Monday, September 19, 2005

Bobby Parker - Watch Your Step

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Bobby Parker
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I hope you’ve had your coffee.... Because this record is a floor filling, foot stomping, ass kicking, brain melting slice of blues power from which the faint of heart will not soon recover.... No, really... it’s that good. This is one of those records that I’d read about for years (having been a major Beatles fan as a kid), but never got to hear until a few years ago (I only scored the 45 in the last month). Did you download the track yet? Go ahead...I’ll wait... There. Now listen to that opening riff – ring any bells??? Hmmmm.... How about ‘I Feel Fine’ and ‘Day Tripper’ by the Beatles (or dare I say ‘Moby Dick’ by Led Zeppelin)??? This is the “UR” riff, from whence those songs sprung (after being reprocessed by John Lennon and Jimmy Page respectively). I have to tell you. When I was 12 years old I used to play ‘I Feel Fine’ two or three times a day (It’s still one of my fave Beatle tunes), mainly because of the guitar riff, and to be honest, Bobby Parker’s original carries the Beatles version out into the alley and kicks the crap out of it. Back in 1961, when Parker first unleashed this beast on the world, it didn’t make much of a dent in the charts. That didn’t stop it from becoming a favorite of those in the know, spawning covers* by The John Barry Seven, Spencer Davis Group, Billy Harner, Adam Faith, Tony Jackson, Manfred Mann, The Undertakers and The Walker Brothers (on their Japanese live LP), and making a lasting impression on the Beatles, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and Carlos Santana who reportedly decided to play the guitar after seeing Parker play. That said, it would be unfair to end the story there, because no matter how many people stole the riff, no matter how many people cite Parker as a seminal influence (and he’s still playing today), to focus solely on the peripheral aspects of ‘Watch Your Step’ is to dance around the fact that it is an absolutely shit-hot record that in a just world would have been a huge hit. Bobby Parker was born in Louisiana and raised in California (where he worked with Don & Dewey and Johnny Otis among others). He spent the 50’s touring with the likes of Bo Diddley, Jackie Wilson, and Paul ‘Hucklebuck’ Williams , and recorded his first record ‘Blues Get Off My Shoulder’ for VeeJay in 1958 (this is the record that Robert Plant has cited as the reason he started singing). He relocated to Washington, DC in 1961, where he would build a rep playing local clubs. He waxed ‘Watch Your Step’ for Philadelphia’s V-Tone label (associated with the Len label) in 1961 (it was actually released twice in the UK, on London in 1961 and Sue in 1964). The record opens with a fanfare (as any disc this mighty should), which is followed (after a short dramatic pause) by Parker’s smoking guitar, and the rolling, Latin-flavored drums (another part of ‘Watch Your Step’ that would end up in ‘I Feel Fine’). Parker’s vocal – sounding like Ray Charles and Bobby Bland had a rocking baby – wails powerfully through the verses, being chased by the horn section. The tempo builds through the song as Parker is joined by backing vocals and a hot little sax solo. Parker has been described as a cross between Buddy Guy and James Brown, and it’s not hard to imagine him working up a sweat on stage with this one. Parker would record sporadically through the 60’s, waxing a 45 (‘I Won’t Believe It Till I See It’ as Little Bobby Parker) for the ultra-rare DC soul label Shrine, where the Cautions would record a version of ‘Watch Your Step’. He also toured in the UK where he would record for the Blue Horizon label in 1968 (the same label that released the earliest Fleetwood Mac albums). Though he toured relentlessly (and was a major hit in DC area blues clubs), he wouldn’t record again until the early 90’s for the Blacktop label. Keep an eye peeled for a PBS special called ‘John Lennon’s Jukebox’ which features a recent interview with Parker as part of a fascinating look into what Lennon was listening to during the Beatles peak years. *’Watch Your Step’ was also covered in the 70’s by Dr. Feelgood, in the 80’s by Santana, and in the 90’s by the Kaisers

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10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Larry! He also did a quite rare, little-known 45 on Philly's Southern Sound ("Do The Monkey").

-Haim

9/20/2005 12:56:00 AM  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Oh, he was born in Louisiana. That explains it! Seriously, a revelation of a track, Larry. Personally, I hear similarities in the drums of this and "I Feel Fine", more than in the guitar riff. "Moby Dick" seems a closer cop to me. I am also reminded of Dwayne Allman's riff in the Allman Brothers' version of "One Way Out".

Somewhere around here I've got that Blacktop CD. Haven't heard it for years; but recall it having some hot playing on it. I'll have to dig it up now.

9/20/2005 01:26:00 AM  
Blogger Todd Lucas said...

You weren't kidding were you? This is a tremendous record. I had no idea who did the original until just now. Whew, I suppose this must be a tough one to track down but one can try.

9/20/2005 03:47:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Grogan said...

Todd
It took me a while to find a copy, but in the end it wasn't all that expensive (like less than $10).
Larry

9/20/2005 04:43:00 PM  
Blogger Bryon said...

Bobby will be releasing a new cd soon

He has re-released his Shine Me Up album through his own label
"BluesNight Records" to a number of specialling selected stations in the US, Canada and Europe and has charted in a number of stations

Other News:

Bobby will be going to Europe for Festivals and Club Dates in 2006 through a new booking agency in Canada I recommended to him since the one in the USA was not doing a thing..
http://www.conceptentertainment.net

Watch for the new CD soon

Radio Promotions by:
Voodoohead Productions
http://www.voodoohead.ca

10/12/2005 09:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I BOUGHT "WATCH YOUR STEP" FIRST TIME ROUND........PLEASE TURN IT OVER AND HEAR "STEAL YOUR HEART AWAY" WHICH VOCALLY AND INSTRUMENTALLY MATCH AND POSSIBLY BEAT WATCH YOUR STEP". HE USES NECK PICKUP AND TONE CONTROL OFF TO CREAT A WONDERFUL MOOD. IT TOOK YEARS TO FIND OUT HE PLAYED AND SANG ON BOTH.......MISSED HIM AT DURHAM

6/26/2006 06:34:00 PM  
Blogger footpathrecords said...

Bobby Parker made 45s for Sabu,Amanda,Southern Sound, Gamma, Frisky and possibly others of the DC family of labels.....If anyone has copies of any I would very much like to hear from them........
Bobby Parker is scheduled to appear at the Ponderosa Blues Festival in New Orleans soon...please email pamandmartin@hotmail.com

2/23/2008 08:21:00 PM  
Blogger Mickactual said...

Someone posted the original 1961 "Watch Your Step" 45 on YouTube (with an accompanying video of the 45's label). It blew me away. I just wish I could find a download of it somewhere. I really don't hear the "I Feel Fine" or "Day Tripper" connection, but I *do* hear it in Zep's "Moby Dick". ...But I recently read where someone pointed out the REAL steal: listen to Deep Purple's 1973 "Rat Bat Blue"...the riff is nearly identical!

3/12/2009 01:01:00 AM  
Blogger trfesok said...

"Steal Your Heart Away" was also one side of the Moody Blues' very first UK single. I'm not sure if it was the A or B-side. (The other side was a Denny Laine/Mike Pinder original called "Lose Your Money").
I've never heard Parker's original version, but the Moodies' version is now on their expanded reissue of their first album, "The Magnificent Moodies."

4/24/2009 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger Henry R. Kujawa said...

"Steal Your Heart Away", oddly enough, became one of my favorite Denny Laine MOODY BLUES songs, once I got the mono CD version of "THE MAGNIFICENT MOODIES" (all 25 songs, WHY don't most repackages have all of them in some sensible order?).

I've seen it listed online as both the "A" and "B" side, but in the liner notes for the CD it was definitely listed as the "A" side. Supporting this is the fact that many, many UK singles by obscure bar bands would have covers of US hits as their "A" sides, while new originals by band members would be the "B" sides (presumably the idea being, the already-known "hit" would sell the record, while the "B" side insured the band members would actually get royalties for writing, even if their own songs never got played once--as Michael Nesmith knew full well).

I love the dynamics of the song-- the loud, upbeat verses, and the deep, slower choruses. A real musical emotional roller coaster.

I did a "special edition" of THE MAGNIFICENT MOODIES where I re-ordered the tracks, chronologically-- their first 4 singles, the LP, and then the last 3 singles. (Some reissues leave off the last 3 singles; not right, as they form a "bridge" in stylistic evolution between the LP and the tracks heard on the "PRELUDE" comp, which is the early Hayward-Lodge material.)

11/25/2011 12:38:00 PM  

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