31-8-1937 - 1-11-2013
Guitarist and singer Bobby Parker, who has died aged 76, was once described as "the biggest blues legend you've never heard of".
Parker played with everyone from Bo Diddley, Sam Cooke, Chuck Berry, Paul Williams and Little Richard to John Lee Hooker and BB King, and was cited as a major influence by British artists as diverse as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Mick Fleetwood and John Lennon.
In the 1960s, when many British musicians began collecting obscure American R&B singles, one of their favourites was Watch Your Step, which Parker recorded in 1961 for V-Tone records. The song's insistent, pounding riff became a staple of the mod club scene; The Beatles purloined it for I Feel Fine (1964), Led Zeppelin for their 1969 track Moby Dick, and Robin Trower for Procol Harum's Whiskey Train (1970).
No one acknowledged the debt at the time, though in 1974 John Lennon admitted in an interview that both I Feel Fine and Day Tripper had been built on variations of Parker's riff. Meanwhile, the Spencer Davis Group covered Watch Your Step as a single in 1967.
Parker himself never made much money. He received no royalties from V-Tone and never sued anyone for copyright infringement. In the early 1970s he sold 75 per cent of the rights to his songs for $1000. It was only in the 1990s that he got around to releasing an album.
Yet at one time some thought he might become the next Jimi Hendrix. In 1969, Fleetwood Mac invited Parker to England. "It was a great experience," he recalled, "but they wanted me to act like Hendrix, and I was a traditional bluesman. I had two nice little guitars and they wanted me to break them up. I said, man, I'm not breaking up my guitars!" Parker's heroic drinking did not help; at several concerts he was too drunk to perform.
Robert Lee Parker was born on August 31, 1937, in Lafayette, Louisiana, and brought up in Los Angeles.
At the age of 15 he ran away from home and hooked up with bebop band The Charms as a guitarist and singer. This led to a stint with Bo Diddley's band, and then to a gig replacing Little Willie John (Parker's hero) with the Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams Orchestra, the backing band for Sam Cooke and Little Richard, among others. In 1958 he cut his first single with Williams' band, Blues Get Off My Shoulder.
By 1961 he had settled in Washington DC, where over the next decade he led his own band, making regular appearances in nightclubs. With his lacquered hairdo and what one critic described as his "finger-in-the-light-socket vocal delivery", Parker was sometimes likened to the soul singer James Brown, although he rejected the comparison.
He was always a hopeless businessman. In the early 1970s Led Zeppelin, searching for acts for their new Swan Song record label, lent him money to buy a tape recorder. But Parker never sent in a demo tape and for a time in the 1980s gave up performing altogether.
In the 1990s, he returned to playing live and recorded two acclaimed albums.
He was unmarried.