Guitarist Robert Allen Parker is determined to change Memphis' ears, one listener at a time: He's formed Broken String Records, a Southern independent-music collective, and he's giving away free compilation CDs to anyone who wants to spin them. His goal, he says, is to promote "good, honest, original music, no matter what genre it may be."
"I got this idea after I released my first solo CD in the fall of 2003," says Parker, a veteran of several groups, including Denise LaSalle's and Rufus Thomas' backing bands. "The record was a blues, rock, and funk hybrid, and it was kind of hard to market and promote it because it didn't fall specifically into any one category. I had friends with the same problems. They didn't fall into a specific musical genre either. After going through that for a year or so, I got the idea to form a collective to help people get their music out.
"We need to get organized and make it easy for the community to check stuff out, so I created a Web site and pressed up this compilation," he continues. "It's not about making money. It's about spreading good music."
For Parker, the name Broken String was an obvious choice. "As a guitarist, I break strings a lot," he says. "But mainly, it goes along with the concept of people having a loose organization yet being able to break off into their own music and do their own things."
The first Broken String compilation features a varied selection of artists, including neo-folkie S.J. Tucker, modern bluesman Jason Freeman, soul duo Bella Sun, Solstice, and four of Parker's own projects: his solo group (which features the Hi Rhythm Section's Leroy Hodges and Howard Grimes), Amerika, Sons of Soil, and Full Circle. Tracks by Nashville's Vinyl Soup and New Orleans' Eddy Redd Band round out the 12-song disc.
"I'm trying to push the eclectic element. We've got hill-country blues next to hardcore funk next to folk," Parker says, likening his vision to Bill Graham's concerts at San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium back in the 1960s. "Albert King, Janis Joplin, the Doors, the Byrds, and Ravi Shankar -- I wanted to capture that spirit, that diversity. Audiences then were more open-minded, and they were more into albums, not just the single. That's the element I'm going for -- people who are honestly, deeply into music."
While Parker is quick to credit other Memphis-based organizations for their work within the local music scene, he believes that Broken String can fill a void. "There are hundreds of bands on Live From Memphis, but a lot of these [Broken String] bands just weren't getting enough attention," he explains. "The Makeshift collective has done a great job with indie and punk rock. Inside Sounds is covering the blues, and Response Records has done a lot for the alternative-metal scene. What they're doing is great, but I think I've found a niche that wasn't being covered.
"Some of the bands [on Broken String Records] were already friends, while some were bands I'd played shows with," Parker says. "I actually funded the Web site and pressed 500 CD compilations out of my own pocket. Right now we're giving away CDs and having some free shows. The way to fund it in the future as a nonprofit organization is to funnel some of the money made at the shows back into the Web site or next recording project."
The effort is already paying off. Parker has scheduled multiple Broken String showcases over the next 30 days. "It was harder for all of us to get gigs before," he says. "Club owners are a little more interested in three bands. They think we may bring in more people. We're trying to create a live environment with these shows too -- get people to sit in with other bands. Whether it's blues or funk or soul, it's all roots music, and it creates a community atmosphere.
"When I was a kid, I was attracted to the rock-star element," Parker admits. "But when I got older, I learned more about how hard the business of music can be. I still fell in love with the idea of being a musician and all the good and bad that goes along with it.
"I believe in the concept of Broken String Records," he adds firmly. "We're all in it for the right reasons. We're coming together and making a statement -- a middle finger to commercial radio and the four big record labels that own everything," he says, alluding to conglomerates like Clear Channel and Seagram's.
As Parker repeats, "This isn't about money. It's about making music."
For more information, go to BrokenStringRecords.com.
Upcoming Broken String showcases: Full Circle, 3 p.m. Sat., March 26th, at Tower Records, free; Amerika, Jason Freeman, and Solstice 9 p.m. Wed., March 30th, at the Hi-Tone, free; Full Circle, Sons of Soil, and Solstice, 9 p.m. Sat., April 9th, at Neil's, $5; Bella Sun and Solstice 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 22nd, at Shangri-La Records, free.
Free CD compilations will be given away at every show. n
by ANDRIA LISLE