33 years ago, 1976, was the bicentennial year, but for me it was mainly the year I latched onto a dream job running a record department in the back of a book store in the college town of Middlebury, Vermont. Very soon after my arrival I struck up a friendship with a like-minded jazzbo and began sitting in on his weekly radio show on the college station, WRMC. One way or the other, I would spend one radio slot a week there for nine years, mostly presenting jazz on Tuesday nights under the title Groovin’ High. Tidbit: for two years CNN’s Frank Sesno read the news after my show.
So, this was the background for 1976. Graham Parker released two superb recordsHeat Treatment and Howlin’ Wind in the same year! I have to confess too: to my tastes, both records wiped away my fascination with the Boss, who had released Born to Run the previous year. To place these records in context, both Elvis Costello and the Sex Pistols would issue their debut records the next year. Meanwhile, the FM radio dial was increasingly dominated by corporate rock.
Parker recorded for Mercury, yet their hype machine fell short with his one-two punch in 76. There really wasn’t a place for pub-rock driven singer-songwriter rock and roll on the stateside dial. I didn’t need any extravagant pitch. As soon as I learned that Parker had hired en-mass the legendary Brinsley Schwarz outfit to be his back-up band I was off my rocker. They were my favorite countrified import from the isles, and Silver Pistol (1971) and Nervous On the Road (1972) remain among my favorite listens in the down home vein of The Band and Better Days and Bobby Charles. Okay, as it turned out: guitarist Schwarz and keyboardist Andrews, and they picked up buddy Martin Belmont from Ducks Deluxe.
Only a little of that flavor is in the mix of Parker’s two opening shots. Parker is a ferocious soulman and one of the great rock-and-roll songwriters, and the Brinsleys morphed into The Rumour so as to match the ferocity with their own fervor. No hits was the reward for two statements of fierce rock and roll. Only surprising—since the era’s trends were unkind to so much terrific music—in that the two records have nary a bad cut, and, including lots of hit-worthy cuts.
(I count Heat Treatment, Black Honey, Pourin’ It All Out, and Fool’s Gold, just from Heat Treatment.) It was the same result for Squeezing Out the Sparks, released in 1979, albeit at least it is considered one of the great rock records. However, it came out in even more ungenerous times: 1979 was the year disco broke through, and, punk ruled most muso’s hearts.
Quality wins out in the end. Graham Parker has been churning out grown-up rock and roll ever since that bicentennial year–enough so that he is one of the masters.
Graham Parker tells the story himself on his defunct blog Chairman Parker. It’s an amusing and edifying read.
Brinsley Schwarz – Silver Pistol
Brinsley Schwarz – Nervous On the Road
Graham Parker – Howlin’ Wind
Graham Parker – Heat treatment
Desert island worthy:
Graham parker – Squeezing Out the Sparks
New and likely fab:
Graham Parker & the Rumour – Live in San Francisco