Interview with Walter Parks from Swamp Cabbage and Richie Havens

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walter parks
Walter Parks

Interview by Scott Preston

Walter’s been living music since he played viola in the sixth grade school orchestra. That was a tough time for a kid playing classical music because Jimi Hendrix was all the rage. So the guitar, being the cool cultural icon of the original hippie era, beckoned Walter as it did other kids. Restlessness with the requisite garage band phase inspired an interest in the harmonic complexities of jazz so Walter studied for three years with LA based jazz guitarist Robert Conti.

Since May of 2001, Walter has been playing with Richie Havens as a lead acoustic guitarist in his trio. He currently tours with Richie playing concerts in the US, Europe and Canada.

Walter has written with Robert Lamm of the group Chicago and has also supported jazz artist Leni Stern and David Wilcox in a side-man guitarist role. Additionally, HBO has used two of his song Lady and Gentlemen (The Nudes) and Early in the Morning (The Nudes) as background music for the popular special Real Sex.

Walter’s new group Swamp Cabbage has released its first cd Honk and its now available through CD Baby . The sound pays well deserved homage to his swampified roots in the Jacksonville, Florida area where he grew up. Walter is enjoying using banjo finger picking styles with a gnarly old Guild Starfire electric guitar.

Cincy Groove: How did you end up playing with Richie full time?

Walter Parks: Well Stephanie Winters (Richie’s cello player) and I have been playing together for 17 years. We had a group called The Nudes (formed in March of 1991) and we played all over the country. We used to be Richie’s support act in various venues around the country. We both got our spots with Richie at different times but thats how he knew about us.

Cincy Groove: So I also see your in the band Swamp Cabbage.

Walter Parks: Yeah thats my group. At some point I thought I needed to be in New York for music, as I had outgrown the south. I needed to experience a different kind of energy. I have a certain thing in my playing thats different from a lot of the guys in New York City, a real southern influence. I sort of embraced it after while rather than run from it. When I embraced it I started writing all these tunes that had this north Florida vibe to them. Its quite unique, its not quite Nashville style, its not bluegrass. If its similar to anything, its like Tony White or early ZZ Top.

Cincy Groove: How long have you been playing with Swamp Cabbage?

Walter Parks: As long as I have been playing with Richie, which is going on 7 years. We don’t tour as often as I would like because I am very dedicated to playing with Richie. We have done tours from New York City to Key West. Thats kind of our territory, we are starting to reach out to the mid west a little. There are some good folks out in Kansas City that are playing Swamp Cabbage on the radio. We just did a gig there around Christmas time that was a packed house.

Cincy Groove: What do you like to do when your not playing music?

Walter Parks: I love to work on my house, do construction. My wife and I bought a small building in Jersey City right across from New York City. I took about 2 years to remodel it and build it myself. My dad was an architect and my grandfather was an engineer so I was always around construction. I also study French. I know its a weird combination. Not too many redneck types speak French (laughing).

Cincy Groove: Are you working on any new projects?

Walter Parks: I am recording my first solo record this year. This is the first record I have done thats not associated with a band. I hope to be able to put that music to a soundtrack of some sort. One of my goals/dreams is to do music for movies. This particular recording will be perfect for it. Richie Havens sang a song on the cd which was really nice. The cd is largely instrumental and is very much keeping to the way I play with Richie. Stephanie Winters and I are going to begin work on a cd as well. It’s probably going to be the two of us. But of course if Richie is nice enough to sing a song on the cd that would be great.

Cincy Groove: Are there any groups that impress you?

Walter Parks: I like Medeski, Martin, and Wood. I really dig what they did with John Scofield. I like The Black Keys, Xavier Rudd, Radio Head. I also like Groove Armada over there in England. I friends with the guys in MOFRO, they are from Jacksonville, Florida as I am. We record at the same studio in St. Augustine called Retro Phonics. The guy who records us both is a genius, his name is Jim Devito. He is really a master of using old electronics and old gear.

Cincy Groove: What does it mean to you to play with Richie?

Walter Parks: To play with Richie Havens is an honor. I knew who he was when I was a kid. When I was a kid I knew about Woodstock but I was too young to go. Richie was this wild guy playing acoustic guitar (laughing). I loved his sense of melody and his sense of harmony. I love the earthy rhythm’s that he plays. I have gotten to meet and play with a lot of people that I would consider my musicial mentors in a way by playing with Richie. Last week for instance we met Chris Squire, the bass player for YES.

Upcoming tour dates:
Walter Parks with Swamp Cabbage:
June 06, 2008 Vermont Rally Rutland, VT
August 22, 2008 Knuckleheads Saloon Kansas City, MO

Walter Parks with Richie Havens:
March 27, 2008 Massillon Museum Massillon, OH
March 28, 2008 Stuart’s Opera House Nelsonville, OH
March 29, 2008 Peach’s Grill Yellow Springs, OH
March 30, 2008 The Kent Stage Kent, OH
April 5 Monroe Township, NJ Richard P. Marasco Center for the Performing Arts
April 12 Framingham, MA Amazing Things Arts Center
April 18 Washington DC Turnage Theater
April 19 Pittsboro, NC Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance
April 22 Toronto, ON Hugh’s Room
April 23 Toronto, ON Hugh’s Room
April 24 Ottawa, ON Ottawa Folk Festival/ Centrepointe Theatre
April 25 Kingston, ON
April 26 Montreal, QE