Unsung: The Story of Ray Parker, Jr.

Note: Unsung is a music biography series on TV One that tells the story of some of music’s forgotten artist who are, “Uncompromised, unrecognized, unparalleled, unsung.”

In its fourth season, the show airs Mondays nights at 7 p.m. PST. Artists previously featured include DeBarge, Big Daddy Kane, Minnie Riperton, Teddy Pendergrass, Donny Hathaway and The O’Jays.

Following is a recap of Unsung: The Story of Ray Parker, Jr.

There’s more to know about musician Ray Parker, Jr. other than he was behind the mega 1984 hit Ghostbusters.

Much, much more.

Born Ray Erskine Parker, Jr. on May 1, 1954, he was reared in Detroit – well within walking distance of Motown Records.

Just 10 years old when he formed The Stingrays, Parker initially played the clarinet, but would eventually master the guitar after a bike accident left his broken leg in a cast at age 11.

Not able to do much else but practice the musical instrument that would ultimately bring him success in the music industry, Parker practiced “. . . all day, everyday, for like a year, year and a half. And the more I practiced, the more I wanted to practice until my dad would get upset and put the amp on the porch,” he said.

At age 13 he was jamming at the famed 20 Grand nightclub in Detroit where he played with the legendary Funk Brothers. During the rest of his teen years, Parker toured with The Spinners and Marvin Gaye. He also regularly participated in recording sessions at Motown and Invictus Records.

Parker didn’t last long in college; in 1972, he was offered an opportunity to join Stevie Wonder’s band on the road. While he was thrilled, Parker’s father was not. Still, Parker toured with the Rolling Stones and appeared on Wonder’s classic LP Talking Book.

Childhood friend Nate Watts said, “Ray went through Stevie’s Wonder’s school of music, and he’ll tell you in a minute he took a lot, learned a lot.”

Parker left Wonder Love after several months, journeying to Los Angeles where the knowledge he gained helped land him job with singer Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra.

More than a guitarist, Parker was also a gifted song writer. As a novice in the business, he unfortunately did not receive writing credits on Leo Sayer’s hit song You Make Me Feel Like Dancing. The song won a Grammy award (Best R&B Song) in 1978.

“One of the darkest moments in my life. For a second I thought about suicide. For five seconds, I thought about going to Detroit and shooting everybody involved. But none of these things were the real answer to it, and what good came out of it is everybody knew I did the song,” Parker said about the situation.

Receiving a recording deal from Clive Davis, who at the time was founder and head of Arista Records, Parker created Raydio, a four-person band consisting of two singers (Arnell Carmichael and Jerry Knight), a keyboardist (Vincent Bonham) and himself.

Their first single, Jack & Jill, headed straight to the top of both the R&B and pop chart in 1978. The self-titled album would go on to achieve gold status.

Difference of opinion regarding money initiated the replacement of some original band members, but that didn’t stop the group’s second album, Rock On, from also obtaining gold while crossing over onto the pop charts once again.

The lead single, You Can’t Change That, was originally written for The Spinners, and finally showcased Parker’s vocal ability.

While not confident in his singing, Parker said, “My vocal chords just had not been exercised, and it just didn’t sound right. So it’s not having insecurity in my singing as much as I knew I couldn’t sing.”

Eventually, he would shed his insecurities and release a solo effort – The Other Woman – which, you guessed it, went gold.

All told, Parker recorded six back-to-back gold records.

By the time the mid-80s and Ghostbusters rolled around, Parker was an established guitarist, song writer, producer and singer.

Wildly successful in the United States, Ghostbusters would prove to be extremely popular in other countries – going platinum in eight. The song also would give Parker his first Grammy Award (Best Pop Instrumental Performance).

Parker’s time in the spotlight began to wane after switching from Arista to Geffen Records. Releasing only one album on Geffen, it failed to crack the top 50. He eventually settled down and married at age 40.

Today, Parker has four sons and has the luxury of working not because he has to, but because you wants to.

Interesting tidbits:

Parker wrote and co-produced New Edition’s smash Mr. Telephone Man“I was surprised when it became a hit. You know what? I was surprised when we finished cutting it. It sounded pretty good. I was like, ‘Why didn’t I cut this song?’ ” he said.

Parker’s was the session guitarist on Cheryl Lynn’s Got To Be Real.

Because of the cross-over success of Raydio, Clive Davis had an easier time marketing records to both R&B and pop audiences, paving the way for future Davis-backed stars such as Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton and Usher.

Catch Unsung: The Story of Sheila E. Monday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. PST.


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