Graham Parker Credits Fleetwood Mac with Biggest Influence
Releasing live albums, bootleg boxes, EPs, and full-length studio albums at a rapid pace in recent years, Graham Parker appears to be at the most prolific stage of his career. Nonetheless, he’s not convinced he’s done enough. “I don’t think I’ve done half enough,” he says. “Then I see the history — all those albums, all those gigs — and I try not to be too hard on myself. I’d rather lie around watching TV, which I do as often as possible. I really don’t know how it all got done! I don’t feel my output has increased, but the bump in profile I got from being in the movie This Is 40 lasted for four years, and I guess it seems as though I’ve been doing more lately.”
The soundtrack for the 2012 movie starring Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann included heavyweights such as Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Wilco, Lindsey Buckingham, and Norah Jones. The album also featured two songs by Parker — one with Punch Brothers and one with his band, the Rumour. The group reunited in 2011 and have since released two albums together, including last year’s Mystery Glue.
It’s difficult for Parker to explain the significance of the most recent album. “This whole thing — touring, making albums — is just a stream,” he says. “It’s just like doing a painting and hanging it on a wall, then moving on. Every album I make seems like the best thing I’ve ever done at the time, then I move on to the next painting and the next wall.
“I suppose Mystery Glue is important to me, because it’s the sound of a band who have realized its full musical potential — finally,” he adds. “I don’t have to obfuscate the songwriting in elaborate displays of angst and overwhelming aggression. It’s the culmination of me learning to sing without fear, and the band learning to play without overcompensating and bludgeoning my songs into submission. It’s very, very good. But still, I’m way over it by now. Stop laying around and write the next one, Parker!”
Graham kicked off a US tour last week (April 5) and will be playing 16 dates this month and in May as a duo with bandmate Brinsley Schwarz. Guitarist Schwarz and Nick Lowe led the band Brinsley Schwarz in the early 1970s. That group was influential in establishing England’s pub-rock scene, which later grew into punk rock. The band folded in 1975, and Schwarz and keyboardist Bob Andrews joined the Rumour.
“I’ve done the duo thing with different people,” Parker says, “but once we reformed the Rumour, it seemed like a no-brainer to do it with Brinsley. He’d never done a whole show without a drum kit behind him and didn’t believe it could work. He also didn’t think anyone would come to the shows! I told him I was the drum kit, and we’d be fine if I did this stuff solo all the time, put on a good show and pulled an audience.
“As soon as we walked off stage after our first gig in Spain, he got it. My crude strumming is complemented very well by his atmospheric and soulful playing. It’s a great way to experience my songs.”
Parker says he’s adept at writing “uptempo rockers,” but wouldn’t categorize them as the best songs he has written. “The best would be songs like ‘Flying into London,’ ‘Passion Is No Ordinary Word,’ ‘Between You and Me,’ ‘It Takes a Village Idiot,’ and ‘Long Emotional Ride,'” he says. “They are mid-tempo songs or ballads — songs that don’t have a straightforward literalism but appear to capture emotional truths. It’s always the combination of melodic structure and words. One without the other isn’t enough.”
Parker says it’s not possible to name which musicians have been his biggest influences, because “too many” in various genres were influential.
“My music does lean toward what could loosely be called Americana, I suppose, because American music has had the biggest effect on British pop music. I learned that from reading the songwriting credits on cover versions by the Beatles and the Stones in 1964. So that’s where they’re getting it from, I realized. But it is true that I finally discovered Dylan and Van Morrison in the early ’70s, and I have to thank them for a lot of direction.”
Dylan and Morrison have been trailblazers who have carved out massive musical legacies. What is Parker’s legacy in the world of rock and roll?
“That I was one of the best songwriters of my time period,” says Parker, whose first album, 1976’s Howlin’ Wind, received worldwide acclaim for its angry, cynical, and literate pub-rock songs during a time when the punk scene was developing. Three subsequent albums in the late 1970s — Heat Treatment, Stick to Me, and Squeezing out Sparks — also were praised by critics.
About seven years before his first album was released, Parker remembers a memorable concert in England that was more influential than any other. It was held southwest of London at the Gin Mill Club in Godalming, Surrey, and it featured Fleetwood Mac. Led by British blues guitarist Peter Green, Fleetwood Mac was just about to release “Albatross,” a single that became an international hit.
“Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac played in this tiny blues club just before they released ‘Albatross,’ which went to No. 1 in the UK,” Parker recalls. “Danny Kirwan had recently joined them, and I sat on the floor right under their noses as they played through these massive Orange amps with all that reverb going. It was awesome.”
Parker says the concert made him realize “that I could never be a virtuoso guitarist. So I couldn’t become the new Peter Green. What a drag. But it really made me want to be onstage one day.”
With decades of live shows under his belt, Parker has certainly accomplished that goal — and he is not about to slow down. After his US tour this spring, he plans a United Kingdom tour with Schwarz in September. He says he is also working with Universal Music Enterprises on a “career-spanning” box set.
“It will include songs from every single studio album, plus some live stuff and maybe video content. Who knows? It’s a work in progress but hopefully will come out later this year.”