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Graham Parker Biography

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Born: 1950/11/18
Birth Place: London, England
Years Active: 1970s–present
Genres: Rock, New Wave, Pub Rock

Graham Parker (born November 18, 1950) is a British rock singer and songwriter, who is best known as the lead singer of the popular British band Graham Parker & the Rumour.

By the time Parker was 15 he was a fan of soul music, especially Otis Redding, and would go to dance clubs in the nearby towns of Woking and Camberley where there was a thriving appreciation of soul music, Motown and ska. At 18 years old he moved to Guernsey in the Channel Islands where he bought an acoustic guitar and began to learn fingerpicking style and began writing songs with lyrics heavily influenced by the psychedelic music of the time.

He traveled around Europe before moving to the island of Gibraltar. In Gibraltar his guitar playing and writing skills were improving and after playing songs to a few locals in a bar, he found himself on an afternoon show on Gibraltar television where he performed two or three of his own songs. At that time, a strongly psychedelic influenced band named Pegasus often played in the same bar and asked Parker to join them. With Parker in the band playing a borrowed electric guitar, Pegasus played one show in Gibraltar before taking the band to Tangier, Morocco where they performed for a short while in a nightclub.

He left the band and in late 1972 returned to England and lived with his parents. By now he was determined to pursue a career in music and worked steadily on improving his guitar playing and song writing. In late 1974 he placed an ad in Britain’s “Melody Maker” seeking like-minded backing musicians. One of the musicians who answered the ad was Noel Brown, a guitarist who lived in south London. Parker met with Brown who then introduced him to Paul “Bassman” Riley who had recently been a member of Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers.

Riley thought Parker should meet Dave Robinson, who had a small studio above the Hope & Anchor pub in Islington and began to record Parker, sometimes solo and sometimes with a few musicians behind him. Two of the songs Parker recorded were “Between You And Me” and “Nothin’s Gonna Pull Us Apart.” On hearing the songs, Nigel Grainge from Phonogram Records offered Parker a deal with Phonogram almost immediately.

Robinson then went about recruiting the musicians that would become The Rumour, and recording began in the winter of 1975 with Nick Lowe producing. In 1975, Parker recorded a few demo tracks in London with Robinson, who would shortly after found Stiff Records and who connected Parker with his first backing band of note, The Rumour. Parker had one track, “Back to Schooldays,” released on the compilation album, “A Bunch of Stiff Records” for Stiff Records.

Graham Parker and The Rumour consisted of Parker (lead vocals, guitar) with Brinsley Schwarz (lead guitar) and Bob Andrews (keyboards) (both ex Brinsley Schwarz), Martin Belmont (rhythm guitar, ex Ducks Deluxe), Andrew Bodnar (bass) and Steve Goulding (drums). They began in the British pub rock scene, often augmented at times by a four-man horn section known as The Rumour Horns, John “Irish” Earle (saxophone), Chris Gower (trombone), Dick Hanson (trumpet) and Ray Beavis (saxophone).

The band's first album, “Howlin' Wind,” was released to acclaim in April 1976 and was rapidly followed by the stylistically similar “Heat Treatment.” A mixture of rock, ballads and reggae-influenced numbers, these albums reflected Parker's early influences and contained the songs which formed the core of Parker's live shows, “Black Honey,” “Soul Shoes,” “Lady Doctor,” “Fool's Gold,” and his early signature tune “Hey Lord, Don't Ask Me Questions,” which hit the Top 40 in the U.K.

Critical acclaim for the first two albums was generally not matched with LP sales. Graham Parker and The Rumour began to change songwriting style, reflecting a desire to break into the American market. The first fruits of this new direction appeared in 1977 on “Stick To Me.” The album broke the Top 20 on the U.K. Albums chart.

An official Graham Parker and The Rumour live album, “The Parkerilla,” issued in 1978, saw Parker in a creative holding pattern. Three sides were live, with no new songs and with versions of previously released songs. Side four was devoted to a disco remake of “Hey Lord, Don't Ask Me Questions.” Parker had long been dissatisfied with the performance of his U.S. record company, Mercury Records, finally issuing in 1979 as a single B-side “Mercury Poisoning.”

Energized by his new label, Arista Records, and with record producer Jack Nitzsche, Parker followed with 1979’s “Squeezing Out Sparks,” widely held to be the best album of his career. For this album, The Rumour's brass section, prominent on all previous albums, was absent.

Bob Andrews left The Rumour in early 1980, and was not officially replaced. However, in studio sessions for the next album, Nicky Hopkins and Danny Federici (of The E Street Band) sat in on keyboards. 1980's “The Up Escalator” was Parker's highest-charting album in the U.K. and featured production by Jimmy Iovine and guest vocals from Bruce Springsteen. Significantly, the front cover of the album credited only Graham Parker, not Graham Parker and The Rumour.

“The Up Escalator” would prove to be Parker's last album with The Rumour, although guitarist Brinsley Schwarz would reunite with Parker in 1983 and play on most of the singer's albums through the decade's end. As well, bassist Andrew Bodnar would rejoin Parker from 1988 through the mid-1990s, and drummer Steve Goulding would play on Parker's 2001 album “Deepcut To Nowhere.”

The 1980s were Parker's most commercially successful years, with well-financed recordings and radio and video play. His followup to “The Up Escalator,” 1982's “Another Grey Area,” featured session musicians Nicky Hopkins and Hugh McCracken. This album charted at #40 in the U.K. and at #51 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart in the U.S., and spun off a Top 40 U.K. single in “Temporary Beauty.”

1983's “The Real Macaw,” featuring drumming by Gilson Lavis of Squeeze and the return of Brinsley Schwarz to the guitarist's spot, did not fare as well, hitting #59 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart but missing the U.K. chart altogether. However, Parker's 1985 release “Steady Nerves” (credited to Graham Parker and The Shot) was a moderate success and included his only U.S. Top 40 hit, “Wake Up (Next to You).” The Shot was a four-piece backing band, all of whom had played on either “The Real Macaw” or “Another Grey Area” inclduing Brinsley Schwarz (guitar), George Small (keyboards), Kevin Jenkins (bass), and Michael Braun (drums).

Record label changes came quickly after the mid-1980s, partly accounting for the number of compilation albums in Graham Parker's discography. Particularly unproductive was Parker's tenure at Atlantic Records, where Parker ended the deal without releasing anything, and signed to RCA Records. He began producing his own recordings and in 1988 issued “The Mona Lisa's Sister.” The backing band for that album included former Rumour-mates Schwarz and Bodnar, keyboardists James Halliwell and Steve Nieve and drummer Terry Williams.

Parker continued to record for RCA through the early 1990s. Long-time guitarist Schwarz once again parted company with Parker after the 1990 album “Human Soul.” Parker's 1991 offering, “Struck By Lightning,” featured Bodnar and Pete Thomas in the backing band, as well as guest appearances from The Band's Garth Hudson on keyboards and John Sebastian on autoharp. However, the album's chart peak of in the U.S. of #131 saw Parker dropped by the label. 1992's “Burning Questions” was released by Capitol Records, who promptly dropped him after the album failed to sell.

A 1994 Christmas-themed EP release, “Graham Parker's Christmas Cracker,” was issued on Dakota Arts Records, before Parker found a more permanent home on American independent label Razor & Tie. After the movingly personal “12 Haunted Episodes,” and 1996's “Acid Bubblegum” (featuring Jimmy Destri of Blondie on keyboards), Parker grew quiet in the late 1990s.

Parker began a more active period in 2001, with the U.K. re-release of his early The Rumour work, and with his third studio album for Razor & Tie, “Deepcut to Nowhere.” In 2003, Parker collaborated with Kate Pierson of the B-52's and Bill Janovitz of Buffalo Tom to record an album of lesser-known John Lennon/Paul McCartney compositions that had never been recorded by The Beatles. The album, called “From A Window: Lost Songs of Lennon & McCartney,” was credited to Pierson, Parker, Janovitz.

New solo work continued with 2004's “Your Country,” which saw Parker switch labels to Chicago-based indie Bloodshot Records and was co-produced by John Would at Stanley Recording in Venice, California. The album was recorded and mixed in two weeks.

Following in 2005 was “Songs Of No Consequence,” recorded with The Figgs. A show from the ensuing tour with The Figgs broadcast on FM radio and was released as an album in 2006. In March 2007, a new full-length, “Don't Tell Columbus” was released.

In early 2011, Parker reunited with all five original members of The Rumour to record a new album. The record, titled “Three Chords Good,” was released in November 2012.