Terrence Parker has been a DJ for over thirty years, and it’s fair to say the man’s got skills. Parker cut his teeth playing hip-hop in the early eighties, but embraced house ” in 1985 as it was growing. Back then we called it the “progressive dance movement”. This statement belies the credibility and respect this man has carved out as an elder statesman of sorts. He’s something of an anomaly, a house DJ that brings DMC quality scratching to the fold – and pulls it off. An advocate of gospel house, it’s fair to say Parker took a different path to many of his motor city brethren; however, his is a name that will forever be intrinsically linked with Detroit’s electronic music community. Radiomade and Downtown sounds have conspired to bring TP to the brand spanking new (Pravda without the stale wee smell) venue The Grand Social. He was kind enough to answer a few questions ahead of the gig on November 12th, touching on telephones, god (naturally), and why he’s so big in Japan.
Your scratching skills stem from a hip-hop past, what led you to house music?
The first time I heard about House Music was in 1985. A friend had moved to Chicago and later told me about this new style of dance music called “House”. A few months later I was in a local Detroit record shop known as Buy-Rite Music. The DJ in the store was playing a record called “Aw Shucks” by Farley Jackmaster Funk. Around that same time I heard mix tapes from WGCI & WBMX out of Chicago featuring a song called “On And On” by Jesse Saunders. I began to notice other local DJs playing this new House Music sound along with the new sound of Detroit Techno. This sound was being played along with many other sounds like the Italo-Disco sound from Italy, and other European artists like Kraftwerk, Nitzer Ebb, and many others. I really liked this sound and began playing it in 1985 as it was growing. Back then we called it the “progressive dance movement”.
One of the styles of music you play is gospel house; do you think lyrics are as resonant in house music as other genres? It seems that a lot of times its more about how the vocals sound rather than what they say
Vocals play a big part in all music. It is also true that in many forms of music people could be more drawn in by the beat of the song rather than the words. But the melody helps to bring attention to the words. It is like a child learning the alphabet. They sing the “ABC” song and the melody helps them to learn the letters. In the same way melody helps us to learn the words. The more attractive the melody, the easier it is to learn the words. Vocals are very relevant in any music including House. If you conducted a study of how many House Music hit songs contained vocals vs instrument hits, you would see there is a dramatic difference. There are many more successful vocal records vs instrumentals. It is the same throughout the history of music. This being said, I play music with positive lyrics and energy to uplift people. The message of the “Gospel” gives people hope. We are living in very difficult times. There are enough negative forces currently in place to bring people down. We need to be encouraged to keep pushing forward and never give up. We need hope to know better days are ahead. We need to know we are not in this life alone. There is no better way to convey all of these very important messages than through the “Gospel”. GOD loves us all, and music is one way HE shares HIS message of love.
As well as the turntablism, one of your trademarks is your use of a phone receiver instead of headphones. When and how did that come about?
Many years ago (in the early 1980s) a friend of mine when to Chicago, saw a DJ there using a telephone headset, and came back to Detroit with the idea. My friend made a telephone headset and let me try it out at a party. It was great! He showed me how to make one and I went home the same day and made my own telephone headset.
Any online search for your name kicks up a huge amount of Japanese websites. When was you first gig there, and what’s been your relationship with the country since?
My first DJ gig in Japan was in 2002 in Chiba City. Chiba City is located approximately 1 hour away from Narita Airport (outside of Tokyo). Chiba City means “city of trees”. DJ Nobu and the FT crew from Chiba City was the group that first brought me to Japan. Right before this gig I had several very bad experiences with very shady promoters. I was beginning to develop a very bad opinion about people in general. GOD used the Chiba City experience to renew my faith and to feel good about DJing again. Everyone I met was so nice and the promoters were fantastic. In fact, the promoters of that first event became great friends of mine. I have worked with a lot of promoters over the years but I have only made friendships with a few. I was in Japan in August 2010 and had a chance to visit with my good friends from Chiba City. We are still very good friends today!
You are a name that will always be associated with the motor city, Do you still live in Detroit?
Yes I still live in the Detroit area.
Music has allowed you to travel the world over, was there anywhere that was a real eye opener for you?
I learn something everywhere I travel. I learn about the people, the culture, and the geography of each region. I have really been impacted by my travels to Eastern Europe & Asia. Visiting countries like Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Japan and Singapore really opened my eyes to how different cultures can be yet we have so much in common. I also learned a lot in Germany. Here in America growing up in school we learned much about World War II and the Nazis. Many people think Germany is still like this because they only know about the Germany from the history books. But Germany is not like this at all. Outside of the USA, U have visited Germany more than any other country in the world. My first trip to Germany was in 1995. Since then I have met so many wonderful people in Germany and I have many friends there today. This is why it is good for people to travel. To see the world and learn the ways of people for themselves. There is more good in the world than bad, but we must see it for ourselves.
A lot of the Detroit guys seem to have a bigger following in Europe and elsewhere than at home, how well does your music go down in your hometown compared to other countries?
More people are familiar with my music outside of America simply because there is a more lucrative market for dance music outside the USA. However I am also happy to say I have a loyal fan base here in Detroit. For example, I have been doing a radio show on various Detroit radio stations for 20 years.
Do you have any musical projects on the horizon?
I am working on a new Terrence Parker Anthology album project which will feature my classic releases as well as some new music. In January a label in Kyoto/JAPAN called Transit Records will release my single called “Beautiful Life” on vinyl. This song is currently available on my digital label (Parker Music Works). The Transit Records release will feature some cool remixes from producers based in Japan. I also have some big remix projects soon to be released.
Words: Paddy O’Mahoney