Charlie Parr is an American country blues musician based in Duluth, Minnesota. Parr’s influences include Charlie Patton, Bukka White, Reverend Gary Davis, Dave Van Ronk and Mississippi John Hurt, among others. His most recent album, Dog, is out now via Red House Records.
Influenced by his father’s record collection of old blues, folk and country legends, Charlie Parr began playing guitar at age eight. In his early 20s, Parr began to write his own music and lyrics and eventually released his debut album, Criminals and Sinners, in 2002. His newest album, Dog, is out now via Red House Records. Parr discusses his musical influences, his writing methods and his experience recording for the first time ever using a full band.
Where are you from?
When did you start making music?
I started playing guitar when I was about eight, but I didn’t start performing until the mid to late 80s. I haven’t had a job in 14 years, which is how long I’ve been able to do this without having to do much of anything else.
Anthology of American Folk Music
Released in 1952 by Folkways Records, The Anthology of American Folk Music is a six-album compilation of 84 American folk, blues and country music recordings from 1927-1932. Arranged by experimental filmmaker Harry Smith using his personal collection of 78 rpm records, the album is hailed by critics as being a touchstone for the American folk revival of the 1950s and ‘60s.
Born in 1895 as Beau De Glen Lipscomb, Mance Lipscomb was an American blues singer, guitarist and songster from Navasota, Texas. Lipscomb lived most of his life as a Texas farmer before being discovered and recorded in 1960. He went on to be an important figure in the American folk music revival, performing regularly at folk festivals and folk-blues clubs around the US.
Mississippi John Hurt
Born in 1892, John Smith Hurt, better known as Mississippi John Hurt, was an American country blues singer and guitarist from Avalon, Mississippi. Hurt taught himself guitar at age nine and worked as a sharecropper, while playing his guitar and singing at dances and parties. In 1963, Hurt was persuaded to move to Washington D.C. where he was recorded a year later by the Library of Congress. His work helped further the American folk music revival, which led him and other Delta blues musicians to recognition in the annals of folk history.
Who did you listen to growing up?
My dad’s record collection was weird and eclectic. The thing that started me playing guitar was three records he had that I listened to over and over: Lightnin’ Hopkins’ Blues In My Bottle, Mance Lipscomb’s Texas Sharecropper and Songster by Arhoolie and a live record from Albert King called Live Wire/Blues Power. The rest of his collection is great. There’s a lot of real old country western, old folk music, some Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly stuff. And that led me on trips to the library to dig for other things. He had a couple of volumes of the Harry Smith anthology which had me digging for blues guitar players, like Mississippi John Hurt and Mance Lipscomb. Their style was really the style I tried to figure out how to play, and it’s still what I’m trying to figure out how to play.
“I had a lot of road time last year and some dealings with depression and other things that have come up in my life. Songs for me always come from personal spaces, but these songs have more of a personal edge to them.”
— Charlie Parr
How and when did you decide that this is what you wanted to do?
I don’t know that I did decide, and I’m still not really sure that I have. When I first started to play, I just played all the time—I didn’t want to do anything else. And it made such a feeling within me that I became addicted to having a guitar around and making sounds, much less songs. Opportunities came along that I was really lucky to have, and I haven’t had to do other work in a while. But even if nobody wanted to hear me do this, I would be doing it anyway.
What life event has impacted you the most, and what role has that played in your music?
So far, the death of my father has impacted me most. I’ve had two children since, and that’s been a massive impact. But losing my dad in 1995 when I was 25-26—I didn’t get enough time with him. I hadn’t written an original song up to that point. I was concerned with learning how to play songs that that had been recorded by these old guys, and when my dad died, the way I dealt with grief was that it started coming out in songs. To this day, that remains the musical thing that happened to me that changed everything. I don’t know what would have happened otherwise. He would have passed sooner or later—he was 72. He died of cancer. He didn’t have a good death. He was kind of taken apart by doctors and not really put back together again and then died. So it was hard.
“When a song is actually done, I honestly stop playing it. I’ve written songs that felt really done that I can’t do anything more with, and I never played them again.”
— Charlie Parr
Tell me a little bit about your upcoming album.
The new record is called Dog, and it’s a set of songs I wrote kind of thinking about the last year. I had a lot of road time last year and some dealings with depression and other things that have come up in my life. Songs for me always come from personal spaces, but these songs have more of a personal edge to them. It was a fun record. Some friends of mine and I sat down and recorded it. We played the whole record live, basically, in a studio in Minneapolis, and I was pretty thrilled with the way it turned out. It has a real live and spontaneous feel to it. There’s more improvisational moments on this record than I’ve never had on any other record before, and I’m happy with that.