TGS PLAYER SPOTLIGHT - PETER PARCEK


Peter Parcek Spotlight


"The Mathematics of Love" from his CD The Mathematics of Love
TGS Spotlight Player from June 3, 2010

There’s a Zen koan that says the universe can be found in a single blade of grass. So it is with Peter Parcek’s guitar playing.


Peter’s daring, incendiary, and soulful style — the heartbeat that drives his national debut, The Mathematics of Love — is a distinctive hybrid. He weaves threads of rock, jazz, country, folk, blues — especially blues — and more into a rich tapestry of melody, harmony and daredevil solo excursions that push all of those styles to their limits without sacrificing an iota of the warmth that emanates from Peter’s own personality.


Peter calls his approach "soul guitar," an appellation that alludes to his playing’s depth of feeling and character, as well as its deepest roots in classic American music. But Peter’s sensibilities are equally attuned to the future. All of that’s abundantly obvious in The Mathematics of Love’s 10 smartly woven songs.


They range from the elegant textural blues of the title track, which features Peter on electric lead and rhythm guitar, slide and National steel resonator guitars, to the loop-based spiritual "Lord Help the Poor and Needy," a cutting-edge update of a Mississippi hill country classic by the legendary Jessie Mae Hemphill.


Humor is also part of the album’s equation, thanks to the blithely comic instrumental "Rollin’ with Zah." And there’s a version of Ray Charles’ "Busted" that starts in Soulsville and finishes just a little west of Mars thanks to a psychedelic excursion led by Peter and his guest organist, rock ‘n’ roll legend Al Kooper.


"My first album was called Evolution, but this album really is an evolution for me," Peter explains. “It’s the most focused, emotionally complex and complete artistic statement I’ve made under my own name.


"Over the last few years I’ve gotten very enamored of gypsy jazz, especially the music of Django Reinhardt as well as contemporary masters like Bireli Legrene and Tchavolo Schmitt, and it’s had a profound influence. Django’s performances are breathtakingly beautifully and technically demanding. I’ve really been taken with the purity of his acoustic guitar sound, and he played electric with such abandon. His music is very much alive and creative, so I also tried to bring those qualities to The Mathematic of Love."


And Peter succeeded. The acoustic and electric blend of numbers like "The Mathematics of Love" and "Kokomo Me Baby" create their own vibrant world. Of course, he had some help in the studio. Besides Kooper, he was joined by the crack rhythm team of drummer Steve Scully and bassist Marc Hickox — veterans of Peter’s band and fellow members of the international pop-rock group The Singhs, where Peter plays guitar foil to frontman/leader Miki Singh.


Mandolin virtuoso Jimmy Ryan, violinist Dan Kellar and upright bass kingpin Marty Ballou also joined Peter’s musical cast. Ducky Carlisle (Susan Tedeschi, Nora Jones) and Tom Dube (Richard Thompson, Los Lobos) engineered. Ted Drozdowski, best known as slide guitarist/frontman of cutting-edge juke blues outfit Scissormen and for his award-winning journalism, produced.


The inspirations for some of Peter’s numbers, like the antic "Rollin’ with Zah," spring from his childhood. He was born in Middletown, Connecticut, a once-thriving industrial burg along the state’s namesake river. His parents encouraged him to sing and bought his first guitar with S&H Green Stamps, while his uncle’s record collection exposed him to the delights of rhythm & blues.


Peter’s journey as a musician began when the Vietnam War erupted and he graduated high school. With the blessings of his mother and the help of a family friend, he relocated to London, England, to avoid the draft and found himself in the thick of the British blues explosion.


"I got real lucky," he recounts. "Whenever I could afford it or sneak in, I could see Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Peter Green in clubs, as well as many other great guitarists who were on the scene, but never made it big. I became a Peter Green fanatic. He was fiery and intense and yet had a very spiritual dynamic to his playing and personality. He played things I’d only dreamed about." Among Peter’s new recordings is an incendiary live-in-the-studio tear-it-up of Green’s "Show Biz Blues," which debuted on Fleetwood Mac’s 1969’s classic, Then Play On.


Daunted by the six-string virtuosity on display all around him, Peter put down his guitar to sing and blow harmonica and joined a band, playing rooms like the famed Marquee Club — one night on a bill with Pink Floyd. But fate intervened. He was returned to the States for lack of a British work permit.


Once back in Middletown, Peter began witnessing great American blues artists in concert: Skip James, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy. "I would sit as close as possible so I could see exactly what they were doing on the guitar," he remembers. "It was an amazing education."


Decades later, he would receive a superlative from Guy. "I met some people who knew Buddy and took me to his dressing room after a show," Peter says. "I felt a little out of place, because I didn’t really know anybody. So out of nervousness, I guess, I just absent-mindedly picked up one of Buddy’s guitars, unplugged, and started playing. After a while I realized the room was quiet and I looked up, and Buddy was watching me with his finger pressed to his lips for silence.


‘You’re as bad as Eric Clapton,’ Guy remarked. ‘And I know Eric Clapton.’”


Peter, who is remarkably modest about his virtuosity, says he didn’t get serious about his instrument until he moved to Massachusetts. "That’s when I developed from a guitar owner to a guitar player, by practicing eight to 10 hours a day," he explains.


Between jobs as a school counselor and instrument salesman, Peter joined his first serious band, Boston’s Nine Below Zero. Their visceral take on classic and original blues won them regional acclaim and led to Peter playing on recordings for the piano legend Pinetop Perkins and a stint as Perkins’ touring bandleader.


"It was an amazing time," Peter relates, "and it inspired me to take the reins of my own music and form a band."


Today Peter is one of the most respected instrumentalists in New England, although since joining The Singhs six years ago his reputation has begun to spread to Europe and Asia as well.


“Playing in The Singhs has been a remarkable experience,” says Peter. “We’ve made four albums and performed in some of the most beautiful parts of Europe and Asia, with a team of talented musicians who know few creative boundaries. I’m especially moved by the experience of having played in Kashmir with Miki Singh as a duo in a concert for peace. Playing for a higher purpose in a place so torn by conflict truly meant something to the people we played for.”


In 2000 Peter made his first solo album, Evolution (Lightning Records), a collection of originals and re-interpretations of classics by Freddie King and Mose Allison. That disc also boasts appearances by Kooper and blues guitar giant Ronnie Earl. The Mathematics of Love’s A remixed version of “New Year’s Eve,” featuring Earl, comes from that album, which Peter sold at gigs and on his web site, and is now out of print.


In 2002, Peter’s trio won the Boston Blues Society’s annual challenge and represented the city at the International Blues Competition in Memphis. Two years later, he did the same with his duo Forty Four, which has now taken a backseat to the Peter Parcek 3, his current band.


"What I try to bring to any music I play, but especially to blues, is something I learned from Skip James when I saw him perform at Wesleyan University in the ’60s," says Peter. "He played beautifully, with real elegance, and conducted himself in a gentlemanly manner. But people kept talking, so at one point he stopped playing and announced, ‘Mr. Skip would appreciate it if you would stop perambulating when he is expressing.’ And then he left until things quieted down.


"That made something click in me. Skip showed me that it was right to play blues with dignity and style, and to express yourself and conduct yourself as an artist. He obviously put his entire soul into what he was doing on a lot of levels. And that’s what I try to do whenever I pick up a guitar."


Visit Peter Parcek's website at www.peterparcekband.com


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