On the Rise: The Parker Urban Band
We were at the Downtown River Jam last December 6th, and while we were there went to the State Theatre to hear the Bobby Lee Rodgers Trio. Bobby Lee is an incredibly nurturing artist who seems to be constantly working with different musicians helping to promote and showcase them. In that evening with him, I wrote:
After that, BLR motioned to the crowd, asking a young lady to step on stage with the band. Her name was Juanita Parkerurban, one of the vocalists from the Parker Urban Band out of Jacksonville. She and Bobby Lee crooned a lovely ballad together.
BLR encouraged her to stay on stage as the band lit into a high-tempo version of “When the World Comes Tumbling Down” (usually about 90 miles per hour anyway). Juanita motioned for another singer to join her on stage, and up stepped Myrna Stallworth, Juanita’s vocal partner in the Parker Urban Band. And the moment she opened her mouth…
PRAISE THE LORD!
Myrna’s voice was stunning, and immediately we were in church for the remainder of the tune (it was Sunday morning). I was thinking Dottie Peoples and Mavis Staples and Katie Jackson. ELECTRIFYING.
So that was my first encounter, however brief, with the Parker Urban Band. I have included excerpts from my other reviews, but’s let the members of the band tell us about themselves first. In addition to the ladies, the leader and guitarist is John Parkerurban. He is joined by Ricky Alessi, keyboards; John Mortensen, bass; James Holloway, drums; and Chris Poland, tenor saxophone. John and James combine to provide that deep, deep bottom of funk underneath everything. Ricky and Chris are tremendous players who take full advantage of their opportunities to wail.
This would be an amazing band if they just played instrumentals. They are strong at every position. Subsequent performances demonstrated that Juanita and Myrna are both incredibly powerful singers. In combination with these two magnificent ladies, this band is unstoppable.
The band had a noon set at the recent Orange Blossom Jamboree. I missed their performance, but our photographer John Wayne Phillips assured me it was mind-blowing, and everybody was talking about it. John talked to the members about the possibility of an interview. To say that John and I felt honored would be an understatement. We sat in the children’s playground at OBJ and had a wonderful conversation.
John: The band name has been together since 2012. We’ve been playing around and found a network of musicians we liked to play with. The band in its current line-up has been together for a year. It’s always been myself, my wife, Juanita, and Myrna Stallworth in the band. But we just tried to keep our vision and people whoever were attracted to us, and that’s who’s playing now.
We’re definitely playing more regionally now, trying to get to Georgia and South Florida. One of our personal goals, and I hope we’re back there again, is the Wanee Music Festival. We hope we go back next year; that was one of our major goals, but I think that the vision of the band kind of gives itself its own goal??, improvisation and jam, but also meaningful lyrics, R&B, soul, maybe mixed in with rock, but meaningful lyrics we can share with the world, an actual ingredient in the song that can be passed on, not just the music.
So our vision is in that direction; we would like to not only stay in the festival scene, but we’d also like to, if it happens, to share our music with the world on a bigger level, without forgetting what we’re really trying to do.
Songwriting is a collaboration of all of us. A few of the songs were written before the current line-up was in place, but for the most part the songs that we have now, a catalog of 20 or 25 songs, a lot of the material has been written by myself, Juanita and Myrna, as a collaboration; I might come up with a lyrical phrase, or Juanita might, or Myrna might; we’re always bouncing stuff off each other, and then we brought in these crazy cats with us: Ricky, James, John and Chris, and they have awesome backgrounds, so everything we write, we want to write together, but maybe the inspiration comes in the middle of the night, and we bring it to practice and get together and say, ‘What do you think?’ ‘Let’s go here.’ ‘Alright!’ That’s how we write.
All these festivals that we’re going to, we’re all pollinating, and some day, we don’t know it now, because we’re in the moment, but maybe some day we’ll say those bands out of Southern Florida and Northern Florida, there was a sound that came out of there, and maybe some day people will talk about it.
Ricky: Funk seems to be on the up and up in the region. Squeedlepuss, S.P.O.R.E., Herd of Watts, the Groove Orient, etc. I just came into this from a solely classical background in the last few years. The music scene seems to have come up so far in the past few years. It was kind of hard to gauge in the beginning, because I didn’t really know what the scene was before I started playing with Chroma, but with the venues opening up downtown, it seems to have taken quite a bit of play away from the beach venues, and there have been some great acts at 1904 and Underbelly, international acts, Grammy-award-winning acts; it’s been great to be able to play with those guys.
John: The R&B came through, just because it’s in our heritage, in Juanita’s and in Myrna’s; they’ve got that R&B; they’ve got that gospel. I was raised in a Pentacostal church, early on, so I definitely had it in me at an early age as well. It just seeps through. The jazz – any jazz feel — I’m basically a self-taught musician. I started out listening to Randy Rhoads who had a very classical melodic approach, to listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Pass and Hendrix. From there, it’s grown into listening to a great number of wonderful musicians to include other instruments. I had four lessons after teaching myself for about two years, and that was it. And now it seems every musical interaction is a lesson, regardless if you’re listening or playing. And it doesn’t matter whether you went to school or not; we’re all learning from each other and teaching ourselves, and we’re always going to be doing that, and we’re going to learn something new, and whatever we do, we hope we can make it something… different.
Juanita: My mom and dad sheltered me a bit growing up; I was raised in church and listened to a lot of gospel and contemporary Christian music. My mom had good taste in music. When I was growing up, she would play a variety of records and tapes that I would listen to, ranging from classical to musicals, a little jazz, but mostly gospel. She also has a great voice and would sing at church from time to time. I learned how to harmonize from listening to my mother sing around the house. She would be singing and harmonizing along with music while it was being played. Her mother, my grandmother, was into music, sang in church, and has a wonderful selection of records. Her mother, my great-grandmother, sang in church too and played the piano, which I can remember as little girl, listening to her play and sing. So a lot of the musical inspiration comes from my mother’s side of the family. A very favorite pastime of mine was when we would travel to Chicago to visit my grandmother and listen to my father’s tapes of their favorite music. It was music that they grew up listening to, a lot of the old school R&B blues from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and that was about the only time we could listen to that genre of music. So I really enjoyed those road trips and would absorb all that I could.
But as I started getting older, middle school, high school age, I would sneak to listen to the radio, and I became inspired by what I heard, what I could get my hands on. Being in this band and not really having any training other than three years of piano lessons, I am just inspired by all of these musicians, because everybody brings something special and something different, and we’re always being inspired by each other and being an inspiration to each other. That’s what makes us connect; that’s what makes us a family; that’s what we do.
Myrna: So the whole truth is…
Everybody: (Uh-oh! *Laughing*)
Scott: Wait a minute! Let me turn this off.
[And that’s exactly the point where the recording stopped! Thankfully, Myrna sent me this:]
Myrna: I was raised in a Christian home. My daddy was a minister, not a “pastor,” but a minister. My mother is the staunchest and strictest Christian woman on fire for God you’ll ever meet. Grandmother was a preacher… so, with all that said… we were raised in a Christian home but… we didn’t go to church. We had church in the house instead. So my gospel music background actually comes from my parents singing at home, not from attending a church. I didn’t start going to a real church until I was in my 20s.
My mom sings so pretty and plays piano, and my daddy sang like Nat King Cole! Daddy would write songs and make us go around and sing them. He was always writing.
I sang choral music throughout grade school and received a music scholarship to sing in the FAMU Concert Choir.
I just love to sing.No matter what, I want to sing. I’m shy and scared to death most of the time, but I have to sing in spite of myself.
12.19.14 The LEE BOYS and the PARKER URBAN BAND, Skipper’s, Tampa
Talking about the whole PUB band, Bobby Lee Rodgers had said, “They’re great musicians… and great people.”
Then I saw they were paired with the Lee Boys for a night of heavenly music at Skipper’s Smokehouse. I was beyond ecstatic imagining the possibilities.
Let’s just say my estimate fell waaaaaay short. It was a magnificent night.
I arrived late (again), but I was in time to catch a wonderful song called “Trust Someone.” “You’ve gotta trust someone, sometimes more, sometimes less.” It was incredibly powerful. Juanita and Myrna were testifying, and it was glorious. Band leader John Parkerurban was driving the sextet with chunky, funky chords and great solos.
It’s funny how your brain “works” sometimes. I was sure Juanita said the next tune was “Fire Muscle.” OK, no. “Fire in My Soul” makes a lot more sense, another great song. The coda of “Tears of Love” incorporated the climax of “Whipping Post,” and John delivered it beautifully.
The rhythm section sounded great all night, but John Mortensen and James Holloway (bass and drums) peaked on the encore, “What Is Hip?” And Ricky Alessi’s keyboards added wonderful color to every tune. I can’t wait to see them again (and arrive on time!).
When it got to the “Superstition” part of the Lee Boys’ set, we were thrilled to see John and Juanita Parkerurban and Myrna climb back on stage. Everybody took a turn with the Stevie classic, which always gloriously heads straight into “We Want the Funk.” Truer words…
The ladies sounded wonderful on the Staples’ “I’ll Take You There,” and John closed out the set with the Lee Boys.
04.16.15 BOBBY LEE RODGERS TRIO with JOHN, JUANITA & MYRNA, Wanee
I missed the PUB set at the Wanee Music Festival, but we were in for a treat the next day.
Bobby Lee Rodgers has been a darling of the Wanee Festival almost since its inception. He and his trio always get the Friday and Saturday Peach Stage kick-offs plus a full set on Thursday. His current band, with Rodrigo Zambrano on bass and Tom Damon on drums, had already knocked out an hour of great music when he called up John, Juanita and Myrna. Rodgers loves working with them, and it was instantly obvious to see why. They blew up the last half hour, starting with Rodgers’ best-known song, “Outer Space.” First tears running down my face in musical joy were courtesy of Juanita and Myrna taking everybody to church. After a superb “When the World Comes Tumbling Down,” Rodgers lauded John’s talents and had him sing the BLR tune “Piece.” They stomped off with “Goin’ to California.”
05.09.15 The PARKER URBAN BAND, Purple Hatter’s Ball
And then there was the much-celebrated late-night set at the Purple Hatter’s Ball in May. There is a very special place in my musical pantheon for the Parker Urban Band out of Jacksonville. They and the Lee Boys were put on this planet to lift all of us up. If you don’t feel elated when these folks are done, there is no reason to check your pulse: you’re dead.
It was legendary. Truly. Even Shorty and the sound people were talking about it. PUB generated the same sort of buzz that followed their Wanee set. Superb music and heavenly voices that stir you to your soul. Check. Pat and Kerri and just everybody going wild. Check.
One other thing, and I pray this will in no way embarrass a wonderful and shy person. Myrna Stallworth is very shy and soft-spoken, right up to the moment she steps on stage. Then, for the entire set, there is a separate Myrna show. When she is not singing, she is dancing, moving, smiling, in her own magical musical world. Pat and I hope the Myrna show never stops; it is wonderful to behold. As she says, “I have to sing in spite of myself.” We are all better for it, and we thank you.
05.30.15 The PARKER URBAN BAND with FLAT LAND and ISM at the High Dive
You can read the entire review at this link, posted June 1st:
Photographs courtesy of John Wayne Phillips; David Lee / Gypsyshooter; and Joey Pye / Stage Right