I really can’t say enough in praise of Graham Parker.
I remember years ago at The Bottom Line he joked about how he’d been signed to and dropped by almost every major label and a lot of minor ones, and how he was dropped by Atlantic before they even put out an album!
After two great albums with the reunited Rumour, I don’t know if he still has a deal, but I do know that there will be more albums, and as tired of it as he said he was after his April 7 City Winery gig (he likened himself to the Energizer Bunny), more touring. Like all great ones, it’s in his blood.
He can also play in any kind of situation, in bands (besides The Rumour, he toured and recorded extensviley with the much younger Figgs, and has had bands of other musicians backing him) and solo. He’s currently touring with the Rumour’s guitarist Brinsley Schwarz as The Graham Parker Duo Featuring Brinsley Schwarz, Brinsley on gold Les Paul and G.P. on acoustic guitar and harmonica—and, of course, storytelling.
As for singing and songwriting, he remains one of the most dependable artists 40 years following the release of his landmark debut album with the Rumour, Howlin’ Wind. As evidenced at City Winery—where he returns with Schwarz tonight—his voice hasn’t changed a whit, nor has his wit, for that matter. In a typical set that spanned his entire career, he leavened his repertoire both with surprise selections and signature self-deprecation, as in “Turned Up Too Late,” from the Howlin’ Wind followup album Heat Treatment (also ’76), but here referenced by its Pointer Sisters’ 1979 Priority album version.
Priority, Parker noted, went more rock than the pop-R&B sound that established the Pointers, and also including songs by Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones.
“Unfortunately, it was just past their prime,” reported Parker with customary resignation. “But [their cover] was very good. I was waiting for the swimming pools to come in!”
Here he motioned with his arms as if sweeping the swimming pools that never came in onto the vast estate he never had—but should have.
Then there was “When the Lights Go Down,” which was completely obscure even to a guy in France who calls himself Parker’s No. 1 fan and thereby attempting to usurp my position; after all, I did write the CD booklet notes for the 2001 Hip-O label Graham Parker Ultimate Collection, when G.P. himself called me and asked me to do them, since he was tired of writing them himself. But in all fairness, the French guy–Eric Naulleau—actually wrote a book, Parkeromane (Parker Maniac) about his experiences seeing Parker play in various places. Turns out he heard a Parker bootleg tape with a song he didn’t know on one of his travels—“When the Lights Go Down”—that Parker had penned at Rick Springfield’s request over dinner, for Springfield’s 1984 Hard to Hold film soundtrack, which resurfaced in 2005 on the Parker compilation The Official Art Vandelay Tapes, Volume Two.
“In those days if you coughed loudly and called it a soundtrack album, you sold a million copies,” said Parker, and he wasn’t altogether wrong.
“You’ve all seen Hard to Hold. What? No takers? It must be some kind of classic.” This time he was altogether wrong, though I’m sorely tempted to Netflix it after hearing the song, which Parker said plays in the background when the car with Springfield and Patti Hansen crashes.
Parker recently had to learn “When the Lights Go Down” in French in order to accompanying Naulleau on a novel tour where the author read from his book and the singer-songwriter-muse performed a corresponding song.
“I have no idea what he was talking about, but I don’t care—just pay me Euros!” said Parker. But he had to look up the song on YouTube, he said, and then “stick it on poor Brinsley here.”
Schwarz acquitted himself well, though, also on songs he originally played on back in the day with Parker and the Rumour (“Watch the Moon Come Down,” “Fool’s Gold,” “Stick To Me,” “White Honey,” “Don’t Ask Me Questions,” “Silly Thing,” “Passion is No Ordinary Word,” “You Can’t Be Too Strong”) and those Parker wrote and recorded post-Rumour (“You’re Not Where You Think You Are,” “Under the Mask of Happiness”). The duo also delved into the reunion albums with “Stop Crying’ About the Rain” from 2012’s Three Chords Good and “Flying Into London” from its 2015 followup Mystery Glue.
It being New York, it was nice they threw in “The New York Shuffle,” from Graham Parker & the Rumour’s third album Stick To Me (1977). But it was somewhat different from the near-40-year-old recording.
“We did everything in those days at breakneck speed,” said Parker, and indeed, he and the Rumour in those days played fast and hard.
“But with the word ‘shuffle’ in it, it should really sound like a shuffle.”
And so it was at City Winery, a right New York shuffle slowed down to audience clap-along time.