Many people play roots music, but few modern musicians live those roots like Minnesota’s Charlie Parr. Recording since the earliest days of the 21st century, Parr’s heartfelt and plaintive original folk blues and traditional spirituals don’t strive for authenticity: They are authentic.
It’s the music of a self-taught guitarist and banjo player who grew up without a TV but with his dad’s recordings of America’s musical founding fathers, including Charley Patton and Lightnin’ Hopkins, Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. With his long scraggly hair, fathertime beard, thrift-store workingman’s flannel and jeans, and emphatic, throaty voice, Parr looks and sounds like he would have fit right into Harry Smith’s “Anthology of American Folk Music.”
Parr uses three instruments, not including his own stomping foot. He got an 1890 banjo the first time he heard Dock Boggs. “I don’t do claw hammer, I don’t do Scruggs-style, it’s just a version of me trying to play like Dock Boggs, I guess,” Parr says.
He has two Nationals, a 12-string and a Resonator, which became an obsession when Parr saw a picture of Son House playing it. “The first time I got my paws on one, I went into debt to buy it,” he says. “Nationals are fun because they are as much mechanical as instrumental, you can take them apart and put them back together again.” On an overseas tour, the neck of the Resonator broke in baggage: he played the guitar by shimming the neck inside the body with popsicle sticks. “It solidifies your relationship with the instrument so much: It’s as much part of you as anything else.” (Wayne Robins, April 2012)