Baltimore’s Ru Jac Records set up by entrepreneur and hustler Rufus Mitchell, was one of America’s first Afro-American owned record labels. Almost a contemporary of Berry Gordy, Mitchell never achieved the long lasting success that the Motown mogul enjoyed, nor did he manage to score too many hits, but he did discover one soul singer who’s revered and collected by the cognoscenti…. Winfield Parker.
Parker was born in Baltimore in 1941 and as a youth became proficient ton guitar and sax and it was a sax man that he joined his first band, The Veejays. From there he played with the Moroccos (who recorded for Atco) before joining Little Richard’s road band. Then Winfield fronted his own band – The Imperial Thrillers and very soon his showmanship and vocal (yes, not sax anymore) prowess bought him to the attention of the aforementioned Rufus Mitchell, who duly signed him as a solo artist to Ru-Jac.
Winfield Parker cut 17 tracks at Ru-Jac and, along with a clutch of previously unissued demos, they’re assembled here in this Omnivore retrospective. Parker’s most famous Ru-Jac tune is 1968’s ‘Mr Clean’ (hence the album title) and if you know it, you’ll know it’s a rough hewn, brash, beefy slab of old school soul and, in short, that’s the soundscape, of most of Parker’s Ru-Jac output. Listening now it’s easy to hear why success eluded him in particular and Ru-Jac generally. By the mid 60s the record buying Afro –American public didn’t want to be reminded of where they’d been. Ever aspirational, they wanted something a little more polished… sophisticated even. Berry Gordy was quick to seize on this and garnished his empire’s soul output with a glossy, pop veneer… yes “the sound of Young America”. Ru-Jac’s signature sound is a million miles away. Of course that doesn’t make the music any less worthy and now original Winfield Parker singles go for big bucks. Here for a lot less than you’d pay for one 45, you can enjoy Parker’s entire Ru-Jac catalogue in all it’s down home glory.
After Ru-Jac, Winfield Parker recorded for a whole host of other labels including Arctic, Wand and Spring but real success remained elusive and the man is now no more than a soul footnote. Hopefully this retrospective might change that!