When Eric “Sparky” Parker was 13, he began a love affair. Not with a beguiling classmate at a school dance, but with the guitar. And while there’s a noisy graveyard somewhere out there of instruments that were abandoned by teenagers, you won’t find one of his axes there.
“I was just obsessed with the guitar at a young age. You couldn’t take it out of my hands!” Parker says today. “For me, I didn’t see it as practicing. The time I had on guitar was because that’s what I wanted to do. I would spend a couple of hours a night noodling away learning [songs]. It was never ‘I have to practice this now,’ it was ‘I can’t wait to play this now!’”
Now 31, Parker is set to release the full length record In the Dark, which he’ll do with a CD release party and show at the Big Easy on September 13. Joining him onstage (as on the record) are regular band members Phillip Lock (bass) and Kevin Berry (drums). William Gorman added keyboards to the record, which was cut at the Redshack Recording Studio here in town.
Parker was born and raised on Houston’s north side and went to Scarborough High School (even though he was zoned to attend Waltrip). After establishing some chops, he soon found his parents taking him to a variety of clubs around town to play. Venues like The Big Easy, Dan Electro’s, the Hideaway, and Shakespeare’s Pub. At first he would sit in with much older players, which led to guest spots, which led to opening slots.
He gained band experience fronting Bayou Monster, and then playing blues guitar with Mojofromopolis and a more rock sound with Funky Mustard (with whom he still performs today). It all coalesced in forming the Sparky Parker Band in 2012 and releasing Live in Houston. But he doesn’t see his journey for his age as something that defines him “At some point, you’re not the young prodigy in town anymore. You’re just sort of a regular on the circuit!” he offers.
Parker grew up absorbing blues, classic rock, and the bridge between them listening to 101 KLOL radio, with the sounds of the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Cream, and Jimi Hendrix seeping into his brain. That in turn led him to check out those bands’ inspirations like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. In the Dark pays tribute to some of these influences via covers of the Stones (“Dead Flowers”), a Slim Harpo song that the Stones covered (“Shake Your Hips”), and one associated with Houston icon Bobby “Blue” Bland (“Treat a Dog”).
The other eight numbers are originals, ranging from the wah-wah drenched title track to the ballad “Games” to the surf guitar of “Escape to Quintana.” For the slyly-humorous Chuck Berry-influenced “8 Days in the Doghouse,” Parker says he wrote from some real-life, uh, “inspiration.” And “Sleepy Town” came from his time playing a week-long residence at a club in a small town in Switzerland.
“It was very quiet. I’d go out in the morning and get lost and walk around in the cold for a couple of hours. I almost froze my ass off!” Parker laughs. Then I went back and wrote it in the hotel room. But I’m just really glad that I got to take my time with this record and spend the [effort] on each song to get it just right.”
Sparker Parker plays 9:30 p.m. Friday, September 13 at the Big Easy, 5731 Kirby. For information, call 713-523-9999 or visit TheBigEasyBlues.com. $5.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.