Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Lennon’s blues muse

Tonight’s documentary on the late John Lennon’s musical roots includes a local blues hero still miffed that the superstar stole his guitar line for one of the Beatles’ earliest hits.

Don’t believe Bobby Parker that the riff from “I Feel Fine” is his? Mr. Lennon and George Harrison themselves copped to the theft in “Anthology,” the Beatles’ much-publicized group autobiography.

“Great Performances: John Lennon’s Jukebox,” airing at 8 p.m. on PBS (WETA, Channel 26), tracks the Beatles’s musical influences, including the impact of Mr. Parker.

This program is a glimpse inside the musical development of one of the 20th century’s greatest songwriters, John Lennon, through his portable “jukebox” from the early 1960s.

The show features snippets of American soul, R&B and rock, all of which filtered into his own compositions and those of the Beatles.

The special, narrated by Mr. Lennon via archival radio interviews, captures the artist as a young, striving musician.

Besides Mr. Parker, “Lennon’s Jukebox” captures others taking credit for their “contributions” — including Delbert McClinton, the Isley Brothers and Donovan.

Mr. Parker remains ambivalent about his role in the band’s development.

“They took that music line from me and changed the words. After all these years, I should have gotten some royalties from that,” says Mr. Parker, who has never met any of the Beatles.

Nor did any of the Fab Four ever reach out to him, either to credit his contributions or offer some compensation, he said.

Mr. Parker, a D.C.-area resident for the past 44 years, arrived here in the early 1960s to play the Howard Theater.

“We didn’t have anywhere to play,” says Mr. Parker, noting there were only seven or eight “Apollos” in the country, where black musicians were unabashedly welcome.

He liked the music scene here so much that he decided to put down some roots, even though music has been “watered down” since those days, he says.

Today, Mr. Parker plays blues festivals worldwide — he just returned from the Montreux Jazz Festival, where he played along with Buddy Guy and B.B. King — as well as Madam’s Organ in Adams Morgan.

The Suitland resident says the Beatles weren’t the only musicians who looked to him for inspiration. But the others, he adds (including Carlos Santana and Jimmy Page), have acknowledged his influence and said “thanks.”

Mr. Lennon and, more recently, Mr. Harrison have gone, but Mr. Parker says he still hopes to hear from the remaining Beatles about the role he played in their emergence.

“If I could have gotten some kind of residual or a call or something from McCartney even it would make me feel better,” he says. “It’s never too late.”

Gray’ bows on Oh!

Cate Blanchett plays a woman pressed into the spy business for the French resistance during World War II in “Charlotte Gray,” airing at 9 tonight on cable’s Oxygen channel.

The 2001 film casts the Oscar-nominated actress as a young Scottish woman who takes up espionage to rescue her missing lover.

Billy Crudup and Michael Gambon also star.

Labor Day pains

Organizers of the annual Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon are blaming Hurricane Frances for this year’s non-record-breaking haul, TV Guide Online reports. Donations totaled $59.4 million — down nearly 2 percent from 2003’s $60.5 million. Disruptions and outages prevented many Florida stations from airing the telethon.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports

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