KENNY PARCHMAN (By Tony Wilkinson with acknowledgement to Klaus Kettner)
Born Kenneth W. Parchman, 15 January 1932, near Jackson, Tennessee
Died 2 June 1999, Madison, Tennessee
When the rockabilly revival of the seventies and eighties together with the exploration of the Sun Records catalogue came about, there was one track that was guaranteed to fill the dance floors of all the rock 'n' roll clubs and this was 'Tennessee Zip' by Kenny Parchman. However the puzzling fact is that no one ever came closer than Kenny to having a record issued on Sun in its halcyon days, even having release # 252 assigned to 'Love Crazy Baby/I Feel Like Rockin' only to have the indignity of having the record pulled at the last minute. The truth of the matter is that we had to wait around twenty-five years to get our hands on these and other great slabs of true original rockabilly music for the first time.
Kenneth Parchman was born on 15th January 1932 near Jackson, Madison County, Tennessee into a rural community located area between the two later fulcrums of our music, namely Memphis and Nashville. Known as Kenny by his family, he listened to music over the airwaves from an early age and it was not long before his proud parents provided him with a small guitar. Indeed, his mum taught him his first guitar licks and soon he showed all the signs of developing into a competent picker. For sure, it was not an easy life out in the country, but the Parchman family handled it well, until tragedy struck shortly before Christmas 1944. Their little house in Five Points Community burnt down and Kenny's dad suffered severe injuries, so bad that he passed away soon after. The family was left without anything but family and friends in the local community launched an appeal through the Jackson Sun newspaper. The result that the sum of $1103.87 was raised for the family and, with the help of their neighbours, they soon occupied a newly built four-room house. It was here that Kenny grew up and received his education at the local school. At the last mentioned, he got together with a group of school chums and formed his first band that were soon playing all the local hops and dances.
Before this aspect of his career could go too much further, Kenny received his call up papers for the US armed forces. He was drafted into the army and subsequently received a honourable discharge circa 1955. Back on Civvies Street, he held down a day job driving a Wells Fargo truck carrying monies and other valuables plus played music most nights in the local clubs. It was around then that Kenny came into contact with a young talented piano player by the name of Jerry Lee Smith. Smith recalls: "Kenny was one of the first bands I worked for. I was about fourteen and a half years old at that time. Kenny heard me play and he came and asked my mother if she'd mind if I played piano for him. I was with Kenny for about six or eight months, then Carl Perkins heard me and asked me to play for him. But Carl came real big with the success of "Blue Suede Shoes" and I had to go back playing with Kenny because my mother wouldn't let me go on the road with Carl - that's because my father was killed in a car accident. The next thing we knew, Carl was a hit and was driving around in a Cadillac, and we still had a Chevrolet. Mother said, "Next time someone wants you to go, I'll let you go!" After that Kenny and I worked together for about a year and we cut some tapes at Sun.". At that time, Kenny's band employed various different musicians like George Sykes or R. W. Stevenson on bass, a guy called Elmo, Bobby Cash or Kenny's brother Ronnie Parchman on drums, Jerry Lee Smith on piano with Kenny adopting the lead guitar and vocal duties.
Jerry Lee Smith is perhaps better known today as "Smoochy" Smith and got this nickname from Kenny. The band was playing a date at a local movie theatre opening for the big film. The guys, apart from Smith, were up on the stage and after waiting a little while for him had to commence playing. Jerry was fully occupied with a cute little girl in the audience. When he finally scampered on to the stage, Kenny introduced him to the audience as "Smoochy". Ever since then, the name has stuck with Jerry.
It is the dreams of every musician to get a record released and then have a hit, Kenny and his band were no exception. The best-known label in the area was, of course, Sun Records and this was a magnet for attracting the talent in Memphis and surrounding region. Sun had changed its direction from recording blues into becoming the greatest exponent of rockabilly the recording world has ever known and already had numerous first rate releases under its belt. Contact was made with Sun's owner, Sam Phillips, as a result of the connection between Smoochy and Carl Perkins with the result that around August 1956 a contract was signed. Kenny and his band went into the tiny studio at 706 Union and rocked their socks off. Sam Phillips particularly appreciated "Love Crazy Baby" and "I Feel Like Rocking" and readied the record for release but at the eleventh hour decided not to issue the disc. The reasons for this have never been explained but when Kenny was asked years later about the circumstances, he replied: "God, man, I don't know why Sam Phillips never released my record. My manager left town shortly before the record was to be released. Maybe Phillips didn't want to release a single if I didn't have a manager behind me. I felt for sure we were going to have a record out on SUN, tough. Maybe this is one of the odd occasions when Sam made an error of judgment as these two sides have later become cult classics, especially in Europe, and have been recorded by numerous revival bands.
Kenny and the guys returned to the Sun Studio on 5th January 1957 for a second session. At this he laid down the first version of his self-penned "Treat Me Right" and a second version of "Love Crazy Baby" but history repeated itself in that there was no subsequent record release. Parchman returned to the Sun Studio on several occasions throughout 1957, either to cut new songs or rework earlier recordings. Most of the songs Kenny recorded at Sun were his own compositions but one tune he recorded over again that was not written by him was the classic "You Call Everybody Darling". This was a song by Sam Martin, Ben Trace and Clem Watts and was first published in 1946. It was a number one hit in 1948 for Al Trace and his Orchestra and the same year also saw chart versions by the Andrew Sister, Ann Vincent and Jack Smith. Since then it has been often revived, especially during the rock 'n' roll era, by the likes of Bill Haley and Fabian.
Come July 1957, Parchman received an invitation from Jimmy Martin to record for his (Martin's) new Jaxon label that was located in Jackson, Tennessee. Jimmy Martin was a local musician and had a good ear for the current sounds. He started Jaxon Records as a launch pad for his Jimmy Martin Combo plus its various musicians and issued Ramsey Kearney's first record but under his name. Ramsey suffered similar circumstances to Kenny in that he was another artist who, after recording two songs for Sun, saw no resulting record release by Sam Phillips. The Jaxon label was also the first step to an illustrious career for another young guy from Jackson, Tennessee by the name of Carl Mann. Carl scored big with his rocked up version of 'Mona Lisa' for Phillips International, a subsidiary of Sun Records. One intriguing aspect to all this was that Jimmy Martin used Sun's Hi-Lo publishing firm for his own releases. Possibly he hoped to get better business deals that way with SUN. It is also possible that some or many of the Jaxon recordings were actually made at the Sun Studio whose facilities were available for hire. This would certainly explain why Kenny was a frequent visitor there during 1957. However, we digress. Kenny was more than happy to record for Jimmy Martin and so "Treat Me Right/Don't You Know" was released on JAXON 504. The duet partner on "Don't You Know" is reputedly Kenny's brother Ronnie.
At the end of 1957 or early 1958 he went back to the Sun studio for the penultimate time to basically re-cut a few songs. However, the session also saw the laying down of one new number, the aforementioned 'Tennessee Zip'. This is a song much in the style of his close friend Carl Perkins and his influences shine through.
Also early 1958, Kenny received an offer from Lonnie Blackwell to record for the latter's new LU label out of Jackson, Tennessee. The songs for this release were "Get It Off Your Mind" and the instrumental "Satellite Hop" which had the number LU 504 (same as his JAXON single).
Smoochy remembers: "Kenny liked to party and we had a lot of fun together. We played shows all over the place... we used to play on top of old drive in theatre concession stands. We got up there and did a show with snow on the ground and it was so cold the people couldn't get out of their cars. They listened to us through the drive-in speakers and so at the end of the song, instead of applause we got the horns blowing! We were doing a lot of rockabilly and some of the old hillbilly songs - we'd speed them up and add drums and everything to give them that rockabilly sound".
After Smoochy left the band, he relocated to Memphis and started working as a session musician around the city. He recorded with Billy Lee Riley, Rayburn Anthony, Warren Smith, .."I'm not listed as piano player many times, 'cause I was young and I wasn't in the Musicians Union. Sam Phillips gave me a dollar for each year of my age to cut those records and when he turned in the bill into the union, he either put Jerry Lee Lewis' name on there or sometimes Jimmy Wilson's name.
Smoochy went on to become a founder member of both the Mar Keys of 'Last Night' fame as well as The Sun Rhythm Section who also comprised Jimmy Van Eaton (subsequently replaced by D J Fontana), Stan Kessler, Sonny Burgess and Paul Burlinson. The latter group toured Europe on several occasions and headlined at Hemsby.
Kenny made his final visit to the Sun Studio on October 5th, 1959 when he recorded two songs. These were another version of "Treat Me Right" and his favourite "You Call Everybody Darling".
One of the most famous clubs in the Jackson, Tennessee area, was The Pineridge Club. Virtually every musician from the region has played there. In fact, the club still survives to this very day. It has burnt down a few times but has always been rebuilt. Tony Austin who played drums for such artists as Johnny Burnette Trio, Carl Perkins and Carl Mann remembers: "I played there several times. It was a big old house turned into a bar. You could get into all the trouble you wanted to at the Pineridge. I played there with Rayburn Anthony and Kenny Parchman a few times. Kenny was a good guy - played a black Les Paul Gibson and he was doing mainly rockabilly and blues with a little country."
Carl Mann too recalls: "We'd be playing at different clubs around Jackson and we'd go to the Pineridge and sit in sometimes. This is where I often saw Kenny. We both had a good group and he had a big following in Jackson. He came to Houston one time and played bass for me. Eddie Bush was supposed to go but he backed out. We were playing an Elks Lodge or something and we were driving back to go right out to Houston, but in the car Eddie decided he didn't want to go - he wanted to go to Nashville to get his own deal or something. So I called Kenny, it was about one o'clock in the morning, I woke him up and he went to Houston with me. He played bass and I played my own lead guitar." Seemingly, Kenny did not get paid for the dates he played with Carl Mann. And on a sad note, it has now been confirmed that Eddie Bush is no longer with us - he was found dead on a street in Arizona.
One of the last shows Kenny did at the Pineridge Club was in 1975 and this was taped for his private enjoyment. Some of the songs thus recorded have been added onto this CD to give the listeners an insight of what Kenny and his band sounded outside the studio. The sound quality is not perfect but amply demonstrates that he still could say "I Feel Like Rockin'".
Kenneth also founded his own construction company in Jackson and was busy building houses. His unique selling point was to utilizing a basic set up for all the houses but then vary by incorporating personal additions from each buyer. He developed large areas in and around Jackson this way. You always can spot the houses he and his company built they have that unique identity and look attractive. A lot of the streets he developed have the names of his family members and naturally there is a Parchman Drive. His wife Lorene, who took care of the office, made sure the people got the best deals with the banks and thus were able to afford their new dream homes. By doing business in such an open and honest way, Kenny became a well-respected and popular pillar of the Jackson community.
Even in towns like Jackson crime became a problem over the years, so Kenny was looking in 1986 for a security system for his construction office compound. He found out that his old buddy "Smoochy" Smith operated such a company and so he was hired to install a burglar alarm system. They ran into each other from time to time after that but did not play music together again.
The construction business was good for Kenny and his family and they enjoyed a good quality of life in their large two story brick house on the outskirts of Jackson and which was just a couple of miles away from the Carl Perkins home. Whenever Kenneth got home after a hard working day and wanted to relax, he went to his music room and played on his guitar. That to him was peace of mind. However in 1991, he developed the disease Mycobacterium Avium which he contacted working with bricks. His family clubbed together and bought him a new electric piano thus permitting him to play all the music that he wanted to. However, in 1997, Kenneth became seriously ill and was forced into spending a month in hospital. His family managed to get him back home to nurse him. On 2nd June 1999 and, after a six year long and painful sickness, Kenneth Parchman sadly passed away. He left behind his second wife Lorene, his daughters Alicia and Denise and his son Mike.
Watch out for the forthcoming compilation of the recorded works of Kenny Parchman to be issued around April/May 2004 by Hydra Records.
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