GRAHAM PARKER should need no introduction. Thankfully, on the lead track to his new album LAST CHANCE TO LEARN THE TWIST, he provides one for himself.
“They tried to eliminate it – good luck with that! – they pushed it underground but it just grew back,” Parker sings with inimitably soulful grit, “It just grew stronger with every iteration... the music of the Devil was our salvation.” He's singing, of course, of the artform of which he's an widely recognized as a master: rock and roll. But it serves equally well as a summation of his career: for over 40 years, Graham Parker has been slinging his signature sound, earning a spot in the pantheon of influential rock and roll creators. Always a critic's darling, uniquely and equally beloved by anglophiles and connoisseurs of Americana alike, Parker remains a true original. His new work stands with his best, which is no small achievement from an artist whose body of work includes the undisputed classic Squeezing Out Sparks and his essential run of early albums backed by The Rumour.
Parker burst onto the British music scene in the mid '70s at a pivotal moment in its history. The prior wave of bands had become bogged down in various forms of excess, and punk rock had yet to emerge with its unrefined rage. As a young songwriter, Parker had something different from either extreme in mind, and in early 1975, having no idea how to break into the music business, he put an ad in Melody Maker looking for musicians to support him on the tunes he was developing. This led to a connection with Dave Robinson, a man with some experience in managing bands, who was suitably impressed and brought some musicians into his demo studio in islington London to back him on a few songs.
Before the nascent group had played so much as a note together, Parker had, with Robinson's aid, secured a major record deal with Phonogram Records. Rehearsals continued with the band that would become The Rumour: Parker had seen the name Brinsley Schwarz in the Melody Maker gig guide and imagined that with a name like that, they must surely be a German heavy metal band. During those first rehearsals, Robinson brought a “tall, bird-nosed fellow,” as Parker described him, to the sessions and said that he would produce their first LP. His name was Nick Lowe, the bass player in the aforementioned “German heavy metal band.” Two other members of Brinsley Schwarz, eponymous guitarist Brinsley Schwarz and keyboardist Bob Andrews, would become core members of The Rumour. That first Lowe-produced LP, Howlin’ Wind, was recorded in London in late 1975 and released in April 1976 to widespread critical acclaim.
Things moved quickly after that. The debut was followed in the same year by Heat Treatment and a hit EP, The Pink Parker, released on pink vinyl. By the dawn of the punk era, Parker was roundly celebrated for coupling literate intelligence and a deep understanding of rock's roots with the roaring energy of the new sound, and The Rumour had evolved into a legendarily explosive and empathetic vehicle for Graham's sophisticated, emotive material. Working with legendary producer Jack Nitzsche, Parker cemented his reputation with Squeezing Out Sparks, which has remained enshrined in lists of the all-time greatest albums of the rock era ever since. But for all the accolades, Graham Parker was still just getting started.
Throughout the following decade, Parker would garner critical and chart success in the US and UK with solo albums including 1980's Jimmy Iovine-produced The Up Escalator, 1982's Another Grey Area, and 1988's widely-praised The Mona Lisa's Sister, on which he was backed by veterans of The Rumour and Elvis Costello's Attractions alike. Graham's '80s records stood apart from the increasingly slick and synthetic output of his British New Wave contemporaries, imbued with his deeply rooted love of American R&B, country, and soul music and trademark wit. By the '90s, Parker could be counted as a rare Brit among the upper echelons of singer-songwriters revitalizing the Americana idiom: think Tom Waits, John Hiatt, and Springsteen (who'd guested on The Up Escalator). It's a natural evolution and a manifestation of Rolling Stone's assessment: “One of the sharpest songsmiths of the U.K. rock scene in the late Seventies, Graham Parker always owed more to Dylan and Van Morrison than to his punk counterparts.”
In the 21st century, Parker has turned polymath. Long admired for his lyrical sophistication, the songwriter has made the leap to literature with the short story collection Carp Fishing On Valium and the novel The Other Life of Brian (recently republished under its original title The Tylacine's Lair). Likewise unsurprising given the man's onstage charm and facility with character sketches, he's shown up onscreen as an actor, often in collaboration with writer/director/producer Judd Apatow. Far from distracting from Parker's musical work, these multidisciplinary excursions have, if anything, reignited his drive as a songwriter and performer. His turn as himself in Apatow's 2012 film This Is Forty dovetailed with the miracle reformation of The Rumour, which yielded two albums – Three Chords Good and Mystery Glue – hailed by critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine as "the rare reunion that simultaneously looks back while living in the present."
The reformed band would again dissipate, but Parker's ambitions and creative drive remained undimmed. Against the backdrop of recorded and onstage celebrations of the 40th Anniversary of Squeezing Out Sparks, Graham has been crafting new material and pursuing a new direction. It was first heard on his 2018 debut for the UK's 100% Records, Cloud Symbols, introducing the new backing band The Goldtops and highlighted by the return of the Rumour Brass. The new renaissance gains even more momentum as Big Stir Records welcomes Parker to our roster with the new album Last Chance To Learn The Twist. On the other side of an uncharacteristic break from the road in deference to the global pandemic, Graham Parker has delivered an eclectic, reflective stew of soul, rock and blues fusions bursting with tasty, rootsy grooves and shot through with (as one song title has it) “Wicked Wit” in his classic style.
Listeners are soon to be treated to a tease of the playfulness that Parker has brought to bear on the new record with the reggae-inflected single “Them Bugs” and the positively giddy wordplay of its galloping non-album B-side “The Ologist Song.” The album they herald is one of remarkable depth even by the lofty standards of Graham Parker's catalogue. Last Chance To Learn The Twist is due this September from Big Stir Records, and we can't wait to bring it to you.