Little Junior Parker
Little Junior Parker, one of the most outstanding blues singers of the 1950s and ‘60s, was born on a plantation near Bobo on March 27, 1932. As a youngster Parker moved with his mother to West Memphis, and he recorded his first hit, “Feelin’ Good,” for Sun Records in Memphis in 1953. His many later hits included “Driving Wheel,” “Next Time You See Me,” “In the Dark,” and “Sweet Home Chicago.” Parker died in Blue Island, Illinois, on November 18, 1971.
Junior Parker once ranked with B. B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and Little Milton as top blues stars of the African American “chitlin circuit.” He also had many white admirers, including Elvis Presley, who recorded Parker’s “Mystery Train” for Sun Records. Parker’s singing resonated with warmth and elegance, and he played harmonica in a similarly mellow style. He began singing at the Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Bobo and spent much of his childhood at his grandfather’s twelve-room house here. His main influence on harmonica was Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2 (Rice Miller), whose “King Biscuit Time” radio broadcasts from Helena, Arkansas, could be heard in Bobo. After Parker moved to West Memphis at age twelve, he worked with Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf, as well as with a circle of young performers including Bobby Bland, Johnny Ace, brothers Matt and Floyd Murphy, Pat Hare, and Earl Forest.
Parker made his first records for the Modern and Sun labels but enjoyed his greatest success during his 1953-1966 stint with Duke Records and its associated Buffalo Booking Agency in Houston, Texas. Parker toured the country with Bland serving as his valet at first and later assuming a co-starring role in a “Blues Consolidated” package show. With the profits from his records and tours Parker was able to buy homes in Houston and later in Chicago. During his final years he continued to produce hits, the last of which, “Drowning on Dry Land” on the Capitol label, made the charts in 1971, the same year he died of a brain tumor at the age of 39. He always used Herman Parker, Jr., as his legal name, but on his Mississippi birth certificate his name is entered as Herbert Parker. He was elected to the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001.
Bobo has also been home to blues artists Joe Willie Wilkins, Joe Cole, and C. V. Veal. Many performers, most notably Robert “Bilbo” Walker, have also played at various country stores once located in Bobo. Wilkins (1923-1979) was born in nearby Davenport but raised here. One of the most highly regarded of the early electric guitarists in the Delta, with admirers including B. B. King, Muddy Waters, and Little Milton, Wilkins spent most of his career as a sideman and was best known for his work with Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2. As a teenager living in Bobo, he played with a group of older bluesmen including guitarists Frank Wilkins (his father) and Bob Williams, fiddler Sam Harris, and accordionist Walter “Pat” Rhodes, who was one of the first Delta blues artists to record (for Columbia in 1927). Alabama-born guitarist Joe Cole (1921-2005) moved to Bobo in 1953 and worked here as a tractor mechanic. He often played country jukes in the area and was renowned for one song in particular, “Feather Bed.” C. V. Veal, a longtime fixture on the Clarksdale music scene as a drummer, emcee, and blues and gospel singer, was born in Bobo on October 4, 1926. He recalled that Junior Parker would entertain locals as a youngster here.
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