Musician and author Stephen Parker died on August 30. He was born on February 1, l937. His musical career began when he was eight years old. His first teacher was his father, Les Parker, a nightclub entertainer who sang and played ukulele and tenor guitar. At a young age his father taught him pieces like “Tea for Two” and “Sweet Georgia Brown.” Steve said that he’d played many instruments “at various skill levels” beginning with ukulele; they were joined by clarinet, cello, guitar, and tuba. Eventually he settled on five-string banjo and the mandolin family as primary instruments.
His main focus became old-time string band music, and he excelled on ragtime music played on the mandolin. Steve’s repertoire was very diverse; he was as at home playing an Ed Haley fiddle tune as a Mexican polka or a classical piano rag. His mandolin book even included works from Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Beethoven. Kenny Hall, another California mandolin player, was a major influence because of his diverse repertoire.
Steve was a great teacher. For twelve years he taught at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. He taught mandolin and banjo at festivals from southern California to the Festival of American fiddle tunes at Port Townsend, Washington. He played at numerous concerts and dances and was a member for several years of the Growling Old Geezers String Band. He traveled east a number of times to Clifftop, Pinewoods, Augusta, Mount Airy, and spent a week with me recently in the Washington, DC, area.
In addition to his musical interests Steve was a very talented artist. His drawings and paintings illustrate his books, and together with historical photos make his books essential resources to those who play and appreciate old-time music.
He published three wonderful books: Ragtime for Fiddle and Mandolin, 150 Hot Tunes for Fiddle and Mandolin, and Clawhammer Banjo Stringband Favorites.
His cover illustrations show his expansive knowledge of old-time music, new and old. They include pictures of the East Texas Serenaders, the Double Decker Stringband, and Tommy Jarrell playing with Fred Cockerham.
Perhaps there are some of you in the old-time music community who didn’t know Steve; but if you performed or recorded, chances are that he knew you. Check out his books and you might find yourself pictured within.
When Steve died on August 30, his fourth book was in progress and near completion. The subject of this book was blues and jug-band music for the mandolin. I hope it will be published for us all to learn from. This would be his last gift to lovers of old-time music, and our gift to him.