Little Junior Parker’s Blue Flames, The Complete Sun Recordings

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

The funeral train was a standing motif in southern blues and country before there was even a recording industry to document it — but Parker's "Mystery Train," a song in which the title phrase never appeared, certainly upped the ante. The rhythm was somehow propulsive and easy-going simultaneously, the sax made a train whistle sound ominous, and Junior's high tenor conveyed equal amounts of sorrow and acceptance. That was his second Sun single, later made famous by Elvis, and its lack of a hook doomed it commercially. His first, "Feelin 'Good," had been a driving, one-chord boogie a la John Lee Hooker, introduced by Floyd Murphy's stinging guitar. Not only was it a #5 R&B hit in 1953, its rhythm and melody were so irresistible that Junior recycled them, with less success, for both "Feel So Bad" and "Sittin 'at the Bar."

Sun’s bluesy big-city crooner could also get down and dirty.

Ironically, while Parker considered himself a smooth, big-city crooner in the Roy Brown vein, his two best records for Sun — two of the best in the label's whole blues catalogue, in fact — were as country and earthy as the Delta itself. The swinging "Sittin 'at My Window," based on B.B. King's "Woke Up This Morning," doubtless better represents the way Junior saw himself, yet he was nothing if not resourceful and versatile; "Love My Baby," with its twangy guitar lines, verges on rockabilly