A self-confessed failure (and modest to a fault), Minnesota’s Charlie Parr is nonetheless stubborn enough not to quit. Parr released his first recording, Criminals & Sinners, to mild local acclaim in 2001. In any case, since that first recording, Charlie Parr has managed to release seven additional raw, lo-fi albums right up to the latest, When the Devil Goes Blind and perhaps his best-known, 1922. His newest batch of recordings is entitled Barnswallow, set to be released in 2012.
He has achieved a remarkable amount of success for a folk-singer and songwriter of his untrained abilities. This is surely attributable to Charlie’s all-encompassing and encyclopaedic knowledge of the American folk, country and blues cannon, and much admired guitar playing, ranging across a self-taught mix of slide, finger-picking and quasi-frailing technique and played on National resonator guitar, 12-string and banjo.
He’s traveled throughout the US, Australia, the UK and Europe playing everywhere from fancy theatres to punk rock dives where the toilet seats are always missing. Folks seem to like him just fine, in spite of his less than heroic efforts at self-promotion, etiquette or hygiene.
Parr seems to be comfortable only when playing his guitar or sitting quietly staring into space. This all started 37 years ago when Charlie’s Dad traded a perfectly good Johnson 9.9 outboard motor for a guitar in an effort to engage the boy in some constructive activity. Taken with his Dad’s record collection, Charlie set out to teach himself how to play and as a life-long learner continues in this vein. Songs trickle out here and there, influenced by everything from the weather to poverty and loneliness and the sounds of Bukka White and Spider John Koerner.
These days Charlie Parr travels more than ever, cooking modest meals on the exhaust manifold of his mini-van and sleeping in rest areas, listening to digitised blues records from the 1920s and overcoming personal demons.
He’s still as stubborn, bull-headed and obstinate as he was at seven years of age, wrestling with a Gibson 12-string and fishing from the dock.
There may be hope for us all.