ‘bout it
Oooooooooh, feel so bad
Got the worst feelin’ I ever had

2. Tracks that used the Texas Shuffle, invented by T-Bone Walker and built upon by Bobby Bland with a succession of great guitarists, as the base format. Next Time You See Me, released in February 1957 wasn’t the first attempt by Junior, the band and the Duke team, to create such a record but it was by far the most successful to date. It was the first of his Duke singles to hit the charts, reaching #7 in the R&B Chart and even getting into the low end of the national Hot 100. There have been quite a few covers over the years, ranging from a purely instrumental take from jazz organist Freddie Roach, through Frankie Lymon (a surprisingly good version) to the Grateful Dead who featured the song in their stage set in the early days.

There were a few more shuffle-like singles though maybe not as many as one might have expected given the propensity of record labels to repeat a successful formula ad infinitum in those days. Wondering and Sometimes are both excellent example of this blues sub-genre served up à la Junior Parker. The last named has a punchy brass arrangement, probably from Joe Scott, although no credit is given on the label.

3. Emulation of the Chicago sound of, particularly, Little Walter. Whether this was deliberate or was merely putting the Junior harmonica to the fore, who knows, but it did produce some excellent tracks. It’s entirely possible that Junior and Don Robey of Duke, who was reputed to be hands-on in approach, were, by this juncture, desperately searching for a hit record – their first venture in this style, Mother-In-Law Blues was the immediate disc before the hit, Next Time You See Me. Contrary to any expectations raised by the title, it’s not a novelty number, instead it’s a forceful medium to up tempo effort, heavily dominated by Junior’s harmonica which had hardly been heard at Duke up until this record. He opens the number, then we’re into the turnaround and off we go, with Junior supported by a pianist and a guitar man doing a perfectly reasonable imitation of Elmore. And the guys sound as if they’d been doing this all their lives. A great surprise if you’d been following Junior in real time.

Only a tiny handful of records later we were treated to an even better example of Junior’s ‘Chicago sound’. This time the source was Chicago itself, or to be precise, Jimmy Rogers, one of the lesser stars of the Chess firmament and a member of the Muddy Waters group in the early fifties. At the end of a Waters’ recording session in August 1950, the band including Little Walter recorded Jimmy’s self-penned song, That’s All Right, with Jimmy on vocal and guitar. This is Jimmy’s version, which became a big hit in the Chicago area:

Junior recorded it in ’58 so it was hardly a cover in the competitive sense. His take was even slower and weightier, with our man in seriously resigned mood on vocal. There’s less of the mouth harp on this one but what we do get is to the point:

From this time onwards the Parker harmonica started to appear with much higher frequency and the stylistic nature of the records didn’t matter at all. It wasn’t unusual for Joe Scott to cast it/him as a kind of solo horn on much more uptown discs, which leads me to …

4. Soul Blues numbers, a new category which Bland and his arranger Joe Scott had helped to develop. Usually based on slow blues or blues ballads, the genre (or sub-genre depending on how you look at it) is characterised by an increase in the drama quotient both from singer(s) and backing band/orchestra. Bland had transitioned to the new style circa 1958/59 with numbers like Little Boy Blue and I’m Not Ashamed. Junior’s first attempts were a little more hesitant, possibly because his less overtly expressive voice wasn’t so well suited to the big Joe Scott productions that invariably featured on Bobby’s records, but with Driving Wheel he hit his stride.

This time Junior reached back a lot further than 1950 for his song. Driving Wheel was written by Roosevelt Sykes and released in 1936 under the name The Honey Dripper (Roosevelt Sykes). The contrast this time between the original and the ‘cover’ is much more marked, in part due to the elapsed time, but more significantly because of the addition of big slabs of brass, an ominous guitar and bass riff, plus one of those Texan stinging guitars adding counterpoint. Not only that, at round about two thirds in we get a stop time section with some Raelettes style “Yeahs”. Quite a production but it was still a twelve bar blues underneath.

 

A fair amount of Junior’s output from 1960 on was soul blues inclined though; every now and then he’d step over the line into the sort of early soul that we were starting to hear from Sam Cooke and Ben E. King. Stand By Me is just such an example, and, no, it’s not the King song. Junior himself co-wrote it and, intriguingly, it’s one of his rare songs which makes use of the Doo Wop Progression (again like Cooke and King). An absolute charmer:

5. Versions of existing blues standards or, even if not well known, great songs by blues artists. Typically these went well beyond the usual note-by-note covering as seen/heard in pop at the time, into wholesale reinterpretation. Not unlike popular music in the forties and early fifties, songs which achieved more than local success were treated as ‘standards’ so Junior could be seen to be following a recognised tradition in picking up earlier successful songs. The fact that he didn’t come up with that many songs could also have pushed the need to look outside.

Junior and Joe operated like master chefs taking the ingredients from an existing song, and blending them using their own recipe book into something new. It didn’t always work but that was no reason to stop trying. We’ve already had a couple of examples in That’s Alright and Driving Wheel. And there’s no reason to exclude the pre-Duke Feelin’ Good from such a list. There were plenty more such examples and they became more numerous in the latter part of the Junior Parker Duke sojourn.

A couple of Percy Mayfield songs come top on my list, though in both cases the originals were also very much to be reckoned with. Strange Things Happening (the flip of Percy’s classic Please Send Me Someone To Love) and the minor key I Need Love So Bad emerge as superb soul blues with the Duke makeover. Here are (1) the Mayfield I Need Love So Bad, and (2) the more intense Parker version of the song:

 

Before leaving Mr Mayfield it’s worth noting that he could have been added to that list of vocal comparisons to Junior.

Pianist Eddie Boyd’s Five Long Years was a No.1 R&B Chart hit in 1952. The Parker version from seven years later, has mouth harp interjections from Junior which place it firmly in the Chicago stream of his output. Again, for comparison, here are both:

 

Have to admit though, that Eddie does have a rather splendid booting sax on his cut.

Sweet Home Chicago might just be the most corny song in the whole blues genre but that doesn’t mean I should ignore it. The most liked version of the number on YouTube is the one from the Blues Brothers, who might just have something to do with that corn. Buddy Guy rolls in in second place followed closely by Robert Johnson and then loads and loads more. Johnson is generally accepted to be the ‘owner’ of the song even if its origins predate his 1937 version. The Junior Parker take from 1958, which gave him a #13 R&B Chart placing, was released well before the song became an overdone anthem and I’ve no idea which record he was effectively covering. What I can say is that it was another one to get the Windy City treatment, inevitably I guess:

That’s perhaps as good a place as any to leave Junior and his covers/versions/interpretations, though these weren’t the only ones by any means. Others worth checking out include Last Night (Little Walter), The Things I Used To Do (Guitar Slim) and Yonder’s Wall (Elmore James).

With record sales dwindling, Junior left Duke in 1966. His label mate Bobby Bland hung on for a few more years but when he did go, he managed to achieve a level of success in the larger white domain, which was something that never quite happened for Parker in spite of the valiant efforts of a number of record labels.

Indeed, Junior passed through so many labels in the late sixties and early seventies that I’m not even going to try to cover every last one of them – a considerable number of those releases are no longer available in their original format now anyway. I’m only going to reference the ones that I feel are of most interest:

– His first port of call post Duke was Mercury. They issued one album entitled Like It Is, and another on their subsidiary Blue Rock, Honey-Drippin’ Blues. The music contained in the pair is blues or blues/soul related and, while lacking the distinctiveness of the Duke offerings, is still worth investigating. There’s another Mayfield cover, Baby Please, in the first set plus a track that Cal is partial to, Cracked Up Over You:

– Maybe the most interesting of the post Duke period was one that would seem to have had more than one title. I know it as Love Ain’t Nothin’ But A Business Goin’ On, from Groove Merchant and released in 1971. There was another Mayfield track in there – River’s Invitation – which by now doesn’t come as a surprise, but what was a surprise was the presence of not one but three Beatles numbers: Taxman, Lady Madonna, Tomorrow Never Knows. All three are imaginatively interpreted. I’m particularly partial to the last named with its hypnotic beat. The blogger Aquarium Drunkard refers to the sound and atmosphere that Junior and the band create on the song as psychedelic molasses.

I’m going for a more conventional slow burner from this set as my last selection. Darling, Depend On Me is the song, and the treatment is so good that I’m put in mind of some of the better numbers on Solomon Burke’s ‘comeback album’, Don’t Give Up On Me. Yup, it’s really that tasty.

– In 1972, United Artists issued an album featuring both Junior and organist Jimmy McGriff. It’s another that would seem to have had more than one title in its time but can currently be found under the name, Good Things Don’t Happen Every Day. While the idea of pairing these artists was good, the execution let it down somewhat. Largely due to poor selection of tracks which didn’t all play to the strengths of the artists. However I’m rather partial to the duo’s after hoursy take on the Fats Domino rocker, Ain’t That A Shame. I’d always felt that that Fats’ delivery of his own song was overly bouncy considering the lyrics. Junior’s much more resigned vocal seems rather more fitting, though I’ve not switched allegiance from the great Mr Domino. (You should have had a clip of Ain’t That A Shame but due to the wonders of YouTube, it’s no longer there.)

Junior died during surgery for a brain tumour on November the 18th, 1971.

 

Junior Parker wasn’t one of the big important figures in blues music – arguably he only made one or perhaps two record(s) that could be termed important – but he did more than his bit in bringing blues up to date for a contemporary audience. And he did make more than his share of great records. I picked up a saying recently: greatness trumps importance every time. I’ll go with that.

Feelin’ good Junior!

 

FOOTNOTES

1. For this Toppermost, I decided to largely let the music flow but include the odd biographical bit of data in these footnotes. And, credit where it’s due, a not inconsiderable number of the nuggets in here come from Cal Taylor.

2. Our hero was born Herman Parker on March the 27th, 1932. I’m assuming that his father was also a Herman, hence the Junior. “Little” was added on the Sun discs and several of the Duke ones. Since writing those lines I’ve come across a statement that Sonny Boy Williamson was allegedly responsible for the “Little Junior” nametag (source: Tony Watson’s review of the Ride With Me, Baby CD set)

It is generally believed that his birth location was Eastover Plantation, near a town called Bobo in Coahoma County, Mississippi. Though here I should interrupt myself to say there is doubt about both the location and his date of birth. What isn’t in doubt is that his mother and he moved to West Memphis in the forties.

3. To add further to the confusion surrounding the early days of young Junior Parker, I should add that I’m reliably informed – source: Mississippi Blues Trail – that, although Junior used Herman Parker Jr. as his legal name, on his Mississippi birth certificate it is shown as Herbert Parker.

4. According to Black Cat Rockabilly Europe, Junior saw himself as a sophisticated, uptown blues singer but at his audition with Sam Phillips at Sun, that didn’t go down too well and Phillips asked him for something rougher “like John Lee Hooker’s Boogie Chillen”. Parker and the band reportedly knocked up a parody of said song on the spot, and that’s how Feelin’ Good was born. Don’t know whether this is true or not – haven’t seen it reported anywhere else – but I rather like it.

5. The saga of Boogie Chillen didn’t finish with Feelin’ Good and the Junior variations. There was another variant, Walkin’ With Frankie from Texan bluesman Frankie Lee Sims, on the Ace label, (from Jackson, Mississippi), released in 1957.

6. To be fair to reviewers, in their relatively short but still information packed feature on Junior, Wiki do mention the plagiarism elements contained in Elvis’s Mystery Train. And to be fair to El and Scotty Moore, that single still retains its awesome power well over a half century later.

7. Although I state that Auburn “Pat” Hare was the lead guitar on Love My Baby, there are actually differing views as to the identity of the guitarist. Both the first and second of Parker’s Sun singles – with the second being this one – were actually credited to Little Junior’s Blue Flames, the name of his road band, rather than the rather more plain, Junior Parker (with or without “Little”) as occurred later. Floyd Murphy, brother of the more famous Matt, was the guitarist in the Blue Flames. Depending on which feature in Wiki you read, the axe man on this record could be either Hare or Murphy. Elsewhere, although some doubt is occasionally expressed, it’s Pat Hare who more often than not gets the nod, though it’s very likely that Murphy was also present on rhythm guitar. Pat Hare did appear on other Sun singles in the timeframe including some from James Cotton and Rosco Gordon plus a couple under his own name. He would go on to appear on record with luminaries like Muddy Waters, Bobby Bland (Farther Up The Road) and, of course, Junior Parker himself. Hare is also renowned for being one of the early experimenters in guitar/amp distortion.

8. In its essay on Mystery Train, Wiki notes the similarity in a verse from the Carter Family’s Worried Man and the main theme of Parker’s song:

The train arrived, sixteen coaches long OR The train I ride, sixteen coaches long
The train arrived, sixteen coaches long
The girl I love is on that train and gone

The verb in the first line is open to interpretation (and I’ve listened to it several times). Parker evidently heard (or preferred) the alternate version. He also alters the last line – “Well that long black train, took my baby home”.

It’s also worth noting, for those with long memories, that a certain Mr Donegan turned the Carter Family song into a skiffle standard under the alternate title It Takes A Worried Man.

9. Parker’s Love Me Baby has a mistake from the guitarist. It occurs in the third verse (the one before the break). On the second verse, the guitarist forgets where he is and on the second line, which should be merely a repeat of the first line, goes straight to the last line. However both he and Junior don’t turn a hair, and carry on as if nothing had happened.

10. The Sam Phillips technique of recycling songs also resulted in a version of Love My Baby from white rockabilly artist Hayden Thompson which is looked on with respect by followers of the genre.

11. I used the words “jumped contract” in regard to Junior leaving Sun and moving to Duke. Perhaps a better way of putting it would have been that Don Robey coaxed him to do so, though it should be noted that Junior had already met and had had dealings with, David James Mattis, the founder of Duke, whilst he was Programme Manager at both Radio KXJK in Forrest City and Radio WDIA in Memphis. The move from Sun resulted in a lawsuit that Sam Phillips won and received $17,500 plus 50% writer’s share of Mystery Train. A lot of money at the time (and a practice run for the Presley departure only a few years later).

12. From January 1954, Junior toured Texas and Louisiana with Bill Johnson’s Blue Flames – with Johnson on piano, Pat Hare guitar, Hamp Simmons bass, and Sonny Freeman on drums. Two months later they were touring the Midwest and, in April 1954, were joined by a young Little Richard, and this revue continued to tour throughout the remainder of that year and all through 1955. In January 1956, Bobby Bland joined The Junior Parker Revue, which was the start of a collaboration that later became called “Blues Consolidated” and lasted five years until early 1961. (That’s a near verbatim quote from Cal which very succinctly identifies the start of the Blues Consolidated revue.)

13. For a discussion on the Texas Shuffle and its origins, see the T-Bone Walker Toppermost.

14. I implied that Jimmy Rogers might not have been solely responsible for That’s All Right. I have to thank Wiki for pointing me in the direction of Ora-Nelle Blues, recorded by Othum Brown in 1947 with Little Walter on harmonica. Sounds amazingly similar. Mind you this might not be outright theft. Rogers claims he wrote the song several years earlier having pulled together some ideas from other blues men. Wiki goes on to report that blues researcher Tony Glover has suggested that Rogers might have played guitar on an earlier take of the Brown recording session and that Brown could have taken the theme from Rogers. Convoluted stuff.

15. Born in 1906 in Elmar (close to Helena), Arkansas, Roosevelt Sykes, also known as The Honeydripper, was a near legendary figure in the early days of the blues. His specialty was barrelhouse piano, and, prior to signing to a record label in 1929, he made his living playing songs with bawdy and sexually explicit lyrics to male audiences in small clubs along the Mississippi. Apart from Driving Wheel, two of his other compositions have become standards in the blues world: 44 Blues (made famous by Howlin’ Wolf) and Night Time Is The Right Time (Ray Charles). Sykes was reputed to be able to play a different rhythm with each hand simultaneously and was an influence on the young Jerry Lee Lewis.

Cal actually got to see the great Roosevelt in Bristol, and has a fascinating story:

“When I met Roosevelt Sykes after seeing him perform in The American Folk Blues Festival at Bristol in 1965, I was a young, fresh faced 18 year old. I spoke to everybody who performed in the show afterwards except John Lee Hooker, who obviously had somewhere important to go as he did not stay with the rest of the group. It was an unbelievable experience and I was knocked out by how willing they all were to talk to us. They genuinely seemed to enjoy the interest shown in them and they were very forthcoming in answering questions put to them – but the most memorable chat I had was with Roosevelt Sykes. The photo in the programme showed him with one of his daughters. He kindly signed his autograph (as did all the others except John Lee) and drew my attention to the image of his daughter. He said words to the effect that she would make a fine wife, that she would like me and that it was a pity that I couldn’t meet her. I don’t know how tongue-in-cheek or serious he was but I did happen to see him again the following year at The Albert Hall – but I didn’t bring up the subject of his daughter!”

Roosevelt Sykes photo

16. Percy Mayfield was a relatively little known and underrated blues singer and song writer, who was born in Louisiana but spent much of his performing and recording career in Los Angeles. In addition to conventional blues, he also wrote blues ballads and R&B numbers. You’ll know some of his songs even if you don’t know Percy: Hit The Road Jack (covered by Ray Charles), Stranger In My Hometown (Elvis, Ray Charles), Please Send Me Someone To Love (Fred Neil, Solomon Burke, Jeff Buckley), River’s Invitation (Aretha, Shemekia Copeland, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Joe Cocker).

17. If there’s a reader out there who thinks that I Need Love So Bad might be the result of a poor piece of proofing at my end, I should assure him/her that this is not the case. I Need Love So Bad is not the same song as Little Willie John’s Need Your Love So Bad which, of course, was covered by Fleetwood Mac amongst others. In my book, both songs are superb and I don’t intend to argue about their respective merits. If you really want to be confused though, I’d add that Junior also recorded Need Your Love So Bad in the post-Duke years.

18. Blues pianist Eddie Boyd was one of many musicians who initially operated in the Southern States – in his case, Memphis – and then moved north to Chicago. His initial work there consisted of accompanying other artists like Sonny Boy Williamson I and Jazz Gillum, but he started to make records under his own name in 1947. Five Long Years is his most famous composition but 24 Hours and Third Degree also sold well.

Eddie Boyd photo

19. There’s a little story behind my selection of the track Darling, Depend On Me. I was determined to have at least one record from Junior’s post Duke phase since he was still producing good music if not generally as interesting as that from the Duke days. Cal was also of this opinion. He found that he owned the 1970 single, The Outside Man/Darling, Depend On Me and played it at home in front of his wife who declared that the B-side was wonderful and that it would easily make her Top Ten. He reported this back to me which pointed me towards the number. One play and I was in instant accord with Mrs T. And I’m more than a tad shame-faced about it since the LP from which it came (Love Ain’t Nothin’ But A Business Goin’ On) sits in my record collection with a sticker – W.H.Smith 25p – on it, and I hadn’t studiously revisited it other than listening to a couple of its numbers on YouTube. This was a gem that I’d totally forgotten, not having played the album for decades.

20. The late Jimmy McGriff was a jazz/R&B organist, whose style on the Hammond B3 was influenced by childhood friend Jimmy Smith. Indeed he was one of a cluster of organists who grew up in the shadow of Smith. In the early sixties he was a hero to British mods for his records issued on the Sue UK label, including I’ve Got A Woman (an instrumental two part version of the Ray Charles song) and All About My Girl.

21. Junior was a pallbearer at Johnny Ace’s funeral on the 2nd of January, 1955.

22. Al Green was a cousin of Junior Parker (or so he has stated and no one has disputed the statement).

23. Bland and Parker’s names are often linked together – I’ve already made references to the big fellow with the marvellous voice umpteen times in this document. I’d somehow seen Bland as the senior partner in this pairing, if indeed, it was a pairing. How wrong I was. Cal has done some research based in part on the Charles Farley authored book “Soul Of The Man: Bobby “Blue” Bland”. Farley states that, on the Blues Consolidated tours, Bland was working on a salary from Parker, doing tasks like driving. A long quote from Bland illustrates this. Though appearing in Farley’s book, the quote originally came from an interview with Jim & Amy O’Neal which appeared in Living Blues magazine.

“I wasn’t makin’ enough money in a sense. I’ll put it like that. And I wanted to try. It wasn’t Junior, because we’re beautiful today, but I think I was in the frame of mind that I had something to offer the public. And I caught hell, I’ll tell you that, the first time out, like for about a year before I got a chance to get established, you know, so far as the people to know me as a single artist. And it really worked against me for a time being. But like Junior wouldn’t raise me from the salary that I started out with. And I was doing all the driving and valeting, you know, settin’ up the stage and what have you, and I didn’t want but a $10 raise, actually. And I wasn’t makin’ but $35. I wanted $45. And Junior didn’t agree to pay me, so after, well, I worked with him for eight years, actually at this price and so in ’60 I decided that this tune ‘It’s My Life Baby’ did pretty good for me, and then ‘Further On Up The Road’ kinda got me established where the public would know me. And so I decided to try it on my own, and from that, here I am. But I must say Junior was very, very beautiful, and he taught me a hell of a lot about show business. And also Rosco Gordon, B. B. King, because I also, you know, I was drivin’ for B. for a couple of years before I really got into the business.”

Cal adds that the “eight years” would appear to be an exaggeration. Bland and Parker only travelled together in the Blues Consolidated Revue for five years, 1956 to 1961.

Illuminating indeed. Of the two, Parker was evidently the leader character and the near illiterate Bland, the follower. It’s a most unfortunate irony that it was Bland who eventually broke through to the white audience, almost becoming a household name in the process, and Parker was the one who still might have made such a transition if only he hadn’t died so early.

 

Junior Parker poster

 

Junior Parker (1932–1971)

 

Junior Parker on 45Cat

Junior Parker on Discogs

Junior Parker biography (iTunes)

Dave Stephens has written over thirty posts for this site. He is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

Cal Taylor has avidly collected records since the early 1960s, gravitating to deep soul and blues. As time went on he got more and more into studying pre-war blues and accumulated a vast record collection. Cal saw many such artists live in the sixties. He has written several posts for this site including Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Redding and Betty Harris.

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
Bobby Bland, Solomon Burke, Fats Domino, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, B.B. King, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters

TopperPost #627

2 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    May 13, 2017

    Thanks for this great and superbly researched piece. There are a few other connections between Junior and Al Green – Al also recorded an excellent version of “Driving Wheel” while Junior got around to “Funny How Time Slips Away” – complete with somewhat cheesy intro – before he did.

  2. Dave Stephens
    May 14, 2017

    Thanks Andrew. You’re spot on regarding the cheddar in Junior’s Funny otherwise I might have featured it. Agree with you also re the Reverend’s Driving Wheel – great version.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

↓