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Minnesota Gold

Charlie Parr on the Minnesota music scene, his childhood music, and the Old Testament



I'm convinced that there's something in the water that makes great Minnesota musicians. Gloom pop group Low are out of Duluth, the riot grrrl punk act Babes in Toyland formed in Minneapolis, alt-punkers Hüsker Dü are from St. Paul. Not to mention Atmosphere, The Replacements, Bob Dylan and Prince; the wellspring of musical talent in Minnesota runs deep.

And then there's Charlie Parr. A purist folk musician with a sound somewhere between folk and blues traditionalists Lead Belly and Charley Patton.

Parr was born and raised in Austin, Minn., a town of 20,000 nicknamed "SPAM town, USA" for its Hormel tinning factory where Parr's parents worked. Austin is known more for its canned meats than its blooming music scene. But that didn't stop Parr.

"If you didn't play football, you played music," said Parr. "All I did when I was a kid was ride my bike and play my guitar."

Growing up to the hum of his father's records at home, a collection that included a wealth of traditional folk and blues, played a major part in Parr's musical evolution.

"We played records all the time," explained Parr. "From Johnny Cash to Lead Belly. It was mostly acoustic music. My sister listened to the Grateful Dead and The Beatles. I wanted to play the guitar like Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin' Hopkins."

Talking with Parr is a name-dropping history lesson in folk, blues and oddly, gospel.

"I love those old songs," explained Parr. "I haven't been to church since I was five. I think I might have been a Methodist at that point. We were outside people. My dad's church was going fishing."

But lack of conventional religion didn't stop Parr from embracing the spirituality of traditional tunes, which he often rearranges for performance and recording. It also hasn't stopped him from writing his own religious lore in songs like "Jesus at the Kenmore," a drinking song of epic proportions.

"I have stacks of these old pre-WWII gospel records and I think it's amazing what you find in those stories," said Parr. "The Old Testament is the craziest collection of stories you'll ever hear in your life. It ignites a weird fire that might have to do with God. That music sure moves me in a way I appreciate."

Charlie Parr

6 pm.

Tue., July 22

Crow's Feet Commons, 875 NW Brooks St.


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