To celebrate #ThrowbackThursday, we went into the Murfie Podcast vault to bring you this transcription of our interview with Charlie Parr, recorded on April 9th, 2012! You can listen to the full audio podcast here.
INTRO: This is Kayla here, with your Murfie podcast. This week, we’re featuring the one and only Charlie Parr. Now, he’s humble about this, but he’s widely known for his work in gospel and bluegrass music. Recently, he gave me a call to tell me about his new album, Keep Your Hands on the Plow.
[MUSIC: “Gospel Plow” by Charlie Parr]
Kayla: So Charlie, where are you calling from?
Charlie: I’m actually calling from my mom’s house, in Austin, Minnesota. I came down with the kids for the holiday weekend, for Easter, and we’re still here and gonna get up in the morning and head back to Duluth.
Kayla: Ahhh. So, are you from Minnesota originally?
Charlie: Yeah, I’m actually from Austin, Minnesota. I grew up here, left in the mid-‘80s, I think it was, stopped in Minneapolis for a few years, and then headed for Duluth.
Kayla: Mmhmm. I saw that you spent some time in Australia, touring because of the success of your album, 1922—so how was that?
Charlie: Yeah, oh, it was good. I’ve been over there now…five times? I’ll head back over again in probably January of 2013, for another run. It’s great, I love touring in Australia. It’s kind of like touring in the Midwest—it’s relatively easy, and everybody’s really friendly…really nice.
Kayla: So, your success there…I know it started with the song “1922”, and I heard there’s kind of an interesting story behind that, about your father?
Charlie: Oh, about the song, yeah. I mean, I didn’t really start writin’ songs until my dad had died in ’95, and so that was one of the first ones I ever wrote. It’s named for the year he was born, in 1922, and it’s primarily just a bunch of little snippets of things that he had talked about, or told me about. He had all kinds of adventures when he was a kid, when he was a teenager, early teens, y’know. The Depression was on and they were livin’ in a large family—he had, I think, eighteen brothers and sisters, or seventeen brothers and sisters. And he took off, and went out and hopped freight trains, and done stuff like that for quite awhile, and had a bunch of stories to tell me when I was a kid, and I always remembered all of ‘em. So when I started tryin’ to write songs, some of the first songs I tried to write were about him, and those stories, and I think it was a way to grieve, y’know. I think it still is, ‘cause a lot of the songs I’m still writing to this day have touches of all the things that I kinda learned from him. He was a gigantic influence on me in a lot of ways. He was a good father, he was quite a mentor.
Kayla: Mmhmm. And musically, too, has he had any influence on you?
Charlie: He did, when I was a kid. Y’know, his record collection is my record collection now. He listened to old country western music and old folk music, and blues, and acoustic music. And when I was a kid, that’s what I listened to, ‘cause that’s what played all the time in the house. And he bought me my first guitar when I was seven years old. He traded a perfectly good boat motor in on this guitar, and I’d better learn how to play it, ‘cause that was a really good trolling motor, as opposed to the other motor he had, which wasn’t as good. But, yeah, so I mean, I kind of owe it all to him.
Kayla: I see that on your recent album, Keep Your Hands on the Plow, Emily Parr lent her talents on there for some vocals and tambourine—is that your wife?
Charlie: That’s my wife, yeah, she’s the other person I kinda owe it all to. It’s always nice when she gets to sing a little bit with me, and we planned this whole record out kind of together…songs that we both like, y’know, older songs…it’s some gospel songs, and some traditional songs, and even a chain gang song on there. It was really nice, gettin’ to record with her. Unfortunately, we don’t get to perform much together because, y’know, she’s got a job and works quite a bit.
Kayla: She’s got a great voice—does she have a history with music or singing?
Charlie: Oh, yeah, I mean she’s done this kind of stuff all of her life. She went to college and had a degree in music and theater, so she’s always been interested in music. And she plays the flute, and she’s played in symphony-type situations quite a bit. I’m untrained myself, so we can’t really play music together because I don’t have a clue what’s going on and it’s frustrating for her, I think.
Kayla: [Laughs] So you’re mostly self-taught then?
Charlie: I’m all self-taught, yeah. I just learned from listening to old records of my dad’s, tryin’ to pick out what they were doin’. And I’m still tryin’ to learn—I don’t think it ever stops…which is good, y’know, it keeps you interested. And sometimes it’s frustrating, and you feel like there’s gotta be a quicker way, but in a way, I think that’s maybe not a good way to think about it, because the way I took did me a lot of good, I think, even though it was longer.
Kayla: So, your new album was recorded in a church—how was that? Was it different than your other recordings, or have you done that before?
Charlie: I’ve done a few things in a church, once in awhile. It was decommissioned some time ago, and it’s now a performance space and recording studio in Duluth—the Sacred Heart. And it’s pretty amazing, I mean when you walk in, it’s a church, it’s a huge sanctuary, so you get that kind of church-y sound, y’know—it’s got a nine-second reverb time in the sanctuary. So it’s a pretty incredible place to just…be, and perform, much less record in. So it was really nice, and it is different…I usually record wherever I feel comfortable. We’ve recorded in garages and storefronts and bar basements, and wherever it feels right, y’know. So, it felt good…and we had a really nice afternoon, and pretty much got the whole thing done in an afternoon and a little bit the day before, when I came in and did a couple solo things.
Kayla: So, this album was released in 2011, and—I love it by the way—so, what have you got planned for this year?
Charlie: This year, I’m starting to record the next record which will be kind of more back to my own original material, and I’m probably gonna record it in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, at a friend of mine’s house down there. And it’s probably not gonna be out until early in ’13. I’m doing a lot of touring before then, so I don’t know if I’m gonna get around to recording it until sometime this summer. But I’m heading out for Ireland here at the end of this month, and then I’ve got shows all through the summer, and might be heading back to Europe in the fall, and then Australia in the early part of next year. But the new record, the next one comin’ up, it’s gonna be called Barnswallow. And it’s probably gonna be more of the same that I usually do, my own kind of songs, harmonica player and a washboard player, maybe talk Emily into comin’ down and singin’ a couple of songs…we’ll see what happens, I guess.
Kayla: Well, definitely keep us posted about that! We’ll have that to look forward to. And good luck with touring, too! It looks like you’re gonna be pretty busy.
Charlie: Yeah, it’s been good though—I’ve been really lucky. Thank you very much.
Kayla: Yeah—thank you!
[MUSIC: “Gospel Plow” by Charlie Parr]