Junior Parker-Like It Is and Honey-Drippin’ Blues.

After spending twelve productive and successful years at Duke Records, thirty-four year old Memphis bluesman Junior Parker parted company with the label in 1966. By then, Junior Parker had released thirty-five singles and one album for Duke Records. While ten of these singles went on to become hits, it was Driving Wheel in 1961 that gave Junior Parker the biggest hit single of his career. Five years later, in 1966, and Junior Parker was looking for a new record label.

Before long, several labels were keen to sign Junior Parker. That was no surprise as Junior Parker was one of the most successful bluesmen of the sixties. He had carved his own niche in an ever changing musical landscape. Junior Parker wasn’t a blues belter, who hollered, shouted and screamed. Instead, Junior Parker’s honey toned vocals were much more soulful, and an attractive proposition for record companies at a time when blues music was no longer as popular as it had once been.

Many blues musicians were struggling to make a living by 1966, and were finding it tough to adapt to the changes in musical tastes. Rock was now the most popular musical genre. Many venues that blues musicians played at, now hosted rock groups. Meanwhile, blues players were relegated to playing smaller, run-down clubs. Despite that, many blues musicians stubbornly refused to adapt their music. That accusation couldn’t be levelled at Junior Parker, and his soulful take on the blues. 

Given how popular it was, several record companies were fighting for Junior Parker’s signature. One of the labels was Mercury Records, who were expanding their R&B roster. They had already had signed Jerry Butler and Dee Dee Warwick. If they could sign Junior Parker this would the icing on the cake. Eventually, Mercury Records won the race for Junior Parker’s signature, and he signed a two album deal. Soon, Junior Parker began work on his sophomore album Like It Is, which was recently  reissued by alongside Honey-Drippin Blues by BGO Records. This two album set documents a new chapter in Junior Parker’s career, which began with Like It Is.

Like It Is.

With the ink dry on his Mercury Records’ contract, Junior Parker began work on what would become his sophomore album Like It Is. He was assigned Bobby Robinson to produce what would the long-awaited followup to Junior Parker’s 1962 debut album Driving Wheel.

For Like It Is, Junior Parker penned Sometimes I Wonder, and  covered the traditional song Country Girl. The rest of the album consisted of cover versions. This included Ted Jarrett’s You Can Make It If You Try;Memphis Slim’s You Can Make It If You Try; Cleve Reed’s Hey Lawdy Mama and Bobby Robinson’s (Ooh Wee Baby) That’s The Way You Make Me Feel. They were joined by Ray Charles’ Come Back, Baby, Pearl Wood’s Just Like A Fish; Percy Mayfield’s Baby, Please; Dan Greer’s You Ain’t Got No Heart and Cracked Up Over You, a Don Dryant and Ray Harris composition. These twelve tracks would become Junior Parker’s Mercury Records’ debut Like It Is.

To record Like It Is, Junior Parker returned to Memphis in August 1966. He would spent the next two months recording  Like It Is at the famous Royal Studios. Joining Junior Parker were producer Bobby Robinson and some of Memphis’ top session musicians. 

This included a rhythm section of drummer Sam Greason, bassist Mike Leech plus guitarists Reggie Young and Tommy Cogbill. They were augmented pianist Joe Hall and organist Bobby Emmons. The horn section featured the legendary producer Willie Mitchell and Gene ‘Bowlegs’ on trumpet; Jimmy Mitchell on baritone saxophone and tenor saxophonist Fred Ford. It was an impressive array of talent that helped Junior Parker move further away from R&B and blues, towards the much more soulful and sophisticated sound that featured on Like It Is. This had a much wider appeal given the decline in popularity of the blues. 

Although Like It Is was completed by September 1966, Junior Parker’s sophomore album wasn’t released until 1967. By then, five years had passed since Junior Parker had released his debut album Driving Wheel in 1962. Five years was a long time in music. Junior Parker’s music had changed since then.

Critics welcomed Junior Parker’s move away from R&B and the blues and towards soul on Like It Is. However, Junior Parker doesn’t turn his back on the blues. Like It Is features R&B, blues and soul. It’s a much more cohesive album than his debut album Driving Wheel, and allows to Junior Parker put his honey toned vocal to good use throughout Like It Is. In doing so, he breathes life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics. Meanwhile, his all-star band provide the perfect backdrop for Junior Parker’s vocal. That is the case throughout Like It Is.

It’s the bluesy shuffle of Country Girl that opens Like It Is. Soon, though, Junior Parker is putting his velvety vocal to good use on the soulful ballad You Can Make It If You Try. There’s a similar soulful quality to Junior’s vocal to Wish Me Well, while his all-star band reinvent the song and create an urgent bluesy backdrop. The tempo then rises on Hey Lawdy Mama as Junior Parker delivers a hurt filled, despairing vocal. Then on Sometimes I Wonder, Junior’s vocal becomes rueful and ruminative, before becoming soul-baring on (Ooh Wee Baby) That’s The Way You Make Me Feel and needy on Come Back, Baby. After that, it’s all change.

Just Like A Fish is a much more uptempo track. Stabs of horns and a bluesy guitar accompany Junior Parker on this driving blues. Very different is Baby Please, which features a melancholy, wistful and emotive vocal from Junior. It’s one of his finest vocals on Like It Is. Junior then tells it Like It Is on You Aint Got No Heart, which features an outpouring of frustration during this far from flattering portrayal of the woman he once loved. Closing Like It Is Cracked Up Over You, a catchy and impassioned paean that ends the album on a high.

Given the quality of music on Like It Is, executives at Mercury Records must have thought that they were about to release a successful album in 1967. However, Like It Is to failed to even trouble the charts. It was a disaster for Junior Parker. Executives at Mercury Records were left wondering what had gone wrong?

In July 1967, Mercury Records released the non-album track I Can’t Put My Finger On It as a single. It entered the US R&B charts, but stalled at forty-eight. Three months later, in October 1967, Junior Parker released cover of Percy Mayfield’s What A Fool I Was. However, the single sunk without trace. For Junior Parker this had serious repercussions.

At a meeting in 1968, Junior Parker was told that he was moving from Mercury Records, to the newly rejuvenated Blue Rock imprint. It was founded in the early sixties, and closed its doors in 1966. Two years later, producer and A&R man Jack Daniels was given the job of running the label. 

For his Blue Rock debut, Junior Parker worked with legendary Louisiana producer Huey Meaux. He produced the single Your Loves Over Me which was released on Mercury Records, in March 1968. When the single failed commercially, it was another disappointment for Junior Parker.

Seven months later, and Junior Parker returned in October 1968 with Lovin’ Man on Your Hands. Just like Junior Parker’s two previous singles, Lovin’ Man on Your Hands didn’t come close to troubling the charts. For Junior Parker it was yet another disappointment.

As 1969 dawned Junior Parker released Lover To Friend as a single. Despite its quality, the single flopped. Eventually, Junior Parker’s luck changed in May 1969, when he released Ain’t Gon’ Be No Cutting Aloose. It reached  forty-eight in the US R&B charts. While this was only a minor hit single, it was enough to convince Blue Rock to release another Junior Parker album, Honey-Drippin’ Blues.

Honey-Drippin’ Blues.

This time, there was no need for a trip to Royal Studios in Memphis. Instead, Blue Rock decided to combine four unreleased songs with the five singles that Junior Parker had released between August 1967 and May 1969. This would become Junior Parker’s third album, Honey-Drippin’ Blues.

The six singles included Percy Mayfield’s What A Fool I Was, which was released in August 1967. It was joined by Your Love’s All Over Me, which was released in March 1968 with It Must Be Love on the B-Side. Seven months later, Lovin’ Man On Your Hands which featured Reconsider Baby on the flip-side was released in October 1968. Then in January 1969, Junior Parker released Lover to Friend with I Got Money on the B-Side. Ain’t Gon’ Be No Cutting Aloose was released in May 1969, with I’m So Satisfied tucked away on the B-Side. These nine tracks were joined by four new songs.

This included Jesse Stone’s Easy Lovin’ and Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down which was penned by Barry Despenza, Carl Wolfolk and Riley Hampton. They were joined by A. Smith’s You’re The One and Doug Sahm’s Your Bag Is Bringing Me Down. Along with the five singles, they became Honey-Drippin’ Blues.

Before the release of Honey-Drippin Blues, Easy Lovin’ was released as a single in August 1969, but failed to chart. This didn’t augur well for the release of Honey-Drippin Blues later in 1969.

When Honey-Drippin Blues was released in late summer of 1969, the album didn’t even come close to troubling the lower reaches of the US R&B charts. For Junior Parker, the failure of Honey-Drippin Blues was a disaster. By October 1969, Junior Parker parted company with Mercury Records. His swan-song was the hidden gem Honey-Drippin Blues.

There’s much to commend Honey-Drippin Blues. Especially the opening track Easy Lovin’ and Im So Satisfied which feature Junior Parker at his most soulful. He then delivers a heartfelt, emotive vocal on the mid-tempo You Cant Keep A Good Woman Down. It features horns and strings that compliment Junior’s melancholy vocal. The tempo drops on the bluesy ballad You’re The One, where Junior delivers a needy, tormented vocal. Lover To Friend showcases the soulful stylings of Junior Parker. Not only does he delivers a vocal that’s filled with frustration and sadness, but plays blues harmonica. Your Bag Is Bringing Me Down which closed the first side of Honey-Drippin Blues finds Junior Parker at bluesy best.

Aint Goin Be No Cutting Aloose was produced by Jack Daniels and is memorable slice of R&B that should’ve given Junior Parker more than a minor hit single. It gives way to Lovin Man On Your Hands, a brassy slice of soul. The soul continues on Your Love’s All Over Me, which was produced by Huey Meaux. There’s a drop in tempo on   What A Fool I Was, where Junior delivers a hurt-filled vocal. Very different from what’s gone before is I Got Money, a uptempo soulful song. It Must Be Love closes Honey-Drippin Blues. is another Huey Meaux production. With a Hammond organ and harmonies for company, Junior Parker delivers this heartfelt paean which finds him at his most soulful. Just like so often is the case, the best has been saved until last.

After just three years at Mercury Records, Junior Parker parted company with the label. It was a case of what might have been. Junior Parker was changing direction, and moving away from blues and R&B towards a much more soulful sound. This features throughout Like It Is and Honey-Drippin Blues which were recently reissued by BGO Records. However, Junior Parker wasn’t willing to turn his back on blues and R&B entirely. To some extent, this makes sense as he didn’t want want to alienate his existing fans.

That was all very noble. However, blues music was no longer as popular as it had once been. Maybe to rejuvenate his career and enjoy longevity, Junior Parker needed to change direction musically. If he didn’t, he risked becoming irrelevant musically. That never happened though.

Instead, Junior Parker died whilst undergoing brain surgery on November the ’18th’ 1971. Junior Parker was just thirty-nine. By the time of his death, Junior Parker had enjoyed seventeen hit singles. Sadly, many of them were only minor hits. Junior Parker never reached the heights that his music deserved.

Things might have turned out very differently if Junior Parker had lived longer. Most likely he would’ve completely reinvented his music and gone onto to enjoy a long and successful career. He certainly wouldn’t followed in the footsteps of BB King, and spent a lifetime playing the same songs in the same way. Junior Parker was much better than that. Sadly, Junior Parker never lived long enough to completely reinvent his music. 

The reinvention of Junior Parker’s music began in 1967 on Like It Is and continued up until the release of Honey-Drippin Blues in 1969. Both these albums are oft-overlooked hidden gems in Junior Parker’s back-catalogue. Sadly, it’s only relatively recently that Like It Is and Honey-Drippin Blues began to receive the recognition that they so richly deserved. 

Junior Parker-Like It Is and Honey-Drippin’ Blues.

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