(LITTLE) JUNIOR PARKER
Born Herman Parker, Jr., 27 March 1932, Clarksdale, Mississippi
Singer / songwriter / harmonica player
Junior Parker was a versatile blues / R&B singer with a long line of releases (and a fair share of hits) on the Duke label, but rock and roll fans will remember him most of all for the two Sun singles he released in 1953. Three of the four songs on those two records are now considered classics, albeit primarily in later versions by other Sun artists.
From a young age, Parker practiced the harmonica when he wasn’t working in the cotton fields. Sonny Boy Williamson (II) was his main influence. Parker’s musical career started in 1949 when he hit the road with Howlin’ Wolf’s band. In 1951 he started his own group, The Blue Flames, originally with Pat Hare on guitar, who was later replaced by Floyd Murphy (Matt’s younger brother). The next year Parker was discovered by Ike Turner, who recorded him for the Modern label in April 1952. This resulted in his first release, “You’re My Angel”/“Bad Women, Bad Whiskey” (Modern 864), credited to Little Junior Parker and the Blue Flames.
At some point in the spring of 1953, Parker auditioned for Sam Phillips’s Sun label in Memphis. Parker saw himself as a sophisticated, uptown blues singer. Phillips found it all rather uninspired and wanted something a little rougher, like John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillen”. Parker and his band surprised Sam with a parody of that primitive one-chord boogie, which they improvised on the spot. To Parker’s embarrassment (he despised that simplistic style of music), Phillips told him that this was the sound he was looking for and the outcome was that “Feelin’ Good” was released as Little Junior’s first Sun single in July 1953 (Sun 187). It entered the R&B charts in October, peaking at # 5 during its six-week stay. In 1962 Jerry Lee Lewis would record a (non-charting) version of “Feelin’ Good” for Sun, under the title “I’ve Been Twistin’”.
A second Sun session, on August 5, 1953, produced two important recordings, both written by Parker himself. They have done more for the history of rockabilly than for blues or R&B, though neither side was a commercial success for Parker at the time. “Mystery Train” is, of course, forever associated with Elvis Presley, who cut the song two years later. Parker’s original version is quite different, perhaps more atmospheric and mellow. “Love My Baby” might just qualify as the first black rock- abilly record. Floyd Murphy’s guitar work on this number influenced Scotty Moore and through Moore an entire generation of pickers. Sun artist Hayden Thompson would record “Love My Baby” in December 1956 (released October 1957), with Jerry Lee Lewis on piano, and his version is now the more famous one.
Released in November 1953, the single “Mystery Train”/“Love My Baby” (Sun 192) failed to repeat the success of “Feelin’ Good” and Parker began to get itchy feet. In December 1953 Sam Phillips read in Cash Box that Don Robey of Duke Records had signed Little Junior and the Blue Flames to an exclusive contract. Phillips sued Robey for contractual interference. After lengthy trials, Phillips was eventually awarded a settlement of $17,500 in November 1955. By that time Sam Phillips also seems to have acquired 50 percent of “Mystery Train” ; when Elvis Presley’s version appeared as his final Sun single, it was published by Phillips’ Hi-Lo Music, with Phillips’ name appended to the composer credit.
A third and final Sun session took place in March 1954, but the three tracks from this date remained in the can until 1977. Parker recorded for Duke from 1954 until 1966, in a variety of styles. It took a while to regain his hitmaking momentum, but in 1957 he returned to the R&B charts with the smooth “Next Time You See Me” (# 7, also # 74 pop). Altogether, he scored eleven R&B hits during his Duke period, six of which also crossed over to the lower half of the Billboard Hot 100. His biggest hit was the Roosevelt Sykes number “Driving Wheel” (# 5 R&B, 1961), followed by “Annie Get Your Yo-Yo” (# 6, 1962). Between 1967 and 1971 Parker had four more Top 50 R&B hits, on four different labels : Mercury, Blue Rock, Minit and Capitol. He made his last recordings for United Artists, in 1971, before he died during surgery for a brain tumour on November 18, 1971. He was only 39. In 2001 Junior Parker was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
More info : http://www.allmusic.com/artist/junior-parker-mn0000486305/biography
Discography : http://wdd.mbnet.fi/juniorparker.htm
Acknowledgements : Colin Escott & Martin Hawkins, Peter Guralnick, Bill Dahl.
Dik, September 2016
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