The next time you’re at one of his shows, feel free to tell Sparky Parker “You’re welcomed.” Like most musicians, the blues guitarist respects those who have influenced his own musical pursuits. He even lists them on his Facebook page for all to see. And, the very first influence listed is “Houston,” which makes you practically as instrumental as any guitar hero to the development of one of the more exciting blues acts to appear of late.
You’re welcomed, Sparky.
“I consider Houston to be a big influence on me because of the culture here," he says. "It's very diverse. And the music scene here is quite diverse as well. One of the best parts about the culture here is the blues scene, which is often overlooked since Austin is considered the live music capitol of the world or whatever. I got really into blues and I would go out to play at blues jams and I would see Texas Johnny Brown, Earl Gilliam, Diunna Greenleaf, Jonn Richardson, Sparetime Murray. They would just make me wanna go home and practice because they are the real deal! Houston has a great history of blues and I consider the city as a big influence on me.”
These influences are evident in Parker's live work, which you can see for yourself tomorrow night at Local Pour. It permeates his recent release entitled — what else? — Live In Houston. A 10-track mix of originals and blues treasures, the album was released in May and puts Parker front and center. If he looks handsomely familiar on the album cover, it may be because you’ve seen him doing his thing with the bands Funky Mustard or Mojofromopolis. He tabbed Kevin Barry (drums) and Larry Evans (bass) from those acts for Live In Houston.
“I met them both at The Big Easy blues jam when I first started playing out and we've been friends ever since," Parker says. "Larry and I were both in Mojofromopolis together and he also played with Texas Johnny Brown for years, up until he passed. Kevin is still the regular drummer in the band but Larry moved on to play with Luther and the Healers. His spot has been filled by "Fender" Phil Lock, who also plays in the .07 Blues Band.
“Funky Mustard is a totally different band than my band," adds Parker. "Larry White [lead vocalist/guitarist] and Kevin Crenshaw [drummer] started the band in 2002 and I joined them in about 2006, adding lead guitar to their sound. We have six albums out and we are working on our seventh. Funky Mustard is like a blend of hard rock, jazz, reggae and, sometimes, jam-band style, where we jam on a guitar solo for minute or two. It's a lot of fun!”
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But even as Parker is testing his solo-act wings, it’s a bittersweet flight from the ashes of the recently defunct Mojofromopolis.
“Mojofromopolis was a blues band that started out as just friends jamming together at blues jams until we started getting asked to play gigs," he recalls. "So we came up with that weird band name, and from then on we stayed fairly busy up until we called it quits this year. Robert Taylor, the harmonica player, was moving away and we decided it just wouldn’t be the same band without him. We had a farewell gig or two for him and it was tough to shut it down. We've all become better musicians I think from playing together for so long. I certainly have.”
Listening to his work on Live In Houston, you can hear that experience come to fruition. Parker could have gone into the studio, but he chose to record a live set at a place he felt most comfortable in for some pretty good reasons.
“I wanted to do a live album because I knew that if I worked on a studio album, it would take way too long because I would end up obsessing over every detail," he explains. "I figured if I knock it out in one night, then I would not have the chance to pick over it too much, no pun intended. I chose Dan Electro's as the venue to record the album because it is like home to me. I've probably played there more than anywhere. Bob Edwards gave me my first real gig there and I'm just comfortable there.”
It’s also a place where his contemporaries have kept a light shining for the genre in this city.
“There are some great blues artists here in Houston that people should be aware of," Parker insists. "Eugene Moody, Trudy Lynn, John McVey, Jonn Del Toro Richardson, Milton Hopkins, Diunna Greenleaf, Steve Krase, Vince Converse, The Mighty Orq, Tony Vega, Annika Chambers and there is a lot more!”
Parker is proud and humbled to be a part of this impressive mix of musicians, particularly since they work in unison to further define the Houston blues sound. That means a lot to a guy who was born and raised here.
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“My dad and my sister were always into music and I would listen to whatever they were listening to growing up," he says. "My dad would have Rock 101 KLOL on most of the time or he would play some old Hendrix or Robin Trower on the turntable. My sister would be blaring Nirvana and No Doubt on her boom box. So I was always around music.
“I remember getting hooked on a cassette tape I had of Jimi Hendrix Live at Woodstock, and I think that is what propelled me to want to play the guitar," notes Parker. "My uncle plays, and he let me borrow a guitar to get started when I was 13 and from that point on, I was obsessed! All I did was play guitar and listen to music.”
If you make it to Local Pour tomorrow night, you can catch Parker next at The Big Easy on July 30 or at Shakespeare Pub on August 28. Whenever you do see him, don’t just accept his thanks for influencing his music. Go ahead and return the thanks, since he’s doing his part to keep blues music vital in his beloved hometown.
“There is a niche crowd of blues supporters that really do all that they can to support the blues scene in Houston," he says. "They show up to our gigs often, and they come out and help us raise money and volunteer at benefits and fundraisers for great causes all the time. A lot of it is with the help of the Houston Blues Society, which has been an important part of the blues scene here. But I'm afraid that the majority of Houstonians that go out for live music and even the media sometimes don't realize what they have. There is a great blues scene here with a lot of history, and unfortunately it is overlooked."