Saturday, May 31, 2014


I've always believed that fiddling was a whole lot about rhythm, pace, beat, pulse, drive, all those characteristics which form the ocean on which melody bobs and rocks. Tommy Jarrell taught me that bowing was in this sense more fundamental than melodic details: you could miss some sixteenth-note glissando (pretty though it might be, and with it all the better for the porridge), but you'd better not lose the beat, or forget that "and" is at least as important as "one." Back in the day the band I used to be in, back when it was alive and interested in seeing what was around the next corner, tried out a drummer. He was a guy who was around those parts, had worked with us in Diamond Studs, and was basically a jazz guy, influenced by fifties and sixties jazz, a lot about the cymbal and brush and various other things people like Coltrane and Miles Davis wanted in their rhythm sections. We had some nice conversations about jazz, as I'd really listened to a lot of that stuff too, and loved it. But boy oh boy did he not work in our band. Maybe his problem was not hearing where the pulse was, but just trying to impose it. Anyways, we gave up that experiment after a couple of tries at the home club, the Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill.

Two decades later I was playing in a cajun-zydeco band called Unknown Tongues. They'd had another jazz oriented drummer when Libby and I were invited to their dance, and he certainly did listen to what was going on (plus he would sing now and again). When he left they tried out a couple of rock guys, and because the band leader, Bryan Blake, could tell a drummer what he wanted and get him to do it, things went pretty well. Then along came Tom Parker, a guy who'd played behind touring blues players and had washed up in New Bern, NC, tired of the road, but with a soul as brimming with music as anyone I've ever met. Tom connected with Tongues immediately, and with the zydeco rhythms Bryan was aiming to harness. Some of the best musical nights of my life were passing rhythmic figures back and forth with Tom, full blasting volume, the joint literally jumping to a point that floor joists in ancient structures might have been just a little sprung permanently. I was the second fiddler so to speak, not much in front where Bryan held the focus with his accordion and singing, but standing back and not too far from Tom's central location, so Tom and me could share a glance. What I could tell right away was, Tom was all the time listening! I'd play some rhythmic phrase and damn if he wouldn't shoot it back at me in the next measure. It was fantastic. The shows built and built to great explosions of sweat-drenched, 20-minute medleys of zydeco classics, Chavis, Delafos, Congo Square, Talk to Your Daughter exuberance.

Over the years, before and after Libby and I left The Tongues, Tom maintained that great rhythmic center, and Tongues just got tighter and tighter. It's been fifteen years already since he walked into Bryan's parlor down in Gloucester, NC. Mighty good times.

So's I get this email today from the Tongues, which I'll share with you:

Friends - our beloved Tom Parker, drummer for the Unknown Tongues for the past 15 years, is recovering from a motorcycle accident in which he suffered a brain injury. After a month in the hospital he is now home and making remarkable progress. But his hospital bills will be staggering and as a self-employed musician and carpenter, he will be out of work for many weeks to come as he continues to heal. His New Bern community has organized a fundraiser June 14 at Isaac Taylor Garden [in New Bern, NC] and Tom's Unknown Tongue family will be playing around 5pm. Please come and show your support for Tom! If you can't make it, you can contribute online or we will gladly collect donations at any of our upcoming shows and pass them on to this remarkable human being we love so much. Much appreciation and love!!

You can send some dough via

You should make the show if you can, or any of the upcoming Tongues' shows, where they will pass donations on, or hunt up the Tongues' web page.

And by the way. We give a lot of lip service in this great land of ours to people who give a shit, who live honestly and with integrity. But when it comes right down to it, a straight-up guy like Tom is left financially exposed because of an accident, because this country basically has no universally available medical system, because the Romney one-percenters hold tight to their billions until the eagles grin. That's why the VA situation is messed up: no one was willing to pay to fix it. But it's not just the VA. It's everyone who couldn't afford insurance.

I'm praying that however the money side goes, Tom will recover and be back to playing. If you were ever at a Tongues gig, Tom lifted you up whether you know it or not. You owe him. We all do.

Of course Tom's other instrument would be the bass.

The community--you can spot Tom here and there in the shots. Bryan and Barbara Blake are doing most of the talking, about their tradition of Gloucester, NC Mardi Gras.


  1. This is tragic. I love the Tongues and their incredible music and energy. Tom was indeed the back bone of that. Sorry I will be on the other side of the state June 14 but will send my donation and continue to pray for Tom. Love you all...
    Robin and Willie Painter

  2. I am so sorry to hear this. for so many reasons.