Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer
Johnny Parker's' Memories
Johnny Parker obituary - born 6 November 1929, died 11 June 2010
This article was published on guardian.co.uk at 18.27 BST on Monday 21 June 2010. A version appeared on p34 of the Main section section of the Guardian on Tuesday 22 June 2010. Here is the actual web page.
We were in contact with Johnny about including his recollections but unfortunately he died before anything could be done. We have added the text from the Guardian obituary in case the official web page becomes unavailable.
Blues and boogie pianist who played with all of the greats - Peter Vacher - guardian.co.uk
If for nothing else, the pianist Johnny Parker, who has died aged 80, will be remembered for his rollicking introductory sequence on Humphrey Lyttelton's hit 1956 single Bad Penny Blues. Of course, there was more to Parker than a single moment of inspiration. He was a fine exponent of the rumbustious blues piano style pioneered by African-American musicians in Chicago before the second world war.
Over his lengthy career, Parker played with the first great Lyttelton band, with Monty Sunshine and with Kenny Ball. He remained a much sought-after solo performer despite a number of significant health setbacks. The cornettist Digby Fairweather described him as "one of Britain's most elegant, painstaking and creative classic jazz pianists".
Parker was born in Beckenham, Kent, where he began piano lessons before moving to Wiltshire with his family in 1940. As a youth he listened to the American Forces Network's radio broadcasts, and visited a US air base in Wiltshire, where he first heard piano-based boogie-woogie. He returned to Beckenham after the second world war and started a newspaper round to fund the purchase of records by the boogie-woogie musicians Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons. He cycled regularly to Bexleyheath to hear George Webb's Dixielanders, joined Catford Rhythm Club and began to play in earnest at their weekly sessions, continuing with Harry Brown's Inebriated Seven and the singer Beryl Bryden's Backroom Boys, while serving as an ammunition examiner in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.
After demob, Parker began to study chemistry at Regent Street Polytechnic, now the University of Westminster. He immersed himself in the traditional jazz world by night, playing from 1950 to 1951 with the Mick Mulligan band. "For me this was the big time," he told the Melody Maker. The band's singer, George Melly, remarked that "the jazz atmosphere took Johnny by the collar and shook him roughly. Within the year he was a wild one."
By 1951, Parker had joined Lyttelton's band. He stayed for six years, playing a full part in their many recordings, including Bad Penny Blues, recorded as an afterthought at a Parlophone session. He was on hand when the band toured with Sidney Bechet and appeared as support to the Louis Armstrong All-Stars in 1956 and Eddie Condon a year later.
Parker's next move was to form his own band, still in the traditional jazz mould. But the idea misfired, prompting him to take work as an inspector in a factory making aircraft components. Within a year, he had joined the clarinettist Sunshine's popular band. This was followed by a stint with the UK's rhythm and blues pioneer Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated from 1962 to 1963.
He went on to tour the far east with the guitarist Diz Disley and Bryden, and also worked with the harmonica player Cyril Davies and the blues singer Long John Baldry's Hoochie Coochie Men. He resumed work in factory inspection while leading his own bands, before taking up Ball's offer in early 1969 to join his Jazzmen, a highly successful dixieland band. Ball toured the world and Parker went with him, until he had to undergo a spinal operation in December 1969. Within months, he was fit enough to travel and rejoined Ball, staying until 1978.
Thereafter he led his own groups in clubs and pubs around London. He accompanied visiting American instrumentalists, toured the Middle East with the British All-Stars and travelled on the continent with the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band. Beset by long-term health problems, Parker retired from active playing in 2005. Characterised by those who knew him best as straight-speaking and indomitable, he was revered for his mastery of blues and boogie piano, and for his knowledge of jazz history.
He is survived by Rebecca and Robert, the children of his first marriage, to Maureen Wallace, and by his daughters Abigail and Beverly, from his marriage to the South African singer Peggy Phango who died in 1998.
• John Robert Parker, jazz and blues pianist, born 6 November 1929; died 11 June 2010
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