Blues Bytes


June 2021

Bobby Parker
Soul of the Blues
Rhythm and Blues

Bobby Parker

Before I actually ever heard Bobby Parker, I heard his song, “Watch Your Step,” on Carlos Santana’s Havana Moon album in the early ’80s. I absolutely loved the song, but back in those pre-internet days it was pretty hard to actually go back and hear the original version of a song that you liked. I did read later that the guitar riff, which Santana pretty much left intact from the original, had inspired other rockers, such as Spencer Davis, Robin Trower, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page (“Moby Dick”), Duane Allman, and the Beatles (“I Feel Fine”).

Parker continued performing around the Washington, D.C. area, but faded from the recording scene after the early ’70s until Black Top Records released a pair of wonderful “comeback” recordings in 1993 (Bent Out Of Shape) and 1995 (Shine Me Up), exposing this talented artists to a whole new generation of blues fans, including this one, who was blown away by Parker’s vocals and guitar. Santana even took Parker on the road around this time for a series of concerts across the U.S.

Parker remained active until he passed away from a heart attack in 2013 at age 76,. His earlier recordings had never really been reissued, so the real Bobby Parker story has only been available to devoted fans who were willing to track down old 45’s from decades ago. The U.K. label Rhythm and Blues has made that job much easier by compiling all of Bobby Parker’s pre-Black Top recordings on Soul of the Blues, a marvelous two-CD, 52-song set that features Parker’s work as a solo artist and his contributions to other artists’ recordings, plus a few other surprises as well.

The set ranges from Parker’s earliest recordings with The Emeralds in 1954 to three tunes backing Bo Diddley for Checker Records in 1955 (plus a live performance pulled from a New York City TV show at the time) to performances backing other singers and bandleaders like Nat Hall, Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams Wee Willie Mason, Billy Clark, and Noble “Thin Man” Watts. If you’ve been a fan since Parker’s Black Top days but weren’t familiar with his early works, you’ll have no problem catching Parker’s distinctive guitar work on most of these tracks, which is as energetic and dynamic as it was in those ’90s recordings.

There are also 31 tracks credited to Parker, with some of these tracks being familiar to his more recent fans. “Watch Your Step” is here in two versions from 1961, as is the potent “It’s Hard But It’s Fair (from Blue Horizon in 1968), and the stunning “Blues Get Off My Shoulder” from Vee-Jay Records in 1961, which was subsequently covered by Little Milton and Leon Haywood and served as a major inspiration for singer Robert Plant. “You Got What It Takes” (the opposite side to “Blues Get Off My Shoulder”) may sound familiar to some, as Berry Gordy later “borrowed” it to produce hit versions for a couple of his Motown artists without acknowledgement.

Most of the collection focuses on Parker’s work between 1954 and 1970, but there’s a real treat at the beginning of the second disc, capturing Parker during a live radio broadcast in 1995 at the House of Blues in New York. Parker delivers four tunes from his Bent Out Of Shape album (the title track, “Break It Up,” “Bobby A-Go-Go,” and “I Call Her Baby”), plus two covers (a rarity for Parker) of “Born Under A Bad Sign” and “Every Day I Have The Blues.”

Soul of the Blues shows that Bobby Parker was making mighty fine music for decades before he was finally able to release his own album. The powerful fret work, the supremely soulful vocals, and crisp songwriting were there from the beginning. It’s a real shame that despite the influence his music had on many later blues and rock artists, he was never fully able to capitalize on his talents in the way he deserved.

--- Graham Clarke



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