Herschel Parker was born in Daisy, Arkansas. He got to liking music when he was about
ten years old - his father had an old guitar that Herschel picked up and learned
to play. It wasn't just a passing interest in music either.
It was during this time in high school in Kirby, a town about 45 miles southwest of Hot Springs and about
fifteen miles from Delight (home to a couple of other famous country music legends).
He made regular appearances on a radio show that was recorded on Thursday nights
after the movie at the theater in Amity, which was just a few miles east of
His very first public appearance was at an amateur show over in Amity, Arkansas
that aired over KTHS out of Hot Springs. Master of Ceremonies at that show
was a well-known star in his own right, Lost John Miller. From that experience,
he got a lot of encouragement from Lost John to persevere. And so he did.
Herschel was elected president of the student body in his senior year of high
school in Kirby, Arkansas. After graduation, he moved to Fort Smith and lived
with his uncle and grandmother. He got a job working at a gas station, pumping gas
and washing cars. He considered this a bit better than the work he may have found
back home, in logging or pulp wood. After working at the gas station,
he started doing jobs such as mowing lawns and carparentry job. The money
he got from those jobs, he saved so he could enroll at the Draughn
business college on Garrison Avenue.
At lunch one day, he met with Lost John Miller, who he knew from his days
at KTHS. Lost John was with George Domerese who worked for KWHN at the time.
Lost John told Herschel he was now working out of Nashville, as a booking
agent for entertainers from the WSM Grand Ole Opry. The conversation with Herschel
got George's attention and got him a spot on "The Radio Center
Saturday Night Jamboree". At the time, he was working on a 12:30pm Saturday afternoon
show with the Flannagan band. The Jamboree show as you might expect was a bit like
the Louisiana Hayride show.
Herschel recalls some of the other performers who were a part of that show back then
for us. Larry Morton, played guitar then and was later with the "Nashville Brass".
Ann (White) Morton, was a singer and songwriter and became part of a publishing
company in Nashville and may currently be in Branson, Missouri. Jimmy Helms was
a part of the show and later worked for the WIlburn Brothers, Sure-Fire Music
and the Wil-Helm Productions group in Nashville that was owned by the Wilburns and
Hank Williams' steel guitar player, Don Helms. Jim (White) Monday was a singer
on the show and later did several commercials for General Motors.
If that wasn't enough, Herschel was on Brother Bob's Auction Party TV show on Channel 8 in Tulsa, Oklahoma
on Thursday nights.
It was at the Radio Center show that he met up with a steel guitar player that
would turn into a life long friendship. Jerry was just 16 at the time and playing
in the staff band with a double-neck Fender steel guitar. Herschel asked Jerry
if he could kick off a tune called "Blue Darling". Jerry answered confidentially,
"If you can sing it, I can play it." A little cockiness on both parts perhaps,
but they've known each other for over fifty years now, managing to keep in touch
and playing in bands together over the years.
The Melody Trails article mentions Herschel played a Gibson guitar back then
and enjoyed the rhythm of the new rock and roll songs. But when he would sing,
he'd more often than not sing a sentimental ballad.
The article about the youngster Herschel Parker in his fan club newsletter was typical
of how Ernest would lend a hand to the younger singers back then - encouraging them,
giving them some exposure, whether it be in his newsletter, or working the show
with him when he was in the area or having them appear on the Grand Ole Opry. Ernest
Tubb's legacy goes beyond his music - he always had time for the next generation.
In 1960, Herschel recorded a song he wrote, "I Can't Go Home Tonight" in Oklahoma City
with a band called the Benny Ketchum Band. The tune was released on a local record
label, UBC Records. The label had no distribution arrangements. But that didn't deter
this singer. Herschel and Harold Flanagan, who was working at KTCS radio, compiled
a list of country music stations across the country. The two of them and others
managed to mail out just about all of the records. That effort led to quite a bit
of radio play and it paid off the record made the national charts in three music
magazines, Billboard, Cash Box and Music Vendor, climbing as high as No. 63.
Herschel was quite busy during this time, making appearances on various live radio
and television shows on KFSA, KWHN and KTCS as well as KFSA-TV, channel 22 in Fort Smith
and KVOO-TV, channel 8 in Tulsa (Brother Bob's Auction Party).
Herschel had the pleasure of being interviewed by WSM's famed disc jockey, Ralph Emery
a couple of times. He also as you might expect appeared on Ernest Tubb's Midnight Jamboree
show. It was during a visit to a DJ convention show and again, Herschel made an impression
with the people he met. This time, he met up with Ernest's steel guitar player back
then, Buddy Emmons, during a jam session. Buddy asked Herschel if he'd like to appear
on the Midnight Jamboree show that night and don't think Herschel even thought twice
about that one. The song he did that night was the old Ray Price hit, "Heartaches
By The Number".
Herschel continued his musical career efforts over the years, fronting some shows
for Charlie Rich at one time. But eventually quit the business.
But the musical itch stayed with him. Eventually, he started writing songs again
and rekindled his career. In 1975, at the centennial celebration of Judge Isaac C. Parker's
arrival in Forth Smith, Herschel sang a song he had written, "The Ballad of Judge Parker."
At that time, a play was being staged in Judge Parker's courtroom at the National Historic Site
that involved about 25 people in a production of a trial and conviction of Cherokee Bill.
The play was presented several times in a day and at the end of each presentation,
Herschel would stroll through the crowd singing "The Ballad of Judge Parker".
A year later, he released a recording of that ballad and the flip side included
another of his self-penned tunes, "Mama". The song got a lot of local air play and
even in other regional areas such as Tulsa, Dallas, Houston and Little Rock, but
again, the label that released the tune had no national distribution.
But enough of about Herschel way back when. Let's take a look at what he's been up to
today. Scott Smith of the Times Record in Fort Smith, Arkansas was kind enough to send
us a recent feature article on Herschel.
Melodies and History
By Scott Smith, The Times Record
Used by permission
"Sixty-eight birthdays have failed to slow down Herschel
Parkerís hands, vocals and mind.
His well-worn ó but perfect-sounding ó Alvarez acoustic guitar seemingly
is surgically attached to the singer-songwriterís tall, trim body. With ease,
Parker is churning out country and folk-tinged songs with passion.
And heís using a unique approach by focusing about half of his creativity on
historical area figures, such as Judge Isaac C. Parker, U.S. Marshals Bass
Reeves and H.D. Fannin and others. Well-known by many area residents and
historical scholars, these characters, although dead for decades, walk, talk,
ride horses and occasionally fight throughout Parkerís painting-like lyrics,
melodies and themes.
"I guess that itís a little more difficult writing songs about historical
figures in this area than writing other songs," Parker said in his homemade
studio, which is home for framed photographs of the bands heís performed in over
the years, as well as his trusty four-channel recorder-mixer and a lone Shure
A rancher who retired from Anderson-Martin Machine Co. in 2001, Parker is
promoting his new compact disc, "A Time in History," which boasts six of Parkerís
originals that are joined by narration by Sebastian County Circuit Judge Jim
Spears. Recorded with Spears and fellow friends Ray Keck, Hank McMurtery Jr.
and Jerry Roller Sr. at Hanksterís Recording Studio in Barling, the disc
features what Parker calls "story songs." The tracks arenít 2-minute,
made-for-radio ditties; Parker is proud that they are meant to stir the
listenerís imagination in a deeper, longer-lasting manner.
"I guess some might think these songs are long, but you have to tell a story,"
he said. "There are details in there."
One of the new CDís songs, "Ballad of Judge Parker," first was recorded by
Parker, Roller Sr., Rick Young, George Williams and Robin Bryan in 1976.
The song was released then as a 45 rpm single on the Americountry label.
Parker admires the first version but exhibits an equal amount of affection
for the new version.
"I donít really think itís country music as people would think, and itís more
like folk country music, but not hillbilly," he said with a laugh. "I call it
Parker also laughs about the time he and other musicians recorded another
original composition, "I Canít Go Home Tonight," in the early 1960s. Lacking
a distribution deal but overflowing in the determination department, Parker
and his cohorts personally mailed out 45 rpm records of the song to country
radio stations across the nation.
"I got a list of those stations, and we had 1,500 copies, and we mailed
those records until we ran out," he said. "Strangely, the song got to No. 63
on the charts. Billboard Magazine, Cash Box and Music Vendor were the three
publications that showed it. We thought it was funny because we were the ones
who distributed those records."
One of the songs on the new disc, "A Marshalís Song (H.D. Fannin vs. Jason
Labreu)," was featured on a new DVD video, "U.S. Marshals ó 200 Years of Grit,"
which was assembled by area city officials and civic leaders and shown while
Washington officials visited Fort Smith. The city was named one of several
potential sites for the U.S. Marshal Museum, Parker said. Federal officials
could decide on the museumís location by spring, he said.
"Yeah, ĎA Marshalís Songí is a song about a marshal hunting down someone, and
when I performed that for the federal officials, they seemed to like it," Parker
"But itís important that all of these stories in the music are true," he added.
"(Fort Smith Historic Site officials) told me that people want facts, and you
donít have to use your imagination when writing because thereís plenty of great
true stories here."
Researching historical figures is much more complex and time-consuming than
simply making rhymes for fiction-based songs ó Parker constantly is digging
deep into S.W. Harmanís "Hell on the Border" book for inspiration and
fact-checking. But Parker said he loves to methodically assemble a
musical story of the past.
"Iíd say I work in my studio area here twice a week, but not for a
really long time in one setting," he said. "But I do have to write it
down so I donít forget the idea. It usually comes late in the afternoon."
Parker, who performs with groups in Barling and West Fork on occasion,
said many, but not all, of his ideas are grade-A keepers.
"When I write something, Iíll record it and then take a look and listen
about a week later," he admitted. "That way, youíre not so close to it when
you listen again. It might sound great at the time, but when you listen to
it again, it might not. If you can hit it cold later, and it still sounds good,
then you have something to keep."
About 60 songs have landed on the to-keep list, while fragments of melodies
and the stray verse still linger in Parkerís head, waiting to escape onto
Parkerís note pad.
"What I would really like to do is keep writing, and write for other singers,"
said Parker, who with his wife, Dorothy, has five children and six grandchildren.
"When I was younger, of course I wanted to hold onto the songs. But Iíd
rather write than get on the road and travel with a band. Thatís not
really my thing."
Parker said heíd enter Nashvilleís elite songwriting circle in a single
drumbeat, but heíd do so on his own terms.
"I wouldnít move there because I love this area so much," said Parker,
who grew up in Kirby near Hot Springs. "I want to continue to live in
this area. I love the scenery and the people around here. I donít want
to live anywhere else."
Asked if Parker is related to Fort Smithís famous "hanging judge,"
he paused before smiling.
"That, I donít really know," he said while smiling. "So far,
I donít think so."
A 1976 article in Country Music Digest out of Nashville, Tennessee comments
on the popularity of the tune, "Judge Parker" by Herschel at the time. The article
author, John Reed, mentions that he had been driving around Oklahoma and Arkansas
and kept hearing this tune over and over. He described it as a good record
about the famous "hanging judge" and noted that Herschel "...has a Great Commercial
voice that make you listen close to this well written story..." He went on to say
that the flip side of that une, "Mama", sounded like someone who "...could
be the next Merle Haggard."
That record was on the Americountry Records label. That label was owned by Doyle wilburn
and Jimmie Helms. Mr. Reed goes on to note that the record company thought highly of the
song as it fit a bit into the country's Bicentennial celebration and mood of that time.
Herschel spent 46 years with the Anderson-Martin Machine Co.
He has been married to his wife, Dorothy, for 26 years. He has two sons from a
previous marriage, Dorothy has three sons. Between the two of them, they have
six grandchildren. They also have a small cattle operation south of Hackett, Arkansas
that keeps them busy in their 'spare time'.
Credits & Sources
- Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to express its appreciation to
Tim Parker, Herschel's son for his help in putting together this writeup as well
as Scott Smith of the Times Record for sending along the article and Carrol
Copeland for passing along the photo used in the article as well. And of course,
thanks to Herschel Parker himself.
- Melody Trails; August 1956; Ernest Tubb Fan Club
- Times Record; December 5, 2005;
"Melodies and History"; by Scott Smith
- Country Music Digest; 1976 Fan Fair Edition; Volume 6 Number 5;
Nashville, Tennessee; copy courtesy of Herschel Parker
|Sound Sample(RealAudio Format)