Deanie Parker has an insider’s perspective on legendary Stax Records. As a staffer, recording artist and songwriter, she experienced the label to a degree that few others could even conceive. She Parker has been a key member of the team that put together the fascinating new compilation Written in Their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos. My recent conversation with Deanie Parker informed the feature I wrote about that release, but our chat covered much more that didn’t find its way into that piece. So here I present selected quotes of hers from our chat. – bk
Written in Their Soul from Stax/Concord:
“A lot of care and effort went into the phase that Cheryl Pawelski and her technicians took charge on. She has incredible editors and producers in the control room. I listened to the demos all the while we were trying to identify them, and Robert Gordon wrote the liner notes. But, to hear it and listen to it the way that the consumer will hear it, it is quite an emotional experience for me.”
“If you are a person that is stirred to write because you’re having some kind of emotional experience with something happening in life, something that oppressed you about life, something that disgusted you about life, if you’re in love… whatever it is: that’s what I relate to most in writing.”
“We were developing and strengthening our writers team, because at that time, we had gone through the marriage with Atlantic Records, and that ended in a bit of divorce. And then, of course, we had to buy a new house, so to speak, refurnish that sucker. And start over with no catalog.”
“I Got No Time to Lose”:
“That was to have been my song. Carla [Thomas] heard it, I didn’t know it. I was working my heart out to try and have my next hit, and Jim Stewart did not like the song for Carla, and Carla didn’t cut a song that didn’t pass Jim Stewart’s approval. And so she liked it, and Steve Cropper, who had helped me finish the song, assured her that Jim had no plans of releasing it on me. This was a controlled conversation from which they excluded me. So she talked with me; she wanted permission to do it. It wasn’t a rivalry or anything. She wasn’t disrespectful, and it was the best thing that could have happened. That should have been Carla’s song. Because she was a far better vocalist than I am. She had the name recognition. The company was investing in her career. She liked it, and they were willing to take a chance on producing it for her. I was woman enough to accept it and to embrace it, and the rest is history.”
Marvell so desperately wanted me to structure my chords the right way that he gave me about six chords, and he wrote them all out, and I remember he was trying his best to teach me that. You know, and like I said, I can sit down, I can take the church hymnal, I could take a piece of sheet music, I can read it, and I can play it, but don’t ask me the theory of music!
Steve and I had a unique composer/composer relationship, because Steve was in the studio 24/7. [I] was on the Stax premises somewhere almost 24/7, too. If I had a song, I was going to come in there with the melody, because I’m the melody person. Every now and then, I needed a little assistance, maybe to finish up a last verse or to work out the bridge. He could help me finish up the lyrics and, a lot of times, I didn’t need that. What I needed sometimes was somebody who was a professional songwriter who did that all day every day to help me to perfect it in terms of, ‘How do you transition from the verse to the bridge?’ You know? And ‘Do we all hit here on…’ You know? Or a bass…Because I heard it and, when I shared with him the fundamentals and, most of the time, I played piano. I played on this demo on this particular song. Steve could help me to iron out the rough spots of a song.
My impression of Steve Cropper? How do I give you that? That’s an interesting question. Steve is my buddy. You have to accept Steve for who he is and where he is, and he definitely…It’s not an ego, maybe it’s total confidence. He has an air about him. He has this… It isn’t designed to be harmful or hurtful, and some people would say he has an ego, and I would say, ‘Yes, he does have an ego,’ but he can justify it. Number one, I think that, if you are an entertainer, you almost have to have an ego.
He can be a little bit…He can drown you out in a conversation, if you will, you know? Because he’s really very clear about his opinion. He is an opinionated person. But I cannot overlook the fact that he’s a good, kindhearted person. He really is, and he has been a phenomenal support system for me throughout my music career. But, I think Steve is the kind of person who isn’t always instantly warm, if you understand what I’m saying. And I think that the way and where and when Steve entered Stax Records positioned him such that he thought that he was superior in ways that he shouldn’t have been the authority and maybe the only authority.
Now, that said, he was judicious about where he let that behavior or that persona enter the room, you know, where it could be seen and felt. That’s Steve. That’s what made Steve unique. I appreciate that, when it came to the music and respect for his music taste, talent, and delivery, as compared to Booker, as compared to Al, as compared to Duck, I think that, growing up with those three guys was the medicine that Steve needed to keep him grounded.
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