Walter Parks brings his Swamp Cabbage to the Wild Fern in Stockbridge this Thursday night, June 16 at 7 p.m. You can also catch the show at The Local in Rutland the night before, Wednesday, June 15 at 9 p.m. The Local show is a benefit for Team Romulous which helps to fight against animal cruelty. Rick Redington and the Luv open both shows.
Parks hails from Jacksonville, Fla. but has lived in Jersey City, N.J. off and on for the past 10 years, so he divides his time between the two. But he’s not like most people who stay in each place for the best weather season. For Parks, he goes where his tour goes. This tour is in celebration of the new release “Jive.” It’s the band’s fourth CD, and all original music. Parks said, “It’s some of the best new music, and it’s old school, but I’m very proud that I’m stretching old school music and old school musicians in a new way. There’s not many bands that are doing that.”
Swamp Cabbage music is a danceable mix of blues, jazz and southern rock. Parks said, “It’s musically complex, but musically simple at the same time. It’s very hard to play but sounds like it’s musically simple.” The music comes from Florida. They’ve caught on quite well in Europe and are starting to catch on here in the states.
Parks talked about Swamp Cabbage and said, “What we do in that group is very interesting. Here’s three guys that try and stretch our capabilities as much as we possibly can, especially the drummer and myself. The bassist is more of a bluesy guy. I’m doing the Vermont gigs as a duo. You really get to hear how much we stretch. My guitar style is more of a folky finger-pick style that I manifest into from the electric guitar. I draw from jazz, southern rock influences and all of that goes into my north Florida picking style.”
Parks formed Swamp Cabbage from being homesick. He explained, “I was living in New York and feeling a little homesick and I had just got a gig working for Richie Havens.” He had opened for Havens before with his group the Nudes, but this was playing with him. His friend and fellow musician Dayna Kurtz hooked him up with the gig.
Parks explained. “He didn’t know me by name but as soon as I showed up, he said ‘Oh ya, I know that guy. He’s cool.’ I think I got the gig out of familiarity. Richie was always one of my idols and my very favorite musician on the planet. The thing about playing with Richie is I had to play his style but I really wanted to express my own voice and that southern style I had in me. So kind of on the side, I started experimenting with how I could express this guitar style that I had just recently come upon. Let me back up a bit. My gigs with Richie kind of created Swamp Cabbage. The only musical direction that he ever gave me is he wanted our guitars—mine and his—to sound like one guitar. I thought it would’ve been redundant to play what he played but I couldn’t do that anyway because nobody can play like Richie Havens. What I ended up doing is I was befuddled for a couple of months. ‘How do I fit into this?’ I analyzed Richie’s strumming style, his picking technique, and everything he did on the guitar was a gallop. It has the rhythm of horses running [he sounds it out]. If you listen to ‘Here Comes the Sun’ or his others, all of those songs are played with that galloping rhythm. Once I figured that out, I just happened upon that banjo picking style. It’s like a banjo-style picking that I manifested on the guitar. When I found that, it wove with Richie’s style marvelously. Then I transferred that to Swamp Cabbage.”
Parks started playing that style on electric and Swamp Cabbage was formed. So from trying to fit in Haven’s scene, he was able to form this great band.
Parks has been gigging for the better part of 30 years. He originally had a rock band in Florida in the late 80s but said he had not really found his voice yet. He left that band when he first moved to New York. “I was running from my upbringing at that point. I didn’t appreciate that I was from the south, from Florida, and tried to be more Euro like the popular groups from England at that time. When people started noticing this sloppy vibe of my playing, this was a big relief for me. I think the most important thing that an artist can do is to find a style. That should be our agenda. It doesn’t matter if it’s a style lyrically or with our playing. If you’re not on a quest for a style that has uniqueness and originality, then why are you bothering?”
Parks also had a group called the Nudes who were an American folk rock duo consisting of himself and Stephanie Winters, formed in 1991. The Nudes released three albums: “The Nudes,” “Velvet Sofa,” and “Boomerang,” and licensed recordings to an HBO series.
Parks has been playing guitar for about 40 years and he loves it. “I play guitar about six hours a day. It’s something I take very seriously. I try and keep my skills tuned and I’m always looking for new and different ways of expressing myself. What I mean by that is if I hear a sound that another instrument or musician is making, I’ll try and replicate that and learn it on my guitar. If I listen to some old soundtrack music from the 60s and it has more string instruments, I’ll try and learn that sound and produce it from my guitar. I can represent what an orchestra is doing on the guitar. That’s one of the things that fascinates me about playing guitar. I don’t play standard guitar chords and I don’t even think of it it like a guitar. I think of it as an instrument with strings. I don’t even listen to other guitar players for the most part. I mostly listen to orchestral music.”
Parks learned to play guitar from idolizing Daniel Lanois. He said, “Oddly enough I played a series of gigs that started at the Metronome in Burlington and my group the Nudes opened throughout the Northeast for Lanois. I remember playing at the Metronome the first night and I love his approach and relationship with his fans through the guitar he is playing. I listened to his playing and I liked that he didn’t use a piece of plastic [guitar pick] to get his sound from his fingers to the amplifier. I just love that sound. I ended up really diving into that right after I had that experience of playing with him… That was later. Earlier I mostly listened to Southern bands as a kid.” Those groups included the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Some people were negative towards Lynyrd Skynyrd, but not Parks, who said they were really good players. “Their music spoke to the general public. For better or for worse I think when you can write lyrics or poetry that speak to people on a wide basis, there’s gotta be some respect for that. I’m proud to come from the area that they came from. You’ll hear some of that in my music. That’s what I call a Jacksonville-style. It’s not a Tennessee sound or a country sound. If you really think about it, that Skynyrd sound is an exclusively-Florida interpretation of Southern rock. I have that in my music, I’m just not singing about the same things. I have other things that I’m trying to get across and express. The groove and harmonica approach and sort of phrasing is very similar to what they did and what the Allman Brothers did.”
Parks is really excited to play back in Vermont. He’s played in this area in the past and loves every show. “I always think that the folks in your area really appreciate music. They appreciate playing and musical integrity. That is really important to us. The thing about the South that I really like is that people really appreciate music from the hips down. They’re not afraid to move around and groove on it. I give them good groove music, it’s just Southern grooves. Playing in Vermont, in an odd way, it’s the South of the North. You guys appreciate music like southerners do and I mean that as a compliment. People in your area don’t sit with their hands folded. Swamp Cabbage is a musical band and we pay respect to our roots, jazz and blues. People’s jaws are going to drop. People always tell us they can’t believe so much sound comes out of two guys. I know this sounds like sales b.s., but this is not by accident. I really work hard on the arrangements. I work on the choral voices. We have a great time. I’ve been playing music for 40 years and I’ve never had this much fun as I do with these guys. That was my parameter in the very beginning, that I had to have fun with it. I wanted something that had musical integrity and have fun, too. I just want people to groove and have a good time.” Mission accomplished.
Parks loves playing live and said, “I have the power through a good sounding guitar and the experience of playing that guitar to make people move and groove and put a smile on their face. It’s a very powerful play. I can literally change the vibe of the room if the people are willing and up for it. That’s something you can’t do if you work in an office. I consider it an honor to play and I love making connections with people. It’s all just a waste of time if you’re not connecting with people. If people want to hear something they’ve never heard before and still put a smile on their face and move, we’re the band for them. That’s all there is to it.”