Veteran and victim of the music industry, Bobby Parker has good reason to sing the blues. 

True Blues

Blues musician Bobby Parker has been on the scene "way over 40 years," he says, and both the high and low times have dealt him a hand. Parker is not shy about saying that for him and others, racism and rip-offs played their parts in that game. "I'm just pissed about all these cats," Parker says of the artists and businessmen who he says have profited from his music more than he has. "I'm still bitchin' about it." Still, his positive memories of the music business remain untarnished. Taking a break from recording a new CD in his home studio near Washington, D.C., Parker recalls his early days in Los Angeles where, as a preteen, he first discovered the blues, courtesy of T-Bone Walker and Lowell Fulson. Parker says he didn't like his neighborhood school because it was too dangerous, so he watched bands in theaters in the afternoons or when he helped his father put jukeboxes in bars. "I used to watch these guys rehearsing … cats like T-Bone. I was just struck by the blues." Parker soon bought a guitar with paper-route money. He taught himself one song, won a local talent show, and things moved fast for the next several years. The Charms, a doo-wop act with a hit, asked a teen-age Parker to tour the country with them. Shows on the tour brought some of the era's biggest rock and blues acts together on one bill, and eventually Bo Diddley hired Parker. Bobby stayed with Bo's band for two years before moving on to Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams' big band. This group was the Apollo house band, but it also toured regularly playing the black theater circuit. One gig at D.C.'s Howard Theater turned Parker's life on a dime. "Man, I was hot. The little gals was screamin' 'Bobby,' " he recalls laughing. With a built-in fan club, Parker decided to make D.C. home. There, in 1961, he cut "Watch Your Step" for a small record label. The record grabbed its share of attention here and abroad. Young English players such as John Lennon and Jimmy Page called Parker an influence and started incorporating his soulful blues licks into their songs. Parker worked steadily, and in 1969 he traveled to England for a series of gigs at the original Fleetwood Mac's request. But, back in D.C. after a year, times were hard, and Parker watched as young white guys went to the head of the blues class. Finally, in 1993 he resurfaced nationally with "Bent Out of Shape" and 1995's "Shine Me Up." "Shine" landed him an opening slot on a Santana tour. But the breaks turned sour, he says, when the record-company checks never arrived. Parker's new CD is on his own label as a result, and he still runs the road playing the gigs. Saturday's show at Fireballz should be a good chance to catch this blues veteran up close and personal. "My most proud?" he says, pausing to consider his career in closing. "My integrity with this asinine business. I'm still trying to make it work, man. You may as well make a good run." Bobby Parker plays Fireballz Saturday, Jan. 6 at 9 p.m.
Tickets are $6 in advance at Plan 9 and the venue,
$7 at the door.
Call 901-FIRE for information.

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