Ken Parker – Here Comes Ken ParkerKen Parker: Here Comes Ken Parker – album review

Doctor Bird

CD | DL

Released 11th February 2022

Reissue of singer Ken Parker’s popular 1974 album, released in the UK on Trojan Records under the title Jimmy Brown. The bonuses attached to this disc round up all of Ken’s work at Treasure Isle and also included is an in-depth look at Hopeton Lewis’ time with Duke Reid too. Ian Canty noses in…

The church would feature heavily in the life and singing development of Ken Farquharson aka Ken Parker. Born in Darliston, Westmoreland on 23rd February 1948, he was christened at the place of worship where his father was the minister. Young Ken first sang in the choir there and later joined The Youth Corps, who travelled around locally to perform. By the middle of the 1960s he was part of a trio called The Blues Blenders and they made their first studio visit to cut the song Honeymoon By The Sea. This session was overseen by a Mr Anderson, who dabbled in music from his electrical store in Kingston. The band later recorded for King Edwards’ on Rio Records towards the end of the ska era.

An audition for Studio One took an unexpected turn when only Parker turned up. Lee Perry was Coxsone Dodd’s right hand man at the time, and when he heard the young man sing right away he picked out Ken’s vocal talents as something Studio One could use. Ken began by backing to Derrick Morgan on It’s Alright and Gather To Gather Now singles in 1966, with the name The Blues Blenders still being used. Eventually he started out on his own with some gospel-based releases. Also knocking out the odd secular disc, in the rocksteady era he crossed over to Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle to cut the excellent True, True, True single. He worked with Reid intermittently right up to 1974, when Here Come Ken Parker was released.

On the LP he is backed by the assured talents of crack studio outfit Tommy McCook & The Supersonics, which along with the recording set up of Treasure Isle offered the perfect platform for any vocalist to shine. The first nine tracks on this disc are effectively the Here Comes Ken Parker album, with the omission of the three Supersonics’ cuts Soul Serenade, The Reggae and Inez, that were included to bump up the running time (a common practice on the Kingston music scene). What is left is a basically a greatest hits style collection, with a range of Ken’s single sides from 1968 to 1973.

This album begins with the cool, lilting version of Kiss An Angel Good Morning, originally cut by country singer Charlie Pride and a recent single success for Parker. Then comes the gospel-flavoured Jimmy Brown, which hit number one in the Jamaican charts. Ken’s own I Can’t Hide was cut in the boss reggae year of 1969 and is both joyous and danceable. Mother’s Eyes and Sincerely, with the latter a duet with Dorothy Russell, are both self-penned and attest to his talents in writing catchy and entrancing material as well as singing.

The well-known Kris Kristofferson number Help Me Make It Through The Night is given a smooth reggae makeover next, before True, True, True, simply an absolute classic. Ken’s confident, cool voice shapes up as the ideal complement to the prime rocksteady rhythm. The final two offerings on Here Comes Ken Parker are 1972’s I Catch Myself Crying, which has a very r&b flavour to its delivery, and the beguiling of I Should Have Known.

In addition to the LP, there are three Ken Parker bonus items. Guilty Inside and Groovin’ In Style both were taped in 1971, the former has a good driving rhythm making it nicely upbeat and a lovely, delicate vocal marks the latter. The rude Sugar Pantie, which brings to an end his tracks on this disc, may have seemed atypical for Ken subject-wise. But it is blessed with an original beat dance rhythm and his assured, soulful delivery.

Although I was pleased to finally lay hands on a Ken Parker collection, having enjoyed his contributions to various artist compilations over the years, his Treasure Isle recordings only amount to the 12 tunes contained here. This is because Ken recorded sparingly, using an in-built quality control that meant he only visited the studio when he considered he had something new to offer.

In order to beef up this slim but valuable archive, Doctor Bird have elected to bulk up this disc with Hopeton Lewis’ Treasure Isle work. A talented singer, writer and arranger, he had a similar career arc to Ken, moving from reggae to gospel musically and from Jamaica to the USA physically. He was a fellow Westmorelander too, being born there on 3rd October 1947. It does kind of make sense putting their Treasure Isle recordings on one collection and their work does not jar at all set against each other.

Hopeton’s section of the disc begins Boys And Girls Reggae, a busy duet undertaken with the great Phillis Dillon. Later on the disc a lovely Get On The Right Track and Take My Heart prove beyond doubt the duo’s real chemistry on disc. Lewis’ brilliant 1970 solo effort Boom Shacka Lacka, which was a massive and deserved hit single, is truly wonderful. Live It Up, a solid original reggae groover from around the same time, is cut on the famous Ali Baba rhythm and There She Goes comes with a jumping and infectious tune. 1971’s (Respect) To The Other Man chugs along neatly and lyrically is a bit like an anti-Rude Boys record of four years beforehand. Then a gentle She’s Gone takes us right back to the height of rocksteady, with the following Testify also a top quality soulful reggae slowie.

Two of the DJ cuts featuring U-Roy, Tom Drunk and Drive Her Home, also crop up on the recent collection by the toaster (reviewed here). Hopeton also teams up well with Dennis Alcapone on a wild Judgement Day and pairs with Lord Comic on Black Power (take 1). Super Soul find Lewis in full-on James Brown mode, with only the backbeat really having a sliver of reggae. It gives us a nice change of pace and I Must Tame You has a tinge of the gospel influence that ran deep with Hopeton. On boss reggae dance tune Sexy Woman he is backed by The Sexy Girls, which appears to be a pseudonym for The Soul Sisters (Wreck A Buddy). Then comes Peace To You Brother, Peace To You Sister, an up-tempo example of his socially conscious material. An ebullient 1968 version of Ride Me Donkey, also cut by The Tenors, bring us to the final strait of what is a very satisfying selection of Hopeton Lewis’ best.

The only negative things about this set, one that pairs two consummate reggae singers, I can think of are as follows. Firstly, it might have been better to include the three recordings taken off the Here Comes Ken Parker LP for the sake of authenticity and secondly, Hopeton Lewis should have been jointly credited here, given the fact he takes up the majority of the running time. Otherwise you can just sit back and drink in what is the sound of two masters at work. The many aces in their Treasure Isle back catalogues offer the listener a constant source of invention and delight.

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All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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