The Parker Wheeler Blues Band

The Parker Wheeler Blues Band
LIVE at the Press Room

By Lady K
March 2012

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Portsmouth, NH, February 4, 2012

The show at the Press Room on Saturday night should more realistically have been advertised as Parker Wheeler and Friends, rather than the Parker Wheeler Blues Band, because Parker doesn’t really have a set group of musicians that he plays out with all of the time. His “band” encompasses pretty much all of the terrific blues musicians in New England. When Parker has a gig, he reaches out to those musicians and puts together a blues band. He’s been doing it that way every Sunday evening for 21+ years at the Grog in Newburyport – a different band every week. It works for Parker Wheeler, works for his fans, for the Press Room or any other venue, and works sublimely for blues music. On Saturday night with Parker Wheeler (harmonica and lead vocals), the band included: Chris Stovall Brown (lead guitar, lead vocals, and occasional 2nd harp); Bob Vabulas (bass) and Steve Chaggaris (drums).

The enthusiastic crowd was dazzled by the variety of blues tunes emanating from the stage - when a band includes two lead vocalists, one an amazing blues harp-man, and the other a killer electric blues guitarist, things can get crazy up there (good crazy, for sure). On Saturday nigh. the lead vocalist tended to be whoever was the first to shout out the name of a tune, or a key, or a tempo, while the “other lead guy” focused on his instrument of choice, in kick-ass accompaniment to the vocalist. For example, Tyrone Davis’ “Can I Change My Mind” was one of the tunes that Chris took lead vocals on, and Parker focused on the harp. Toward the end of the tune, Chris kicked up the tempo and added about 20 seconds of lyrics from “I’m A Girl Watcher” – totally out of context, but totally fun. Delbert McClinton’s “Wild Cherry” was another of Chris’ choices; and his “Hound Dog” (including a bass solo from Bob) was definitely not Elvis’ more famous hip-shakin’, wailin’ tune, but the original bluesy Leiber and Stoller version.

Lead vocals changed with almost every tune, and Parker took over on Little Walter’s slow blues “Last Night I Lost the Best Friend I Ever Had,” with Chris’ guitar solo adding to the plaintive tune. While Chris played some very Delta-ish slide guitar, Parker vocalized on Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me to Do?” – giving their version a distinctive NOLA rhythm. “Mountain of Love” also had a bluesy, Delta feel; perhaps because Parker and Chris both played harp in places – the harmonica duet was a lovely surprise.

Lady K spent HOURS researching one of the numbers that Chris performed, because she didn’t recognize the lyrics, but wanted to mention it here. Evidently the tune is one that Chris wrote, or he ad-libbed lyrics (which he seems to do often and well); search engines had no answers. So, with the band playing a slow-blues number and Chris on vocals, the first half of the tune was a goodbye to an errant lover. The second half was Chris performing guitar solos as B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix and Muddy Waters. With the crowd into it and roaring, Chris segued into Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” for a bit, and then he tossed in a verse or two of “Wang Dang Doodle.” Lady K decided it didn’t really matter how the tune began, it was fun to witness the progression!

Parker led the way into the break with “Sweet Home Chicago,” and was joined by Chris – also on harp – in a terrific and unique rendition of the (maybe) Robert Johnson tune.

The zaniness continued during the break, when Chris and Parker found a set list left behind by the band that played the room the night before – an instrumental, surf-music type band. On the spot, they decided to play some of the tunes from that set list!! (Really, dudes? Surf music?) It wasn’t as scary as it could have been. The guys began the second set with the Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run,” re-introduced Parker, and brought him back to the stage, and then the second tune from that other band’s set-list had Chris vocalizing to “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.”

Parker mesmerized the crowd with Paul Butterfield’s slow-blues “Got a Mind to Give Up Living” (one of Lady K’s favorite tunes), and later “Tobacco Road,” written by John Loudermilk and recorded by everyone from the Animals to Lou Rawls; Parker made it special, as he does with every tune, putting his heart and soul into every harp-note – always.

Chris livened up the room with Howlin’ Wolf‘s “Shake Like a Willow Tree,” and later calmed things down a bit with Ray Charles’ “Don’t Need No Doctor To Tell Me About the Shape I’m In.” He also doctored up “Some Kind of Wonderful,” adding a life-lesson soliloquy loosely entitled “I Smell a Rat.” (Yeah, you had to be there – Chris Stovall Brown is a gifted vocalist, guitarist, AND comedian!!!!)

Both Chris and Parker exhibited genius-quality in their choice of tunes, including many, many oldies that grazed the memory with nearly forgotten names and faces. Anyone remember where they were or what (or who) they were doing when the Yardbirds sang “Come Back Baby; I Wish You Would”? That was just one more thought/memory-provoking tune from Saturday’s chock-full-of-blues-fest.

Bob Vabulas and Steve Chaggaris got plenty of mention, and plenty of opportunities to show what they can do; ESPECIALLY since the sax-dude was a no-show. When Parker and the band wound the evening up with a rousing Muddy Waters’ “Got My Mojo Working,” it was packed so full of energy that it was hard to accept the evening was over.

Come back again soon, Parker, and bring your friends.

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