Among the throngs of talented musicians to emerge from the Motor City over the past 30 years, native turntablist extraordinaire Terrence Parker has quietly built a reputation as Detroit's spearhead of gospel-flecked house music. Whether releasing as himself or Seven Grand Housing Authority, or working with other local talent, the sole purpose of his hand in production is to lift spirits. His legacy of immaculate 12"s spans from The 4 Play EP with Claude Young Jr. back in '93, to the incredibly influential Tribute to Ken Collier out on Glasgow's Seventh Sign in '09. Both are must-have records.
Parker ? known as TP to his friends ? as he is driving back home to Detroit in the aftermath of a snowstorm to discuss new album Life on the Back 9, landing on Carl Craig's seminal Planet E at the end of this month. Label-wise, we can safely assume that this release marks a return to his techno origins.
"It's cold, man!" observes Parker, through chattering teeth. "We got three or four inches of snow last night on top of the foot we already had! The windshield's all frozen up so I'm gonna have to be careful here, it's like minus ten outside. The salt trucks are out in force. We're Detroiters though; we're built for snow.
"The new album captures that tough mentality," he continues. "It's actually my third full-length and it's been great working with Carl, Monty, Reggie and the team throughout the whole process. They genuinely care about every little detail. Even though I'm mostly known for my house productions, I actually started out making straight techno with a group called Separate Minds around ?88. It was myself, Trackmaster Lou Robinson (Scan 7) and Marc Kinchen, now more affectionately known as MK. Looking back, quite a lot of my earlier stuff had a slightly harder vibe, so this album is all about going back to those roots.
"My studio set-up is pretty virtual ? I use Reason with a few other plugins for mastering," he says. "I do like having the hands-on idea of a MIDI studio, and I do use some gear live, the Korg Mono/Poly for a lot of bass synths, for example. You can't sync it, so you have to play live!"
Parker's professional relationship with the Planet E boss began around 1999, when Craig ? also a musical director back in the day ? booked him to appear at the first Detroit Electronic Music Festival. "That was the first time we met properly and, straight away, I was impressed by the way Carl presented himself," he admits. "I mean, we'd seen each other around before then, at random coffee shops or events, but that was our first time working together. Everybody pretty much knows everybody else in Detroit."
The title of his new album suggests that Parker may well be a dab hand on the golf course. "The title actually comes from my father," he reveals. "Both my parents are big golfers. A few years back, I was going through a really difficult period in my life where I was constantly struggling to stay positive about anything. I wasn't even sure if I wanted to carry on making music. My mom was concerned about me and so she gets my dad on the phone to have a few words, and he starts telling me about his golf game. I'm like having a really, really hard time and he wants to tell me about his handicap!
"But then he says, 'Look, Terrence, one day I was out on the course and everything was going wrong. The ball kept finding the rough, sand traps, bunkers, pretty much everywhere but the fairway. All my buddies were laughing at me and I just felt like packing up and calling it a day. Midway through, I grabbed a coffee in the clubhouse and prayed to God to help me with my game. I knew I had to settle down and just take one hole at a time.' So that's what my dad did. He relaxed and took one hole at a time. His back nine not only got better, but he shot an amazing score and ended up beating all the guys who were laughing at him.
"That's the way you have to view your life," he considers, "Even if you don't do so well on the front nine, it's not the end, it's the beginning. It's the way you react to whatever situation you're in. That story really put everything in perspective for me, symbolised where I was at that time and inspired me to go back to music."
Parker's father played a major role in his musical development, bringing records into the house by Smokey Robinson, The Four Tops, The Marvelettes, or, as TP likes to call them, "the usual suspects." Motown aside, it was gospel artists like Mahalia Jackson and Andrať Crouch who proved to be a major influence. "Growing up we had this very famous group called the Clark Sisters," he remembers, "They had a track called You Brought the Sunshine that flopped in the 70s gospel community, but it indirectly became a cult classic at Studio 54. That record really was the start of what I now call gospel-dance. It had that beat to it."
Parker's first taste of delivering music to the masses came as a high-school radio DJ. "From that, I ended up doing a couple of shows with the famous Electrifying Mojo," he says. "He had this crazy persona where he was some kind of alien being sent down to Earth with all this music, which had a massive influence on the first techno wave. Back then, listening to guys like Jesse Saunders and Jackmaster Funk really set it off for me. Marshall Jefferson's On The House production made me want to take that familiar, uplifting gospel sound and put my own stamp on it."
In a city with such enormous musical history, the cycle is bound to continue in some form. Parker is quick to mention young guns J. Garcia and Hugh Cleal as worthy up-and-comers from his fair city. Minimal artist Merchka also gets the thumbs up, as does local house label Coyote Cuts, run by the aforementioned Hugh C. "They made their name promoting parties in the city with people like Grant Nelson and Kenny Dixon Jr. Some of their productions are incredible," he affirms.
According to Parker, Detroit's unique position on the musical map is partly due to its geographical location. It's surrounded by the Great Lakes, with the Detroit River running through the heart of the city. "We're pretty much a seaport," he adds, "There have always been workers and musicians coming and going, not only influencing the city but also adding to the city's influence.
"We've always been working class, and that hardworking, industrial environment seems to breed talent. Not just Motown or techno, all kinds of artists: Rodriguez, Eminem, Dennis Coffey, Anita Baker to name a few. I don't know if it's something in the water but for some reason God has decided to bless a lot of people from this city. I'm thankful that I was born and raised here. If I was born in Los Angeles or Miami, I wouldn't be the same person going down that back nine."
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