Regardless of musical style, Charles Parker has lived something of the dream of most musicians: to make a living off of music, and not have to worry about a Plan B, or a fall-back gig.
Parker started off juggling multiple cover and tribute rock bands in the 80s and beyond, and essentially never looked back. Being born and bred in Charm City, Parker didn’t have the luxury of having an especially accepting culture around him for new, original music. But in the past handful of years, Parker has been able to work and record in Nashville, and weave his own music in the fabric of Music City.
Parker’s acoustic rock-pop single, “Love Is Us,” was recently made into a music video, which premiered on the Heartland television network a few weeks ago. It has since amassed over 275K Spotify streams, and continues to get air play. He maintains steady travel back and forth to Nashville for his musical endeavors, and of course to visit his daughter, who attends Belmont University.
I had the opportunity to sit and chat with Parker, and discuss his music career and more.
Music Mecca: So what was your introduction into playing music, and who or what got you interested?
Charles Parker: Man that was a long time ago. Just being a real little kid and seeing reruns of like The Partridge Family, The Monkees, and Kiss concerts, ya know? And thought, “I want to do that.” Most people give The Beatles answer, ya know? I’m not old enough to have seen them on The Ed Sullivan Show and stuff. I was the 20 years later guy. You just see guys doing it though, and you want to do it too.
MM: I see you recently released your latest single, “Love Is Us.” Can you talk about the inspiration and influence behind this song?
CP: I was watching TV around Valentine’s Day last year, and kept seeing commercials of typical love stuff. Obviously that’s always a good topic for a song, so I decided to do that. I sat down with my acoustic guitar and started putting it together. I usually don’t have characters in the story of the song, and then I thought of like a Steve Miller kind a thing, like Billy Joe and Bobbi Sue. Ya know, maybe put some characters behind it. Then I saw some of the country guys like Jake Owen throwback to the eighties like Jack and Diane. So I borrowed some characters and changed some names and yeah. I put them to the song and kind of went from there.
MM: Where did you film the music video and what was that experience like?
CP: We shot it in Baltimore at a marina I play a lot of shows at in the summertime. The coastline looks like California. The whole thing with the marina is that it’s like you’re going to the islands. It has great scenery, so we shot there. It looks bigger on TV than it actually is, but yeah. It was nice.
MM: Do you have an album in the works or are you just focusing on singles?
CP: I released a 7-song EP a few months back. I did the “Love Is Us” single, and we’re working on another single in the studio right now. It seems that radio is only interested in one song at a time.I see that if you put one song and it climbs the chart, and then they drop it and say, “next.” So I don’t know if an album is really 2019, ya know?
MM: What’s your process like for acquiring air time?
CP: I’ve been doing it for a couple years now, and I have a radio team that I work with down here. Since I’ve already had songs out on the radio, and have been on the charts in the past, it’s more accepting now. I remember the first song I released, and see I didn’t even understand how it works, and thought, “well this is a good song it should work, right?” Well I’m sitting there 12 weeks into the campaign, and nobody’s playing the song. I realized over time, radio is flooded with thousands of songs. There’s only so much room to play. You’re always going to play the major label acts. And for any indie artist, you’ll probably not get played, and if you do, there’s only a couple spots for those guys. Finally, I started to get ads on stations, and the song went to #81 on the chart. I thought it was horrible at first, but realized later on, that there are thousands of songs that don’t get on the chart or played at all. But doing this has allowed me to release the next song and the next song and it’s considered right away. If they play you the first time, chances are they’ll play you a second time and a third time and…
MM: What was the transition like going from playing in cover bands to playing your own material?
CP: I’ve always been writing songs and had songs. The problem was that like 10-15 years ago, there was no outlet for that, no distribution, unless you had a record label. So I’d send my cassette or CD to record labels and they’d go in the trash, or I’d get a rejection later saying, “we don’t accept unsolicited material.” It wasn’t like you give up, but you move on to the next thing. And I’ve always worked as a musician, and have always done cover and tribute bands. I had like five bands and we’d work all the time. It became a full-time thing, being a full-time musician. When distribution became available with Spotify and iTunes, anybody could have it now. Then you can put your music out. And you just need to go out there and promote it, and it’s a long long process, but you can get it out there better now.
MM: How do you feel about Baltimore and their music scene?
CP: As far as the music scene,it’s a good place to play in a cover band situation and make money doing it. But from an original standpoint, they really don’t want to hear you.They don’t. People don’t want to pay attention to anything new and different. They want to hear the same thing. Can you play Lynyrd Skynyrd? Can you play “Pour Some Sugar On Me?” Like haven’t you had enough of that yet? And it doesn’t allow anybody up there to be accepted in doing their own music. There’s a lot of great music that they’re missing out on. If they were accepting of it, it could be a legit music city.
MM: What would you say is one of your most defining milestones as an artist in your career?
CP: It’s a long time coming. I figure I’ve always been a working musician, and I never had a day job, per say. So being able to support myself as a musician playing in cover bands is a good thing. The way I looked at is I always had the bands to fall back on. People would say like, “my job doing construction, or my job working at Wal Mart is something I fall back on.” A lot of people can’t do that nowadays, they’re not able to make a living playing music.
MM: What are some of your favorite guitars you’ve had over the years?
CP: Things come and go all the time. I have a 1956 Super 400, Gibson 400. They only made 19 in 1956. The serial number is like the next number up from Scotty Moore’s. It’s the one he played in the early days with Elvis. And this was the next one in line. Pretty cool to have an Elvis guitar.
MM: What artist, alive or dead, would you most want to drink a beer or coffee with and pick their brains?
CP: You know the thing is I always wanted to go see Tom Petty. And I would say, “oh I’ll just go next time, I’ll go next time.” And now there’s not a next time. He’s written so many great songs, and he’s had the history. I watched an 8-hour documentary on him. Maybe him, or The Eagles, maybe Paul McCartney.
MM: What do you have planned for 2020?
CP: Well I’m working on a new song in the studio. And it’s kind of a process, because I’m in Baltimore. So we recorded drums, bass, piano, and vocals here in Baltimore, and sent it down here to Brett Mason to do guitar tracks. Then we send it down to Florida to an engineer down there who is going to be putting it all together. So it’s kind of all over the place, but we’re working on building that song at the moment. And this song is, I don’t want to say it’s religious, but I often see people posting about looking for prayers and that kind of thing- and a lot of friends being gone. In the last few years especially, and so I wrote this song called “When Jesus Calls.” So the song revolves around that.