his FOUR latest albums:
'Texas Tales, Vol. 1' (2010)
'Apple (Songs For Dave) EP' (2011)
'Dreams Can Cost You Everything' (2013)
'My Brother Calls Me Ace' (2014)
all released and readily available on Bopadu Records
Pictures by: Jolanda Haanskorf
"It will be 47 years come December 10 since I joined my first band", says Bill Parker. He released already fourteen albums (!), before I even got to know him.
His CD 'Texas Tales, Vol. 1' was in the big August package full of promos - that came from Sweden to be played in my radio show, back in 2010. I just got curious who this man in the picture might be? The song titles sounded interesting enough. As every hard working musician deserves airplay, I decided on "Lewisville, Texas 1983", "Down In Egypt Land" and later "I Thought I Heard You Call My Name". Although he lived in Texas at the time, Bill was certainly not the typical Texan singer-songwriter. Something in the relaxed delivery of the intelligent lyrics, in the warmth of the voice and the recording of his very nice guitar playing stuck with me - every time I listened it made a little more perfect sense! Just like Chip Taylor's songs always make sense to me.
Some artists are nice enough to send 'thank you' E-mails to DJ's and reviewers. Often it's just that, but sometimes people realize music is a strong factor to bind. Bill and I kept in touch, I soon found out not only that he has a cute little dog named Boogie, but also that he loves to write long, interesting E-mails. He actually IS a writer! Not just songs, but also blogs and poetry, even books... flow from his pen. Well, his laptop mostly!
To make a long story short: fellow DJ's Gerrit Vermeij, Peter van Zeijl and I decided to try & bring Bill Parker to The Netherlands for a week or so in November 2012. During his short stay he came, saw and fell in love with the country! He was a guest in my show 'RadioGirl', together with young Dutch guitarist Max van Dijk and with the great duo Tom Mank and Sera Jane Smolen. One of the best sessions in my radio history! By the way: I still don't understand how four adults, two guitars and a cello did seem to fit in Peter's medium sized car?
Bill came back earlier this year and has the picture series to prove it - a book 'Where The Kibbeling Roam' and yet another EP 'Nederland' will follow soon. In the meantime: please, read on and more importantly: check out Bill's wonderful music!!
Bill Parker In His Own Words
I come from the southern side of a northern town, the Gold Coast subdivision of Calumet City, Illinois. That's a southeastern suburb of Chicago, right on the Illinois-Indiana state line. For most of the 1960s, Gold Coast's pride and joy was my junior high school's award winning band. Under the guidance of Michael Landis, the Hoover-Schrum Band performed all over the country, even appearing at several World's Fairs. Musically, it was a good place and time to be a trumpet player or a saxophonist or even an oboist, if not an aspiring rock & roller. For the aspiring songwriter, however, it was a great time and place to be alive. The early and mid-60s were the golden years of Top 40 radio, a cultural phenomenon long-derided by people who never heard it as being filled with novelty tunes, screaming disc jockeys, and being decidedly unhip. Such callow individuals are, as they say in Memphis, “ignorant to the fact” and should be ignored and avoided. Top 40 radio brought the world The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, The Byrds, The Lovin' Spoonful, Wilson Pickett, Motown, The Beach Boys (among many others) and crossover hits from Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Frank Sinatra and Dusty Springfield (among many others). All these artists were mixed in together, unlike today's radio. So, y'know . . . later on that “unhip” tag. Plenty of good starting points all across the AM dial.
In the late 60s, magazines specializing in the new bands started appearing, which meant interviews with musicians whose influences went back to people like Blind Willie Johnson, the Louvin Brothers, Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry, Hank Williams, Muddy Waters, Bukka White and Robert Johnson. Old hymns and spirituals, both African-American and Anglican. That's tapping into The Source, there. And there was another channel: the late 60s also brought a revival of movies from the 1930s and 1940s which featured scores by the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Hoagy Carmichael. Elegant stuff, to be sure. And all of it filtering down into and around a kid who was as wide open as the Great Plains themselves.
That sounds wonderfully romantic, doesn't it? Indeed it does. The facts of the matter are, however, somewhat more prosaic: I am now and will forever be a guy from Gold Coast who plays guitar, a songwriter who wraps his lyrics in those traditional American music forms, and hopes for “better days, by 'm bye.”
Texas Tales, Vol. 1
Way back in the way back when of 2010, I was contacted by one Janet Martin (a fine slide guitarist/vocalist/songwriter familiar to French and German audiences) about copyright information for “Snakebit”, a song I'd written for and recorded with the late Kathi McDonald back in my Seattle days. One thing led to another, as the saying goes, and a line of communication was opened between Texas and Richmond, Virginia (“The Capitol of The Confederacy”), where Janet and her husband – bassist Michael Muller – lived between European tours. Michael asked if I was gigging and upon learning I wasn't (“I can't buy a gig” were my exact words) suggested I try Europe. An album's worth of songs was hastily cobbled together - some previously-released, some newly written – and shipped across the wide Atlantic in search of an audience the following year:
When asked, I describe myself as “a songwriter who deals in traditional American musical forms, not bound to a particular style or genre” and Down In Egypt Land is as good an example of this as any song I've got. I'm not a Bluesman by any stretch of the imagination. I love 'em, and God knows I get 'em, but I don't play or sing 'em. Even so, I know a bit about them and some of the people who played them. So one Easter Sunday as I watched “The Ten Commandments” (the original, with Charlton Heston, accept no substitute), the lyrics dropped into my head and as I hastily scribbled them down, I kept hearing “Prodigal Son” by the Rev. Robert Wilkins. Accordingly, this is played in an open G tuning.
That Dress Suits You Fine is a modern day cowboy romance. Dancing with your sweetheart on sunny Saturday afternoon, in the company of good friends, good music, and good barbecue is a time-honored tradition in north central Texas.
One way to facilitate the songwriting process is to imagine someone else singing the song (when you sing like I do folks, this is a great help and often necessary!). I Thought I Heard You Call My Name is just such a song. The voice in my head was that of a young Rod Stewart (circa 1969-72). I even thought of recording an entire album called “Songs I Wish Rod Stewart Would Sing (because God knows I can use the cash!)”. No matter what you think about him now, no one could sing about heartbreak better than Rodders in his prime, and some of his early recordings would not be out of place on an Americana radio program.
Another Drink is up next. “Things aren't always what they seem/some dreams are best left as dreams/everyone believes in something/I believe I'll have another drink.” A foot-stompin' nod to the immortal Waylon Jennings. We're all a lot cleaner – and certainly more sober – than we used to be, which allows for a moment's reflection. That's the key to my songwriting: I only write about what I know, and use whatever is necessary to get the message across most effectively, whether it's an old spiritual, a borrowed rhythm, or a voice inside my head.
When You Coming Home, Red Ryder? Hope may spring eternal, but sometimes when someone rides off, you can't help but feel they're not coming back.
Simply put, Bonafide is a sort of sideways spiritual, a mere step away from “you can go to college/you can go to school/but if you ain't got Jesus/you're an educated fool.”
Some songs arrive fully-formed, lyrics and music in place. Lewisville, Texas 1983 is one such song and “every word is true,” front to back. I was working for the telephone company when this came to me, an occupation that allowed for many lonely, late night drives home. With jackrabbits, a 'possum, an armadillo, a veiled allusion to Gram Parsons, and a verse full of sage advice, this song has it all!
I May Not Be An Angel (but I'm good enough for you) is an end of the night, drunken singalong meant for the female voice. Men can be complete and utter jerks and I thought it was time a man pointed it out. And I have a handful of ex-wives who will back me up on that.
But then along comes Livin' Small, Lovin' Large : “you're the queen of my castle/you're the star in my sky/you're the smile on my lips/and baby you're the twinkle in my eye” which is what every guy should be telling his own true love everyday, one way or another.
As previously stated, I draw on many sources, and a significant influence on yours truly was the venerable Keith Richards (from 1968-72). That influence comes to the fore in Nothin' But Fine, from the open tuning to the rhythm to the slide parts. “You ain't got nothin' I don't need” indeed.
Winding down, we've got Kitchen Light. With the end of the trail almost in sight, “keep the kitchen light on/cuz darlin' I'll be home soon.”
Finally, Funky In The Bunkhouse - an accurate description of a friend's home in Georgia and what happens when we get together – was tacked on as a way of showing I'm not always in Lonesome Cowboy Mode and is, in fact, representative of the music I grew up playing. (Thanks to my distant cousin Young John Horvath for his drums, the rest is my fault.)
These songs marked my first foray onto European airwaves, and generated enough interest and kind words for me to follow up in 2012 with a CD/EP called “Apple (Songs for Dave)”.
Apple (Songs for Dave) EP
The titles of my albums are never chosen at random, nor are they decided upon by consulting the ineffable wisdom of the I Ching or by tossing a coin. There is always a message behind them, though the message may be so personal as to have no meaning whatsoever to anyone beyond the person it is intended for and a certain yours truly. The “Dave” of the particular title is David Lash, fellow schoolboy Beatles fanatic, and the person responsible for my joining my first real band, for convincing said band I should be allowed access to a microphone (even if only for backing vocals), and for encouraging me to write songs (all at age 13). Somewhere in the liner notes of every recording I've ever made may be found the words “As ever, as always, thanks to David Lash for 1968.” Without Dave's phone call on 10 December 1967, there's no telling what would have become of me (a story for another time, perhaps). The “Apple” title, naturally, is a reference to The Beatles' own record label, the finest looking label – both for LPs and 45s – ever, bar none. With that being said:
The opening track is Rude, Crude & Socially Unacceptable, a title which dates back to my telephone company days (a co-worker once remarked, “I always thought linemen were supposed to be rude, crude, and socially unacceptable but you're like some kind of poet or something”). This began life as an Everly Brothers sort of song and may still be . . . after a fashion.
Next up is Haunted. Ah, sweet melancholy. The opening words - “Haunted by what seemed to be, haunted by what might have been . . . I'm still haunted by my lack of faith back then. . .” - say it all.
But sunny days are never far away, as Like A Beach Boys Song promises. That it sounds nothing like a Beach Boys song – more like George Harrison, circa 1970 - is neither here nor there. That “I'll keep your summer alive . . .” is all that matters. From and for another time, when the Sun shone brighter and a million stars lit the sky at night.
One of my favorite roles is that of The Tiresome Old-Timer, who knows what you should do before you do it and what you should have done instead after you've done it. As such, All Hat, No Cattle is a cautionary tale for those who – to paraphrase John Cale – don't keep a close enough watch on their heart. And in the spirit of Public Service & Enlightenment, the lyrics contain a couple handy phrases which will add color and a touch of the exotic to your speech!
I've already mentioned how, when necessary, I imagine someone else singing a song I'm working on, to help keep the feel and direction. With Genevieve, the voice belonged to the late Levon Helm who – in my humble opinion – possessed one of the Great American Voices, in that it was timeless and held the spirit of the land and the people. Perhaps not the land and the people as they have become, but as they were . . . and it's Genevieve as in Bujold (the actress, for you youngsters), on whom I once had a serious crush.
The disc closes with Pirate to Pirate. Straight from the liner notes: “Anachronisms are as anachronisms do, forever 'drifting on a wine-dark sea, far from home.' Most of my friends have at least a touch of The Brotherhood of The Coast about them, deny it though they may. The rest are, well, just a little off.”
This was the disc which rolled out in advance of my first trip to Holland, spread over 9 days in November 2012. My experiences during that brief excursion led directly to a number of songs – including the title track – of the next collection, Dreams Can Cost You Everything.
Dreams Can Cost You Everything
Dreams Can Cost You Everything is a rather melancholy collection, and manages to be so with only one number that qualifies as a love song. I had to double check but there it was, a single nugget of romance, all on its lonesome. I had been concerned that at this late date I had become a guy who cranked out love songs and little else. I mean, they're easy to write and most everyone likes a love song. Even so, I had endeavored to write love songs that avoided cliches and contemporary catch phrases, songs that were both meaningful and literate but there is more to music (and life) than love songs and I made a vow to break out of that particular rut with Dreams Can Cost You Everything. Some things, however, didn't changed. My long-time friend and musical mentor Fred Keith once described me as “a minimalist kind of guy” and that still holds true. I like to think that, like prizes in Cracker Jack (a life-long favorite snack), “it gives one a sense of continuity.” Still, it's not a matter of me just strumming a guitar and moaning “oh, baby baby baby . . .” or whatever. There are a few other things going on: different guitars/instruments, a bit of harmony, the unexpected engaging of an effects pedal, and a lick o' the cat. Something, in other words, for most everyone:
Clocking in at 53 seconds, Route 6 Boogie stands as a paen to the highway that ran 50 yards (45.7m) from the house I grew up in and the glories of all-night cruising.
A Pirate's Tale is the result of a look in the mirror one frosty morn', and realizing time does indeed march on: I used to look like a pirate/now I'm just an old guy with a beard.
The title track, Dreams Can Cost You Everything, came out of a conversation with a new-found friend on my first visit to Holland during which she revealed, as the song's opening line states, “she likes to sing operettas.” I let my imagination run with it from there. This won't be the last time we go to this particular well for inspiration.
This Room Tonight is the alluded to love song. Originally conceived as a duet, it wasn't until the 2014 “Anytime, Anywhere” tour of Holland that it was performed that way (thank you, Gwendolynn De Boer, of Sheep On The Boat). A commonly heard phrase is “you've got to live in the moment” and I'll go along with that because sometimes, that moment is all you have.
“I was just a kid in Calumet City” opens Where's Patricia Neal?, a fond remembrance of the female lead in one of my all-time favorite films, The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951). A “smokey-voiced, out of this world girl” who was “everything a boy like me could need.” Yessiree, Bob.
As has been noted, a song can drop in from most anywhere at most anytime. I saw a photograph of a friend on a beach somewhere in Greece, where the custom is to smear blue-colored clay all over yourself (for therapeutic reasons, no doubt). I have little in the way of a Classical education, but I thought “Jeeze! She looks like Minerva's daughter!” Appropriate seaside imagery followed and with the assistance of a chorus pedal In A Dream appeared as if, yes!, sprung fully-formed from Minerva's ear.
An interesting and fun form is what's called “Blues rhumba” which is what Bad Weather is. I do enjoy playing electric guitar. And bass. And harmonica. Like Funky In The Bunkhouse, it harkens back to my formative years in Calumet City, before I slipped into Lonesome Cowboy Mode. It also contains the word “obfuscating” which I'm pretty sure no one else has worked into a song. I do all this for you, fab listeners, at no extra charge.
Chock full of political icons and events from my childhood, I Still Miss The Cold War is about as close to social commentary as I'm likely to get. I remain convinced the world really was a safer and better place in the 60s compared to its current state.
Goodbye Baby and So Long could be interpreted as my life in 2 minutes 2 seconds. Can you lose your mind for just 5 minutes?
As stated previously, we'd be returning to a particular well for inspiration and indeed we do for Blues Over You, which was the second song to come out of the conversation with my new friend (and recurring muse, as it would turn out) back in November 2012. Lianne -who gets a mention in the second verse- was working the bar and the tables at a venue and I didn't want to come across as just another musician on the make, so I wrote this for her.
If, as an old saying goes, even a pauper is a king in his own home, then the two sparkling jewels in my crown are my son and daughter. As Melanie already had a song (“Melanie's Graduation Song” on 31 minutes from back in 2002), Spencer was long overdue, a situation resolved with For Spencer. “I never meant for you to be like me, but the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.”
Wisdom (and The Light To See) is not a song one might normally expect from a good Catholic boy out of the south Chicago suburbs. I mean, Ave Maria it ain't. As it happened, I wasn't a particularly good Catholic boy and, aided and abetted by internal and external sources (including prodigious reading, a free-thinking teacher, and demon rock & roll), I was a seriously lapsed-Catholic by the time I got my driver's license at 16. Having long considered myself a Spiritual person rather than a religious person (and yes, there is a difference) I'm sure not going to ask for forgiveness, but I will always seek Wisdom and The Light to see.
New Year's Eve, a song for a departed friend, closes out the disc. I wrote this on the train from Amsterdam to Groningen in November, 2012. “I want to be kissed by someone who means it/I want to feel what it's like to fall in love one last time/I want to ride the Llano Estacado/in the dawn's early light.”
These songs were recorded during a three-week period in early 2013. Five days after finishing up with New Year's Eve (a last minute addition), I underwent reconstructive surgery on my right shoulder, which I'd injured in a fall 24 hours into the New Year. Four months would pass before I picked up a guitar again.
My Brother Calls Me Ace
“Hero” is not a word I use lightly, despite the American penchant for overstatement and abusing the English language. While I was recovering from the aforementioned shoulder surgery I figured it was about time I acknowledged my first and forever hero, Bruce Edward Parker (a.k.a. “my big brother”) and what better way to do so than to dedicate an album to him. But what to call it? Bruce's Little Brother? I actually considered that for a while. Americans are fond of nicknames. My friend Butch, for example, calls me “The Kid” but My Brother Calls Me Ace:
A jaunty, toe-tapping little number, The Next Life, opens the album. A few years ago I found myself in New Boston, Texas for a funeral. The night before, there had been great outpourings of grief, a couple people even threw themselves upon the casket. On the morning in question – warm and sunny with a slight breeze – I found myself thinking “not a chance, not when I go out”: you can be late for your own funeral/but don't be late for mine/because we're gonna have fun/we're gonna have a good time/we're gonna sing and dance me on my way/into the next life.
Earlier in the year, after I'd written and recorded the song In A Dream, I contacted my blue clay-smeared friend Lieke to let her know and to ask if that was okay with her. She replied she'd be honored even if someone wrote a song about her leaping around in a frog costume. Well, okay. A Fairy Tale showed up that evening. Maybe I'm not a frog/and you might be my Prince . . . all it takes is one little kiss.
How Do The Poor White Trash Survive? has long been one of the Great Questions of Our Time, though the answer is an easy one: this being the 21st Century, naturally they go on television and do things like make 'shine, indulge in fish noodling, and do comically rustic things to entertain the masses.
An Early Blues isn't a Blues in the classic sense, isn't structured like one, but if the Blues is indeed a feeling, then it isn't necessary to channel Robert Johnson to get the message across. This came through at 0400 or so, hence the title. Took only slightly longer to write than it does to sing, and was done in one take.
Let's see: so far we've covered Death, a curiously kissable frog, a segment of the American Underclass, and a sort of Blues. What's next? Heartbreak, of course, and Last Dance fits the bill nicely: I wasn't this, you did that, but it doesn't mean I didn't love you/it doesn't mean I don't love you still.
One of the joys of being a songwriter is you can write a song for someone. Part of the heartache is that sometimes, that's the most you can do for them. You Walked Away So Easily, written after a long distance conversation with my friend Lianne, falls into the latter category.
When I began writing songs, one of my goals was to one day be known as “The Ray Davies of The Calumet Region.” It may still be one of my goals. So when I saw a photo of a friend's toes wriggling in the black volcanic sand of one of the Hawaiian Islands, I didn't have to think “How would Ray approach this?” Black Sand, a song of life and love in a tropical paradise, was the result.
And what about Big Brother Bruce? Doesn't he get a song? Indeed he does. Written for his 60th birthday, the title says it all: You're Still The Man.
Love's Last Stand, an economy-sized dose of melancholy, brings the album to a close. The brightest stars don't shine forever, the heart's true work is never done . . . and I wish for one clear moment all this was a dream.
Written by Bill Parker and Johanna J. Bodde - October 25th, 2014.