Charlie Parr is as authentic a blues product as America has produced in recent times, the product of a father with 17 siblings who spent the Great Depression riding freight cars across the country. After a childhood steeped in the classic American folk anthologised by Alan Lomax and Harry Smith, Parr dropped out of high school, moved into some rooming houses and began forging a career out of guitar and voice, telling the stories his father told him, along with a few of his own, in his distinctive laconic growl.
A shy individual, but a wonderful performer, Charlie Parr plays original and traditional folk and rural-style blues, accompanying himself on National resonator guitars, 12-string guitar and a fretless banjo. Parr's music speaks of American Depression-era rags, blues, and folk and the miseries and fleeting joys therein: aging, death, loneliness, god, regret and love. His second lp, 1922 –– first widely released in Australia in 2008, though it was recorded in 2002 –– won him wide acclaim, the title track in particular becoming widely known in Australia after it was featured in a viral Vodafone commercial.
Parr has so far released nine full length albums, some of which are out of print, the rest of which are available on Gaga Digi. In 2009, Parr released Roustabout, an lp recorded the only way Parr would have it: in living rooms, garages, bar room basements, and empty storefronts throughout his home state -- in short, wherever he happened to be at the time.
Now a regular on the UK and European touring circuit, Parr recently lent his music to Red Hill, the debut film by Melbourne director Patrick Hughes (starring True Blood's Ryan Kwanten), and has also had his music featured on the soundtrack to the popular TV series Underbelly.
When the Devil Goes Blind, Charlie's most recent lp, is the first ever Charlie Parr album to be recorded with a producer, and in an actual studio (Wild Sound in Minneapolis). Helming the desks for the lp was Bo Ramsey, a journeyman musician and producer best known for his work with Lucinda Williams.
'I was comfortable enough that it was all first and second takes,' Charlie explained. 'Wild Sound felt more like a regular place than a studio, with windows and some grass outside and naturally lit. We did the whole record in four hours including a real good middle-eastern lunch that Bo and I had in a place that used to be a gas station just around the corner.'
When the Devil Goes Blind is Charlie Parr's strongest, most cohesive work to date. Featuring two traditionals, Turpentine Farm and Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down, the album opens with I Dreamed I Saw Jesse James Last Night, name checking a certain Australian cultural icon, Ned Kelly.
'My Dad was a fan of the American outlaws: Jesse James, Pretty Boy Floyd, John Dillinger, guys like that –– and they weren't nice, but I think what draws folks here to them is that they bucked against the system. Dad was raised in the Depression when a lot of folks saw the banks as being the enemy and having created a lot of hardship by their own greed –– which, by the way, isn't an isolated incident.
'So, I grow up around all these tales about these folks, running around robbing banks and then giving poor farmers thousand dollar bills for a meal and whatnot, and then get to Australia –– and here's Ned Kelly! I went to the State Library in Melbourne and sat and looked at the armour for a long time, wishing that Dad were still around and I could take him and show him. I know there's good and bad in these stories, but these outlaw-types seem closer to real people.'
Charlie Parr's authentic story telling and true-grit themes make for powerful, magnetic listening. 'I think my role has been to amplify bad things without providing any kind of solution or solace,' he says plainly. 'I don't necessarily think that's a good thing, but the songs come out the way they come out, and I can't help it.'
June 30, 2010 | Last time he was in the country, legendary Minnesota bluesman Charlie Parr stopped by South Melbourne's Electric Dreams studio to record a few tracks for Red Hill, an new Australian western shot in the eerie, remote Victorian high country. There's more…
February 04, 2010 | American bluesman Charlie Parr recently lent a couple of his songs to the soundtrack to Red Hill, the much-anticipated new feature film from Australian director Patrick Hughes. There's more…
January 06, 2010 | After the customary over-indulgence of the silly season, it can seem quite natural to not want to leave the house for a while. But with the sheer amount of acts coming to our shores in January, we must fight the sedentary urges and get amongst it. There's more…
November 06, 2009 | After wowing Australian audiences this year supporting Paul Kelly, Minnesota bluesman Charlie Parr is returning to Oz for an East Coast tour in January 2010. There's more…
April 13, 2009 | For the first time, rough-hewn Minnesota bluesman Charlie Parr is on Australian soil, on a tour that will see him traverse the country in a string of headline dates followed by a 21-date nationwide tour with Australian institution Paul Kelly. There's more…