About The Artist
Herschel Parker was born in Daisy, Arkansas. He got to liking music when he was about ten years old - his father had an old guitar that Herschel picked up and learned to play. It wasn't just a passing interest in music either.
It was during this time in high school in Kirby, a town about 45 miles southwest of Hot Springs and about fifteen miles from Delight (home to a couple of other famous country music legends). He made regular appearances on a radio show that was recorded on Thursday nights after the movie at the theater in Amity, which was just a few miles east of Kirby.
His very first public appearance was at an amateur show over in Amity, Arkansas that aired over KTHS out of Hot Springs. Master of Ceremonies at that show was a well-known star in his own right, Lost John Miller. From that experience, he got a lot of encouragement from Lost John to persevere. And so he did.
Herschel was elected president of the student body in his senior year of high school in Kirby, Arkansas. After graduation, he moved to Fort Smith and lived with his uncle and grandmother. He got a job working at a gas station, pumping gas and washing cars. He considered this a bit better than the work he may have found back home, in logging or pulp wood. After working at the gas station, he started doing jobs such as mowing lawns and carparentry job. The money he got from those jobs, he saved so he could enroll at the Draughn business college on Garrison Avenue.
At lunch one day, he met with Lost John Miller, who he knew from his days at KTHS. Lost John was with George Domerese who worked for KWHN at the time. Lost John told Herschel he was now working out of Nashville, as a booking agent for entertainers from the WSM Grand Ole Opry. The conversation with Herschel got George's attention and got him a spot on "The Radio Center Saturday Night Jamboree". At the time, he was working on a 12:30pm Saturday afternoon show with the Flannagan band. The Jamboree show as you might expect was a bit like the Louisiana Hayride show.
Herschel recalls some of the other performers who were a part of that show back then for us. Larry Morton, played guitar then and was later with the "Nashville Brass". Ann (White) Morton, was a singer and songwriter and became part of a publishing company in Nashville and may currently be in Branson, Missouri. Jimmy Helms was a part of the show and later worked for the WIlburn Brothers, Sure-Fire Music and the Wil-Helm Productions group in Nashville that was owned by the Wilburns and Hank Williams' steel guitar player, Don Helms. Jim (White) Monday was a singer on the show and later did several commercials for General Motors.
If that wasn't enough, Herschel was on Brother Bob's Auction Party TV show on Channel 8 in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Thursday nights.
It was at the Radio Center show that he met up with a steel guitar player that would turn into a life long friendship. Jerry was just 16 at the time and playing in the staff band with a double-neck Fender steel guitar. Herschel asked Jerry if he could kick off a tune called "Blue Darling". Jerry answered confidentially, "If you can sing it, I can play it." A little cockiness on both parts perhaps, but they've known each other for over fifty years now, managing to keep in touch and playing in bands together over the years.
The Melody Trails article mentions Herschel played a Gibson guitar back then and enjoyed the rhythm of the new rock and roll songs. But when he would sing, he'd more often than not sing a sentimental ballad.
The article about the youngster Herschel Parker in his fan club newsletter was typical of how Ernest would lend a hand to the younger singers back then - encouraging them, giving them some exposure, whether it be in his newsletter, or working the show with him when he was in the area or having them appear on the Grand Ole Opry. Ernest Tubb's legacy goes beyond his music - he always had time for the next generation.
In 1960, Herschel recorded a song he wrote, "I Can't Go Home Tonight" in Oklahoma City with a band called the Benny Ketchum Band. The tune was released on a local record label, UBC Records. The label had no distribution arrangements. But that didn't deter this singer. Herschel and Harold Flanagan, who was working at KTCS radio, compiled a list of country music stations across the country. The two of them and others managed to mail out just about all of the records. That effort led to quite a bit of radio play and it paid off the record made the national charts in three music magazines, Billboard, Cash Box and Music Vendor, climbing as high as No. 63.
Herschel was quite busy during this time, making appearances on various live radio and television shows on KFSA, KWHN and KTCS as well as KFSA-TV, channel 22 in Fort Smith and KVOO-TV, channel 8 in Tulsa (Brother Bob's Auction Party).
Herschel had the pleasure of being interviewed by WSM's famed disc jockey, Ralph Emery a couple of times. He also as you might expect appeared on Ernest Tubb's Midnight Jamboree show. It was during a visit to a DJ convention show and again, Herschel made an impression with the people he met. This time, he met up with Ernest's steel guitar player back then, Buddy Emmons, during a jam session. Buddy asked Herschel if he'd like to appear on the Midnight Jamboree show that night and don't think Herschel even thought twice about that one. The song he did that night was the old Ray Price hit, "Heartaches By The Number".
Herschel continued his musical career efforts over the years, fronting some shows for Charlie Rich at one time. But eventually quit the business.
But the musical itch stayed with him. Eventually, he started writing songs again and rekindled his career. In 1975, at the centennial celebration of Judge Isaac C. Parker's arrival in Forth Smith, Herschel sang a song he had written, "The Ballad of Judge Parker." At that time, a play was being staged in Judge Parker's courtroom at the National Historic Site that involved about 25 people in a production of a trial and conviction of Cherokee Bill. The play was presented several times in a day and at the end of each presentation, Herschel would stroll through the crowd singing "The Ballad of Judge Parker".
A year later, he released a recording of that ballad and the flip side included another of his self-penned tunes, "Mama". The song got a lot of local air play and even in other regional areas such as Tulsa, Dallas, Houston and Little Rock, but again, the label that released the tune had no national distribution.
But enough of about Herschel way back when. Let's take a look at what he's been up to today. Scott Smith of the Times Record in Fort Smith, Arkansas was kind enough to send us a recent feature article on Herschel.
Melodies and History
By Scott Smith, The Times Record
Used by permission
"Sixty-eight birthdays have failed to slow down Herschel Parkerís hands, vocals and mind.
His well-worn ó but perfect-sounding ó Alvarez acoustic guitar seemingly is surgically attached to the singer-songwriterís tall, trim body. With ease, Parker is churning out country and folk-tinged songs with passion.
And heís using a unique approach by focusing about half of his creativity on historical area figures, such as Judge Isaac C. Parker, U.S. Marshals Bass Reeves and H.D. Fannin and others. Well-known by many area residents and historical scholars, these characters, although dead for decades, walk, talk, ride horses and occasionally fight throughout Parkerís painting-like lyrics, melodies and themes.
"I guess that itís a little more difficult writing songs about historical figures in this area than writing other songs," Parker said in his homemade studio, which is home for framed photographs of the bands heís performed in over the years, as well as his trusty four-channel recorder-mixer and a lone Shure microphone.
A rancher who retired from Anderson-Martin Machine Co. in 2001, Parker is promoting his new compact disc, "A Time in History," which boasts six of Parkerís originals that are joined by narration by Sebastian County Circuit Judge Jim Spears. Recorded with Spears and fellow friends Ray Keck, Hank McMurtery Jr. and Jerry Roller Sr. at Hanksterís Recording Studio in Barling, the disc features what Parker calls "story songs." The tracks arenít 2-minute, made-for-radio ditties; Parker is proud that they are meant to stir the listenerís imagination in a deeper, longer-lasting manner.
"I guess some might think these songs are long, but you have to tell a story," he said. "There are details in there."
One of the new CDís songs, "Ballad of Judge Parker," first was recorded by Parker, Roller Sr., Rick Young, George Williams and Robin Bryan in 1976. The song was released then as a 45 rpm single on the Americountry label. Parker admires the first version but exhibits an equal amount of affection for the new version.
"I donít really think itís country music as people would think, and itís more like folk country music, but not hillbilly," he said with a laugh. "I call it historical music."
Parker also laughs about the time he and other musicians recorded another original composition, "I Canít Go Home Tonight," in the early 1960s. Lacking a distribution deal but overflowing in the determination department, Parker and his cohorts personally mailed out 45 rpm records of the song to country radio stations across the nation.
"I got a list of those stations, and we had 1,500 copies, and we mailed those records until we ran out," he said. "Strangely, the song got to No. 63 on the charts. Billboard Magazine, Cash Box and Music Vendor were the three publications that showed it. We thought it was funny because we were the ones who distributed those records."
One of the songs on the new disc, "A Marshalís Song (H.D. Fannin vs. Jason Labreu)," was featured on a new DVD video, "U.S. Marshals ó 200 Years of Grit," which was assembled by area city officials and civic leaders and shown while Washington officials visited Fort Smith. The city was named one of several potential sites for the U.S. Marshal Museum, Parker said. Federal officials could decide on the museumís location by spring, he said.
"Yeah, ĎA Marshalís Songí is a song about a marshal hunting down someone, and when I performed that for the federal officials, they seemed to like it," Parker said.
"But itís important that all of these stories in the music are true," he added. "(Fort Smith Historic Site officials) told me that people want facts, and you donít have to use your imagination when writing because thereís plenty of great true stories here."
Researching historical figures is much more complex and time-consuming than simply making rhymes for fiction-based songs ó Parker constantly is digging deep into S.W. Harmanís "Hell on the Border" book for inspiration and fact-checking. But Parker said he loves to methodically assemble a musical story of the past.
"Iíd say I work in my studio area here twice a week, but not for a really long time in one setting," he said. "But I do have to write it down so I donít forget the idea. It usually comes late in the afternoon."
Parker, who performs with groups in Barling and West Fork on occasion, said many, but not all, of his ideas are grade-A keepers.
"When I write something, Iíll record it and then take a look and listen about a week later," he admitted. "That way, youíre not so close to it when you listen again. It might sound great at the time, but when you listen to it again, it might not. If you can hit it cold later, and it still sounds good, then you have something to keep."
About 60 songs have landed on the to-keep list, while fragments of melodies and the stray verse still linger in Parkerís head, waiting to escape onto Parkerís note pad.
"What I would really like to do is keep writing, and write for other singers," said Parker, who with his wife, Dorothy, has five children and six grandchildren. "When I was younger, of course I wanted to hold onto the songs. But Iíd rather write than get on the road and travel with a band. Thatís not really my thing."
Parker said heíd enter Nashvilleís elite songwriting circle in a single drumbeat, but heíd do so on his own terms.
"I wouldnít move there because I love this area so much," said Parker, who grew up in Kirby near Hot Springs. "I want to continue to live in this area. I love the scenery and the people around here. I donít want to live anywhere else."
Asked if Parker is related to Fort Smithís famous "hanging judge," he paused before smiling.
"That, I donít really know," he said while smiling. "So far, I donít think so."
A 1976 article in Country Music Digest out of Nashville, Tennessee comments on the popularity of the tune, "Judge Parker" by Herschel at the time. The article author, John Reed, mentions that he had been driving around Oklahoma and Arkansas and kept hearing this tune over and over. He described it as a good record about the famous "hanging judge" and noted that Herschel "...has a Great Commercial voice that make you listen close to this well written story..." He went on to say that the flip side of that une, "Mama", sounded like someone who "...could be the next Merle Haggard."
That record was on the Americountry Records label. That label was owned by Doyle wilburn and Jimmie Helms. Mr. Reed goes on to note that the record company thought highly of the song as it fit a bit into the country's Bicentennial celebration and mood of that time.
Herschel spent 46 years with the Anderson-Martin Machine Co. He has been married to his wife, Dorothy, for 26 years. He has two sons from a previous marriage, Dorothy has three sons. Between the two of them, they have six grandchildren. They also have a small cattle operation south of Hackett, Arkansas that keeps them busy in their 'spare time'.
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