Blues Bytes


May 2007

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Bobby Parker
Bent Out Of Shape
Black Top Records

Bobby Parker

During its existence in the ’80s and ’90s, Black Top Records (“Paving the way to your soul”) unearthed many musicians worthy of being recorded, mostly from the Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast region. Most had been recorded decades earlier, and though they faded from the recording scene, many of them continued to ply their trade in their respective regions of the country while waiting for the chance to be heard by a wider audience.

Bobby Parker was no exception. The Lafayette, Louisiana native began playing guitar in the 1950s, most notably with Bo Diddley and Otis Williams and the Charms. He also toured with many singers of the time, including Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Clyde McPhatter, LaVern Baker, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard. In 1961, Parker recorded “Watch Your Step” on the V-Tone label. It became a hit on the British and American R&B charts. John Lennon actually based the lead guitar to the Beatles’ “Day Tripper” on a variation of Parker’s hypnotic riff, and it was covered by the Spencer Davis Group and Carlos Santana.

Parker was a favorite of several rock and rollers of the ’60s and early ’70s, including John Lennon and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. It was Page who caught Parker’s act at a Washington, D.C. club and offered an advance to fund a demo tape, which Parker never completed. He spent the next two decades toiling away in Virginia and the D.C. area, where tales of his performances became the stuff of legend. Black Top was able to sign Parker for two excellent recordings in the mid ’90s, the first release entitled Bent Out Of Shape.

Recorded in 1993, Bent Out Of Shape ranks with some of the best blues recordings of the early ’90s. It was an energetic collection featuring Parker’s stinging guitar licks and his powerful vocals, which can best be described as a mix of Ray Charles and James Brown. Parker reprised several of his earlier tunes, including “Watch Your Step,” “It’s Hard But It’s Fair,” and an emotional reading of “Blues Get Off My Shoulder.”

Parker also brought several new compositions to the session (the lone cover is a hard-rocking version of Carey Bell’s “Break It Up”), including the torrid opener “Fast Train,” which kicks the disc off in grand style, and the dazzling title track. His new songs, such as “I’ve Got A Way With Women” and “Let That Be The Reason,” were able to address familiar blues themes in a fresh manner. “I Call Her Baby” is a real crowd pleaser, too, with its catchy rhythm and punchy horns. Parker also paid tribute to the then-burgeoning D.C. funk scene with “Bobby-A-Go-Go.”

Recorded in New Orleans, Bent Out Of Shape teamed Parker with a terrific Crescent City rhythm section (Raymond Weber on drums, Lee Allen Zeno on bass, and Sammy Berfect on keyboards) and the Black Top horn section, which featured Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff on saxophone, but there is no doubt that this was Parker’s show all the way. No way was he going to let this opportunity slip through his fingers.

Bent Out Of Shape was a welcome return by a performer who had been out of the spotlight far too long. With loads of powerful guitar, impassioned vocals, and some inspired compositions, Bobby Parker appeared to have the total package as an entertainer. Unfortunately, Black Top folded in the late ’90s and Parker hasn’t recorded since 1995’s Shine Me Up, which was as good as his debut release. However, Parker still performs in the D.C. area and tours around the world. Hopefully, this exceptional artist will be heard from again soon on disc.

--- Graham Clarke


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