Bobby Parker: Bluesman whose riff from 'Watch Your Step' was borrowed by both the Beatles and Led Zeppelin

 

Bobby Parker’s recordings from the late 1950s and 1960s influenced performers as varied as John Lennon, Carlos Santana and Led Zeppelin. The Washington-based bluesman cut a swaggering figure on stage with his preacher-like exhortations to “say yeah, children,” his shiny suits and his James Brown-style hairdo. His tenor voice caressed and screamed the blues over his powerful, stinging guitar, and he loved to walk through the crowd as he played.

A veteran of the “chitlin’ circuit” of black theatres, Parker wrote two much-covered rhythm-and-blues hits. “Blues Get Off My Shoulder” (1958) was a sombre blues ballad enlivened by his trenchant guitar work, while “Watch Your Step” (1961), with its propulsive groove, was a hit in the US and Britain. Its insistent riff, which Parker said evolved from the Afro-Cuban jazz composition “Manteca”, caught on with the mods in London.

Santana and the Spencer Davis Group covered the song, while its guitar motif was reprised in Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” and Link Wray’s 1962 instrumental “The Black Widow”. John Lennon acknowledging that “Day Tripper” and “I Feel Fine” were based on variations of its central riff. (It was released in Germany while the Beatles were in Hamburg.)

However, Parker reaped few rewards, having sold the copyright for a pittance. In fact his career was dogged by bad decisions. During a Led Zeppelin tour in the early 1970s, Jimmy Page sat in with Parker at a club, and the band, searching for acts for their Swan Song label, lent him money for a tape recorder but Parker, perhaps fearful after having undersold a major copyright, never turned in the demo tape.

In the 1990s he returned to the national limelight with two critically acclaimed albums, Bent Out Of Shape and Shine Me Up, and he later toured with Carlos Santana.

He was raised in Los Angeles; his mother sang in a gospel group while his father was a distributor of jukebox records. In his teens, he left home to tour with the doo-wop group Otis Williams and the Charms, and went on to play with Bo Diddley on The Ed Sullivan Show.

In 1969 Mike Vernon, producer of Fleetwood Mac, brought Parker to England but, he said, “They wanted me to act like Hendrix. I had two nice little guitars and they wanted me to break them up. I said, ‘Man, I’m not breaking up my guitars.’”

Robert Lee Parker, musician: born Lafayette, Louisiana 31 August 1937; died Bowie, Maryland 31 October 2013.

© The Washington Post

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor