By Kristi Kates
Self-taught Upper Peninsula singer-songwriter Graham A. Parsons got an
early - and heavy-metal - introduction to music while he was still in
My older brother, Ben, got into music when I was 13 or so, Parsons
explains, he started a band with some buddies early on, and I got to
watch it develop. I remember them learning Guns and Roses and AC/DC
tunes, but their singer was terrible. One time I asked if I could try
singing a song, and I did, briefly, before the singer ripped the mic
from my tiny hands and told me I didnt know what I was doing. I guess
from there on out, I had a bit of a vocal vendetta - something to
GUITAR MEETS VOCALS
Parsons, lauded state-wide today for his towering vocal abilities and
strong guitar skills (take that, mediocre metal singer), began his own
guitar-playing journey with a small student guitar, on which hed try
to play classic rock songs.
Stairway to Heaven was one of the first I learned - although I cant
recall any of it now, he laughs. For Parsons, though, deciphering
other peoples music quickly led to him writing his own songs. I
never really even thought about it, he recalls, it just happened.
Another influence - besides his brothers well-intentioned attempts at
a band - were his parents, whom Parsons says always had great music
playing in the house.
I owe them a lot for those great influences, he says, most notably,
The Beatles and the Motown family. I unconsciously learned about pop
songwriting structure from The Beatles, and admired the incredible
voices that came from the Four Tops, Smokey Robinson, and Marvin Gaye.
I remember trying to replicate the sounds they produced - all with a
squeaky prepubescent voice.
CRETINS TO GO ROUNDS
By the time Graham was 16, he was playing three-set gigs at various
smoky U.P. dive bars across the Keweenaw Peninsula, eventually
segueing into being co-founder of Michigan-based band the Squeaky
Clean Cretins. Two full-length albums later, the Cretins had become
more of a seasonal, or summer band for Parsons and crew. This would be
the beginning of that bands end.
We only really played three or four months out of the year, he
explains, the rest of the time we were separated by 600 miles. By the
end of last summer, the Cretins were playing as a three or four piece
as opposed to a five or six piece, and things just werent very
cohesive. We werent all on the same page as far as overall
willingness to play whenever, wherever; so it was never really a
band in the true sense of the word.
But Parsons wouldnt remain band-less for long.
Soon, he began playing music with the members of what is now Graham A.
Parsons and the Go Rounds, and it didnt take long for most of us to
realize what needed to happen, he says.
Parsons shared his now extensive back catalog of songs with the band,
and the group added a bunch of newer tunes as well. It was non-stop
learning for the first few months, building a repertoire, he
explains. In that sense, the band has been a vehicle for my songs,
but Ive never tried to stifle the other members influence on them.
They play the songs with a strong sense of respect for their core, but
add a fire to the arrangements.
Currently, Parsons and the Go Rounds all live in the same town (most
of us in the same house, he chuckles), and, as Parsons puts it,
were all recklessly in love with music and know what we want to do
Its an incredible feeling, he says.
TREKKING TO CHARLEVOIX
Graham A. Parsons and the Go Rounds are now set to perform as part of
the Black Cat Concert series in Charlevoix, with even more new songs
and their own eclectic blend of styles.
Our music is comprised of folkish songs, presented in a very
non-folkish way, Parsons explains, the acoustic guitar has a strong
presence, but the arrangements have electronic, psychedelic, rock n
roll, and jazz influences.
Parsons bandmates are contributing more and more of their influences,
as well, as time goes on for this talented group.
Recently weve been adding more tunes by our keyboardist, Andy
Catlin, and guitarist Gitis Baggs, Parsons says. (The other members
of the Go Rounds are bassist Tod Kloosterman and drummer Adam Danis.)
Weve also just started feeling out song ideas as a band at
rehearsals, he continues, someone will start a riff and well all
jump in and see where it goes. Im sure all songwriting avenues will
be heavily traversed.
In addition to his work with the Go Rounds, Parsons recently released
his very first solo album, which hes entitled Farmhand.
I recorded it last summer between my home in the Keweenaw Peninsula
and my home in Kalamazoo, he says. It features many of my favorite
Michigan instrumentalists and friends, but none of the Go Rounds. We
play many of the cuts from the album when we perform live though. The
Go Rounds have a new live album of their own, too, and will be playing
those songs live.
Its all part of Parsons ongoing growth as a musician full of potential:
I think fans can expect to hear a more mature and dynamic
presentation of my songwriting. There has been much growth over the
past year, and the music will put it on display.
Graham A. Parsons and the Go Rounds will be performing as part of the
Black Cat Concerts Series in Charlevoix on Thursday, August 5 at 8
p.m. For tix ($15), visit
www.blackcatconcerts.com; for more info on the band, visit
www.grahamaparsons.com. Other Northern Michigan shows for the band
will include stops at Dunegrass (August 6) and at Shorts Brewery in
Bellaire on August 7.