Walter Parks & The Unlawful Assembly


Walter Parks & The Unlawful Assembly

Booking Agent: Craig Grossman

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Spirituals, hymns, hollers and work songs were sung either to express a yearning for a better life or gratitude for already having one. Guitarist Walter Parks, longtime sideman to Woodstock legend Richie Havens, is fascinated by this historical music’s universal applicability and power. While he uses this repertoire to entertain he also hopes to make a case for embracing the inescapable togetherness of races and cultures by performing this music in concert with his new group The Unlawful Assembly of…featuring collaborator/drummer/producer Steven Williams (Sade, Digable Planets) Ada Dyer (Bruce Springsteen current world tour) on vocals, Paul Frazier (David Byrne, Madeline Peyroux) on bass , Michael Bellar (Railroad Earth) • on organ and Andrae Murchison (Duke Ellington Band) on trombone.

The Unlawful Assembly of… is a harmonious mix of race, repertoire and result. Old-school spirituals, gospel, blues, swamp hollers, shaped-note European hymns, work chants are all presented in a swampy style that borrows from the blues, southern rock and gospel and that occasionally rests upon modern electronic loops. Reimagined covers and traditionals include: “Wade In The Water”, “Follow The Drinking Gourd”, “Down By The Riverside”, “Steal Away”, “Old Blind Barnabus”, “Amazing Grace”, “Higher Ground” and “Early In The Mornin’”. Walter contributes “Georgia Rice” and a co-write “Shoulder It” with Stan Lynch (Tom Petty/Heartbreakers).

The American imagination pictures the realm of spirituals, blues and jazz in Mississippi or Louisiana but Walter’s inspiration for The Unlawful Assembly of comes from southeast Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp – a mystifying wilderness near where Walter grew up that was once a place of refuge for runaway slaves, Civil War deserters and European homesteaders. The stories and music made in this area were archived in The Library of Congress during the early 1940’s just before the last east-coast pioneers were evicted from the swamp by the U.S. government. Walter Parks is proud to have been recently recognized by The American Folklife Collection as an artist pioneer of sorts who’s creating a reborn interest in these historic hollers, reels and spirituals by virtue of his contemporary approaches to it.

Walter’s new song Georgia Rice portrays one such swamp-folk tale. During the years when Florida was Spanish, if a slave could escape the rice plantations along the southeast Georgia coast, outrun bounty hunters while heading southwest, evade the natural perils of The Okefenokee Swamp and then find passage across The St Mary’s River, he could soon make a deal for freedom. Once the runaway reached Fort Mose near St Augustine he would find other former slaves who had endured escape odysseys of their own. In exchange for safe harbor he would convert to Catholicism and serve in the Spanish army in its fight against the British Colonialists.

European families mostly of Scottish descent began inhabiting islands in the Okefenokee during the mid-1800’s. They imported festive fiddle reels and they developed their own relationship with the banjo – an instrument of African origin. They brought spiritual music in the form of shaped-note and sacred harp singing. And they brought hollers – beautiful rolling yodel-like melodies sung by hunters through the piney woods to serve notice of an approach to home after having spent several days out in the wilderness.

A hundred years after the first slaves fled into the swamp from coastal rice plantations, their descendants returned to lay railroad track for The Hebbard Lumber Company. Walter theorizes that during this time, the lyrics of work chants sung in unison by black men while arduously hammering steel, began to find their way into the “old-fashioned songs” and hollers sung by white swampers. Jacksonville, in northeastern Florida is regarded by many as the epicenter of southern rock because The Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd formed there. Walter believes that there is a subtle black-influenced “funky” feel (as it was labeled in the seventies) in southern rock that differentiates it from country music and he believes that the music of the nearby Okefenokee was probably a significant factor in this distinguishing aspect. This might also explain why Walter as a kid, was more interested in early 70’s soul from Al Green, The Staple Singers and Issac Hayes than he was country music

As a full 6 piece band or a trio, The Unlawful Assembly reimagines and tributes historic spirituals and hymns which universally inspire, empower and unite. Leader/guitarist/singer Walter Parks, longtime sideman to Woodstock legend Richie Havens, is joined by featured artists drummer/producer Steven Williams, Ada Dyer on vocals who’s currently touring worldwide with Bruce Springsteen and/or Andrae Murchison on trombone.

In one live-concert experience The Unlawful Assembly entertains and informs while successfully melding roots music of divergent origins. The soundtrack to American black history – old-school spirituals, gospel, blues, and prison work chants intertwine with swamp hollers, shaped-note hymns and Appalachian reels of white homesteader origin.

Parks’ native northeast Florida swampy feel borrows from southern rock, jazz, early 70’s soul and few gospel interpretations that rest joyfully upon a foundation of modern electronic loops.

Reimagined covers and traditionals include: “Wade In The Water”, “Follow The Drinking Gourd”, “Down By The Riverside”, “Steal Away”, “Old Blind Barnabas”, “Amazing Grace”, “Higher Ground” and “Early In The Mornin’”. Walter contributes “Georgia Rice” and a co-write with Stan Lynch of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers on “Shoulder It”.

“Impressive Attention to Detail on a Melting Pot of Old, New, and Authentic Roots Songs.”
— Jack Kidd – Rocking Magpie

“Walter Parks’s examination of the spirituals that built American roots show the guitarist has a historian’s head and the gravitas to pull this music off. After hearing tracks like “Early in the morning” anything else you listen to that day will sound hopelessly lightweight.”
— Henry Yates – Classic Rock Magazine

To book Walter Parks & The Unlawful Assembly in the USA and Canada please contact:
Craig Grossman