Veteran blues guitarist Walter Parks has built an international career as the lead guitarist for Woodstock legend Richie Havens, half of the folk-duo the Nudes, and leader of the southern swamp-blues group Swamp Cabbage. After thirty years in the music industry, he marked his debut as a solo artist with the release of his self-titled album in December 2011.
Inspired by the swampy gospel blues that wails from storefront churches and roadhouses in and around the southeast Georgia low country, Parks’ album is full of boot-stomping, guitar-strumming tunes that explore matters of the soul and spirit, built upon a foundation of jazz and folk.
At the insistence of his parents that he have a more stable career to fall back on, he later moved to Athens, GA to study Business Management at the University of Georgia. During summers off from school, he played with a jazz trio called Cloudburst, influenced by John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra and The Tony Williams Lifetime.
Parks withdrew from business school in 1979, one year short of graduation, but the time he spent there both inspired and solidified his decision to pursue a career as a guitarist. “As a college student I had the opportunity to play Duane Allman’s 1959 sunburst Gibson Les Paul, which at the time was in possession of Dixie Dregs road manager Twiggs Lyndon. I still feel the power and magic of that cherished guitar, which is now on display in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
In the early 1980’s, Parks returned to his hometown, forming and performing in bands, while opening a clothing store in Neptune Beach, Florida — which required quarterly buying trips to New York. He became magnetized by New York’s pace and serious music scene, aspiring to someday live there and showcase his own material. Then, in 1989, with his electric rock trio Dear John, he made the move to New York.
By 1991, he switched gears, forming an acoustic duo called The Nudes with cellist Stephanie Winters. They enjoyed a successful career touring U.S. colleges and folk festivals, and for a time, served as Richie Havens support act.
Searching for a new perspective, in 1999 Parks traveled to Plum Village, Tich Nat Han’s Buddhist monastery in southwest France. Allowing himself time to reboot and reflect, he reverently refers to the adventure as “the best vacation I’ve ever taken. I was living amidst unparalleled beauty, in complete tranquility, with plenty of time to listen to my life.”
With a renewed appreciation for his own line of work, Parks returned to New York in 2000 and the following year was asked to join Richie Havens’ trio. “To have accompanied Richie Havens from 2001-2011 and hear his wonderful voice by his side on stages all over the world was incomparable honor,” said Parks.
Concurrently — because Havens performed mostly on the weekends — Parks formed Swamp Cabbage in New York, with ample time during days off to develop their sound and repertoire. “During our first eight years, I turned down many festival offers because I gladly prioritized my work as Richie’s sideman,” said Parks. “Whereas, Swamp Cabbage is only now just beginning to tour extensively, and I’m proud to say that we used the first ten years wisely and meticulously crafted two fine analog recordings–Honk and Squeal.”
Weaving a range of influences — from folk to blues to rock — Parks’ various music projects express both his diverse background as a musician and balance distinct parts of his personality. “I’m as comfortable with rural culture as I am with so called “high society.” I enjoy doing construction, chatting with locals and driving my Ford F-150 through the Georgia back woods, but I also frequent New York art museums,” he said.
The underlying theme in all of Parks’ work is his dedication to the songs and to the instruments he plays; something that’s palpable in every track on Walter Parks. Recorded at Kaleidoscope Sound — a former sewing factory turned recording studio in New Jersey — by Salvatore Mormando (Richie Havens, Patti Smith), and mixed by James DeVito (JJ Grey/MOFRO, Donovan Frankenreiter) at Retrophonics in St. Augustine, FL, Walter Parks is an exquisite Americana soundtrack that explores the frontier of the modern human spirit in search of a place where it can flourish.