BOSTON-BASED PETER PARCEK WAS A VIETNAM-ERA DRAFT DODGER WHO FLED TO LONDON
when he was 17. Though his parents were both in the service, the young conscientious
objector’s mother arranged refuge for him across the Pond—right at the height of the British
blues boom. Parcek was singing and playing harmonica at the time, but he had many opportunities
to see Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Peter Green, and other greats up close, and
Green in particular inspired him to take up the guitar. “Peter Green was a foundational artist
to me because of his ability to play, sing, and lead a band with an authenticity that wasn’t borrowed,”
says Parcek. “Some folks kind of take on other’s personas, but he connected with
something really deep and presented it.”
Parcek was forced to return to the U.S.
after being busted for playing in a club
without a permit, but fortunately problems
with his feet resulted in his receiving
a 4-F military deferment. “At that point
I more or less locked myself in a room
and really learned to play guitar,” he says.
“I was also fortunate enough to see and
even meet great American blues artists
such as Albert Collins, Freddie King,
James Cotton, Skip James, and Buddy
Guy during that time.” (Guy told him he
was “as bad as Eric Clapton.”) More
recently, he has immersed himself in the
music of Django Reinhardt.
Traces of all those players and more
are detectable in Parcek’s deeply
informed playing—but the killer tones,
idiosyncratic phrasing, deft slide work,
and truly psychotropic effects showcased
on his latest album, The Mathematics of
Love [Redstar], bear witness to the guitarist’s
own inner authenticity.
Is it fair to say that you have an encyclopedic
knowledge of the blues?
knowledge of the blues?
I’ve studied a huge range of blues
performers, from way back to current
players such as Joe Bonamassa, who I
think is just incredible. The first things
I tried to play were by Muddy Waters
and Howlin’ Wolf, because those were
the first two records I got. The Wolf
record—which mostly featured Willie
Johnson, but probably also some Hubert
Sumlin—made the hairs on my arms
stand up. And Muddy’s “Still a Fool”
made me cry. Then later came B.B. King
with the beauty and precision of his
vibrato, T-Bone, Clapton, Buchanan, on
and on. Peter Green was particularly
inspiring in that he transcended all ethnic
and other boundaries and proved that
if you feel it in your soul you can do it.
Didn’t you actually get to play with Hubert
Yes. My friend David Herwaldt had
a blues show on WGBH in Boston and
he introduced us. Hubert asked me to
jam with him on some acoustic guitars
that were there in the studio, and that’s
when I realized that he has an extra digit
on every one of his fingers. They were
much bigger than mine, and his vibrato
on an acoustic was like mine on an
electric! We got on well and I played a gig
with him a day or so later.
More recently you’ve been getting deeply
into Django Reinhardt. In what ways has that
affected your playing?
Trying to learn some of Django’s
songs has improved my musicianship
tremendously. The music is beautiful,
but also very virtuosic in a way that is
quite daunting and humbling, particularly
considering that I am self-taught.
I’ve gone to the Gypsy jazz festival in
Samois-Sur-Seine a couple of times, and
taken some lessons from a teacher in
France. There’s an emotion in the music
that parallels that of the blues, in that it
is very deep, with a melancholy aspect,
particularly in some of the ballads.
There’s also string-bending and vibrato.
Have you gotten into the complex picking
Yes, some of that, as well as the voicings.
There are some great materials
available now, such as the Stochelo
Rosenberg video set. Just to be able to
see him play up close—it is truly jaw-dropping
stuff. The main point for me
is that music is an infinite search. I want
to constantly keep pushing the limits of
what I’m capable of. Django’s music has
really inspired me in that way.
There ‘s some inspired music and playing
on The Mathematics of Love.
Thanks. I had a lot of help making
that record. Besides all the fantastic
musicians, including Jimmy Ryan and
Al Kooper, I worked with a great production
team. Ted Drozdowski, the
producer, is also a really good slide player,
and the engineer, Ducky Carlisle, plays
guitar too. They helped me go from more
traditional stuff to music that was pretty
far out. I made a record in 2000 [Evolution],
but it was too carefully executed
and clean. I wanted this one to have more
rawness, like you get at a live show.
How did you get the really fat and nasty
rhythm tone on the opening tune, Peter
Green’s “Showbiz Blues”?
Other than the vocal and the bass
in the solo sections, that track is just
[drummer] Steve Scully and myself playing
live, so we knew it had to be huge,
with a lot of low end. Ducky suggested
a combination of two amps, so we used
a Supro Thunderbolt to get that filthy
and sort of floppy bass, and a brown
Fender Deluxe for a tighter and more
singing sound. The guitar was my single-
pickup ’50s Harmony Stratotone,
which has amazing tone. The action is
too high for regular playing, but as a slide
guitar it is unstoppable. It sounds good
plugged into almost anything, but in that
case we wound both amps up to their
limits to get what you might call cinematic
There’s some great layering on the title
track. Describe what’s going on.
On that song I wanted something
haunting and ambient in terms of the
guitar voicings. I used a National Tricone
reissue for the more linear parts,
layered with a Fender 50th Anniversary
Stratocaster played through a Fender
Vibro-King miked from a distance and
a Fender ’63 Vibroverb reissue miked up
close. That Strat has a really good
whammy bar, which I used judiciously
while playing chords with lots of open
strings to get a more spacious sound. I
got the idea for the big fuzz bass sound
from listening to a Neville Brothers
record produced by Daniel Lanois. We
added that filth to the bass and included
lots of room sound on the drums to contrast
with the winsome voice of the
National and the haunting quality of the
How did you create the ambient sound collage
on “Tears Like Diamonds”?
That was done with a Danelectro U2
reissue in an open tuning, addressed
with different implements, often behind
the nut. We recorded individual tracks using things like screwdrivers, a blender, and
a nail. We just layered a bunch of sounds
together and accentuated the ones that
seemed to work best harmonically, then used
that collage at various points in the song.
Did you use any other recording techniques
not commonly employed on blues records?
We used an Eventide Harmonizer to
emphasize the lows at the end of “Rollin’ With
Zah,” which created a very cool texture. And
on “Busted” we used a number of reversed
sounds. The backwards guitar parts were
played in real time through Ted’s DigiTech
XP200 Modulator, but we also sampled Al
Kooper’s organ and reversed and delayed it
to create huge psychedelic washes of sound.
You have more than 20 guitars and lots of amps.
Are any of them staples that you gig with regularly?
I’m a hopeless Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster
guy. By that I mean that I want pretty
much every one that I see. And I want a
Jazzmaster now. That doesn’t mean I don’t
love Les Pauls, Hamers, and other guitars, I
do—but I’m just drawn to the 251/2" scale
length. There are harmonics that come off
it, for example, that don’t seem to be quite
as present with shorter scale lengths. And
the Fender bodies are comfortable.
I just got an LSL T-Bone that I’m really
enjoying, but my staples are an Anderson
Hollow T, a Fender Custom Shop Tele Jr.,
and the 50th Anniversary Strat. As for amps,
if I’m in a Deluxe mood I’ll typically choose
either my Collins Peter Parcek Signature
Tweed Tone 8 or my Tungston Crema Wheat,
but I also love my Top Hat Club Royale, my
Dr. Z Carmen Ghia, and my Swart Atomic
What strings and picks do you prefer?
I mostly use Ernie Ball, D’Addario, or
GHS .009 sets.
I have a bunch of different picks that I
bring to sessions, because for certain things
you want a really soft voice and for others
you want different textures. But since I’ve
been trying to learn Django’s music, I’ve had
to get some Gypsy picks, which are very different,
and when I play my own gigs I tend
to use them. I have several thicknesses of
Wegen picks, most of which are much thicker
than conventional picks, but I’ve ordered
some 1.8mm Wegen Big City models,
because if you play electric using a lot of
overdrive with the thick ones, there tends
to be some harmonic content—sort of a
“ping”—and you don’t always want that.
How about slides?
I have some really exotic slides, but right
now I’m just using heavy glass Dunlops. I
really like the texture of glass, and how it
works for vibrato. I’m just trying to channel
Robert Nighthawk and Fred McDowell.
That’s the stuff that really, really nails me.
Yes. I’m truly self-taught, and back when
I was just starting out, Guitar Player is what
helped me. There was a column by Jerry
Hahn, which I found quite helpful—to the
point where I cut them all out and kept
them. That’s where I learned about scale
forms and positions, and lots of other important
things, so I have a lot to thank the
magazine for. I very much believe in Guitar
Player, and what it does for all of us who are
trying to play.
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