by Erik Ritland
Rambling On is a seriously fun blog and podcast covering sports, music, culture, and more. Check us out on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, or at our website.
Who: Charlie Parr
Where: Longfellow Roots, Rock, and Deep Blues Festival (a benefit for Patrick's Cabaret)
When: Saturday, July 18 at 2:00 PM (The Hub Alley Stage)
The Minnesota folk and blues scene has deep roots, beginning when legends Koerner, Ray, and Glover taught Bob Dylan a few things before he ran off to New York. More than just Dylan's teachers, their recordings and performances are some of the most important of the '60s folk revival.
Charlie Parr keeps this Minnesota blues tradition alive with his mix of folk, blues, and old time music. He's also a really nice guy. He took some time this week for an exclusive, energetic talk. Topics included his shows with Bentonia bluesman Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, what he likes (and doesn't like) about the recording process, the dueling influence of Captain Beefheart and pre-war blues. He also discusses his 2015 record, Stumpjumper.
I had a batch of songs that I'd been working on, trying to decide what to do with them. My buddy Phil Cook (who relocated out to Durham, North Carolina many years ago) and I had talked about doing stuff together. I told him I had these songs that I wanted to do something new with and he suggested that I come out to North Carolina to try them out there. It sounded like a pretty nice setting.
I had a tour scheduled throughout there so I thought I'd stop by and check it out. I got out there and his band was out there, which was so good. It ended up being a trio, and we had a tape machine and I felt very comfortable.
That's the thing about the recording process for me. It's uncomfortable because there's a lot of weight on recording when really they're just kind of a picture of something that happened one day back in October, you know? Songs are never done, they're never completely written, they're not like paintings where you paint them and you're done or stories that are written and that's it. Songs are different, they're weird, they live. That's what I'm looking for when I'm going to record something, I want it to feel like a show. If the performance is good then the recording is probably going to be good.
We all got along really well, I played them my songs and they liked them and they played along on them. 14 hours later we had the record done and mixed. I got what I wanted out of it, this feeling of meeting people who are passionate about something and doing it for the reason that you are, the reason that you do. I play music just because I love music. This other stuff is great and I'm grateful for being able to be on the road and play shows and stuff but if I wasn't I'd still be playing guitar in the kitchen. It wouldn't make that big of a difference. I'm absolutely grateful but if I stop being passionate about music then I’m just going to stop, that's all, because it's not a job, it's a privilege.
Anyway, these guys seemed to have the same attitude and I think it shows on the record. I took it with me and listened to it and I played it for Eric Peltoniemi from Red House (his record label) and he liked it, thought he'd like to release it, and so everything has just been kind of gravy since then.
It's the first time you've been on record with a full band behind you, which is cool because the sound is fuller and the songwriting seems more mature. For this batch of songs did anything different go into the songwriting?
The difference in songwriting is coming from maybe a little more maturity in myself. I've had a weird few years in my personal life and of course that's going to come out in the songs as much as anything else. That's just the way life works.
When I was young, especially after being a teenager, I had this real kind of stubborn personality. I was really obsessive about pre-war country blues and folk music. I was very obsessive about it and listened to it pretty much to the exclusion of everything else. And I had a period of time where I listened to some punk rock and then I went back to the old time stuff. As I've gotten older I've realized that I don't need to be this or that.
When I was a kid in the front of my house all my dad's records were playing, but in the back of the house where my sister was hanging out, she was listening to the Grateful Dead, Commander Cody, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Captain Beefheart, crazy shit like that. So I was getting that even though in my mind I was kind of deliberately trying to turn away from it. I've started to be able to reconcile myself with myself in a lot of ways. In the last few years I've accepted the fact that yeah, I like captain Beefheart a lot, I like captain Beefheart as much as a I like Mance Lipscomb, and that's alright. In writing this last batch of songs I let in other influences I might not have at one point. I let myself play around a little more.
Also having Phil around facilitated that a lot. In addition to being a dear, dear friend of mine he's a person that always thought in those kinds of terms. He's not afraid to let go of the way that it might traditionally supposed to sound and try something new. I ended up really enjoying that attitude, relaxed. It's still going on, the batch of songs I’m working now is continuing that vein. It's nice because I’m still as excited as I’ve ever been about music.
You'll be doing some shows with Bentonia blues legend Jimmy “Duck” Holmes. How did that come about?
I was in Clarksdale for the Deep Blues Festival last year and my buddy Dave (Hundrieser) who plays harmonica on a lot of records that I've done, he went down to play the festival with me and to hang out a little bit. I left Clarskdale for New Orleans, he left Clarksdale for Bentonia. He spent a couple days down there hanging out with Jimmy and got to know him, played music with him, and they really hit it off.
When he came back he had the idea of bringing him up, because people in Minnesota needed to see him. So we set up some shows that might give Jimmy the opportunity to make a few dollars and play for a few folks. I'm excited to be a part of that. My buddy Mike Munson, a blues guitar player from Winona, he's playing a little bit, Dave's playing a little bit. I'm excited to get to hear him play. That's what this thing's all about.
One of the things that excites me about the opportunity to see Jimmy is that he's just so fluid, he reminds me of two of my favorite guitar players, Robert Keith Williams and Bukka White, where the music is just absolutely without rules, I've always really loved that and always wished I was that kind of player. But it comes with a certain amount of experience and there's some other kind of mojo involved in that. I'm looking forward to the show.
For more info on Jimmy "Duck" Holmes Minnesota tour click here. For more info on Charlie Parr, check out his website.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He was also Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik's music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.