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Joyann Parker plays songs from "Roots" on Radio Heartland

Joyann Parker – studio session at The Current for Radio Heartland (music & interview) The Current
  Play Now [20:38]

by Mike Pengra

January 07, 2024

Wisconsin-originated and classically trained musician Joyann Parker came to the blues, jazz and gospel music later in life, but she celebrates it with gusto on her new album, Roots, produced by Kevin Bowe.

Parker and her band visited The Current studio to play songs from the new album in a session hosted by Radio Heartland’s Mike Pengra. Following the session, Parker talks with Pengra about her trajectory so far, and how it led her away from — and back to — her home state of Wisconsin.

Watch and listen to the entire session above, and read a transcript below.

Two people sing and play guitars in a recording studio
Joyann Parker performing in The Current studio for Radio Heartland on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023. Guitarist Mark Lamoine is at right.
Josh Sauvageau | MPR

Interview Transcript

Mike Pengra: I'm in the studio with Joyann Parker. And I'm really excited because we're going to talk about your newest record, Roots. It came out in September, is that right? And this is album number three if I'm not mistaken. 

Joyann Parker: Correct.

Mike Pengra: So I've listened to your other albums, too. This one has a little more of a bluesy tinge to it. How is it different? How has your style morphed over those three albums?

Joyann Parker: You know, I think in the very beginning, I was trying to fit into a mold. I love my songs. And I don't, you know, I wouldn't not do those songs. But — and they still mean a lot to me. But over the years, I have just written the song to write the song, if that makes sense. I felt like I was, I had to be — starting out in blues, I felt like I had to write a certain way, and I had to have a certain subject matter, maybe, or something like that. And over the years, I've just gotten more comfortable with who I am and not worrying about that so much. And so that's why you find all these different styles on this record. You know, we have a little reggae, you got a little bluegrass, you got — I just write what I write. And I'm not worried about it any more about where to fit. And so I think that is my biggest development, and I just think I go wherever I go.

A woman in wool and flannel holds a guitar in a snowy wood
Joyann Parker's album, 'Roots,' was released September 8, 2023.
courtesy the artist

Mike Pengra: That's one of the things about your career is that you've played so many different styles of music, and besides doing the Joyann Parker band, you also do the duo, you also do with the Patsy Cline thing, right? I mean, what kind of music, what genre haven't you played?

Joyann Parker: Opera, I don't really do that. But I am classically trained. I love American music. So anything based in, again, roots, I love that. That's why [I] can do the Patsy Cline. I think Patsy Cline's a blues singer.

Mike Pengra: That's a thing I saw you say now. Tell me about that.

A woman in a flowered shirt smiles
Patsy Cline, 1960.
Decca Records

Joyann Parker: Well, she — it's not country. You know, clearly it wasn't what country was at that time, you know. Owen Bradley was pushing that envelope and making that Nashville sound, and he wanted her to sing differently, because she had that emotional, deep voice. And to me, she channeled that soul, and when you read about her, people talk about how she made you feel more so even than the songs, and that everybody felt like she was singing directly to them, and that she moved them. And that's what I want to do. And I've, people tell me that I do that. And that's why I connected with her, I think, to begin with. I know I kind of got turned off early in my life — I grew up in northern Wisconsin, where we only had country music and classic rock — and so I went “Augh!” you know, "Classic country so boring," you know? And then later in life, when you understand the lyrics a little more, and you have been through some stuff, you get it. And that's why I really fell in love with her, was just her in general and how she communicates with her voice.

Mike Pengra: Life experience.

Joyann Parker: Yeah.

Mike Pengra: So speaking of that, you, like you said are classically trained.  You went to college to study music, and you actually taught music after this.

Joyann Parker: I did.

Mike Pengra: What was your intent when you graduated from college? You were going to be a band director?

Joyann Parker: Band director.

Mike Pengra: Really?

Joyann Parker: Yeah. And I only got to do that for a little bit. Because when I graduated, it was not a great time to get hired anywhere actually. And it took me a while to get my first job in music. And I taught elementary music for a little bit. And then I finally got to teach sixth grade band my last year of teaching and then I got pregnant and decided to not go back to teaching. So I went to church music after that, because I was able to take my kids with me and not have to worry about daycare. But anyway, I would have loved to have been a band director and do, you know, the field shows and all that stuff, but I still really enjoy all of that, watching all of that, listening to that stuff. But yeah.

Mike Pengra: Do you still listen to classical music?

Joyann Parker: I do. Yeah.

Mike Pengra: Did you ever play it? Of course, you played keyboards. You play piano.

Joyann Parker: Yep. Yeah, I was classically trained. I played only classical music. I didn't know anything about jazz or blues or anything growing up. So it was all classical for me up until really late. Actually, the blues didn't come around till about 11 years ago; I didn't really know anything about it. I always tell people my experience in blues is Eric Clapton and Deep Purple. That was the only thing I was ever exposed to that was close. And so that's really new to me.

A woman plays piano in a recording studio
Joyann Parker performing in The Current studio for Radio Heartland on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023.
Josh Sauvageau | MPR

Mike Pengra: So who are your blues influences now?

Etta James
Etta James performing in Los Angeles in 2004.

Joyann Parker: Well, you know, the same as most every blues lady singer: Etta James, just because again, communication, right? She just communicates so well what she's feeling. And, of course, Aretha [Franklin]. Again, I love the gospel background, because that's my background is, you know, church music and stuff, and I love gospel, and I love her piano playing, and I love how she uses the piano as part of her. You know, like, what she's playing is part of what she's doing. I try to do that when I'm playing. I'm not playing a part. I'm playing whatever can accompany me the best and fit the best with what I'm doing. I love that about Aretha. So I think those are two and then of course, if you're going with males, Otis Redding all day long, Sam Cooke all day long. Those are my two. And they're kind of opposites. I love that Otis is all about, again, feeling. And so is Sam, but in a different way. But he's got the style and Otis is just the raw emotion of everything. So those are those are the people I go to the most.

Mike Pengra: I'm talking with Joyann Parker in the studio today on Radio Heartland, and her latest record is called Roots. And I wanted to ask you, I saw in an interview that you said this was a little more personal for you, this album. How so?

Joyann Parker: I shouldn't — it isn't. It's not...  All my songs are personal. You know, I get a look back at the other albums, I have Out of the Dark, and that's clearly about my mental health struggles and things. So that's on every record. But this one I feel, it was what I was feeling at the time, because I moved back to Wisconsin; I grew up in Wisconsin and came here, I lived here in the Cities 20 years, and then we just moved back three years ago. So I was feeling at home again. And just, you know, when growing up, I thought, "I will never move to a small town in Wisconsin ever again, get me out of here!" And here I am at 45 going, "I would really like to move back to a small town in Wisconsin. I really love it again." So I was just kind of going in my mind saying, "What is important to me? What makes me me?" And when I was making like the video for "Roots," for example, I wanted my daughter in it, I wanted her to be me in that video.

Mike Pengra: So that was her doing the lead singing?

Joyann Parker: That's my daughter, yeah. So all of those things I was thinking about: what what is important to me? What are the things that hold me up when hard times come? And I wanted to reflect my faith and my family and just all those important things. And honestly, I love Wisconsin. What is that song on my record? "Sconnie Girl." I am really proud of Wisconsin. I love it. I love that it's a different kind of culture, and I love it. And it's amazing because we're so close together but yet so different.

Mike Pengra: That's a new term for me, "Sconnie Girl," I didn't know that until this record came out.

Joyann Parker: There's a Sconnie Clothing Company, you can get Sconnie clothes!

Mike Pengra: I'll have to check that out.

Joyann Parker: Yes.

Mike Pengra: So this is the second album you've worked with Kevin Bowe, is that right?

Joyann Parker: Yes. Right.

Mike Pengra: How does he influence your sessions, your recording, your arrangements, all that stuff? He's a great producer.

Joyann Parker: He's a great producer. I always say about Kevin is that, you know, Kevin isn't a Daniel Lanois. You don't hear a record and go, "That's a Kevin Bowe album," right? Where you hear certain producers and you know that's what you're going there for, you're going for the sound that they make. Kevin and I work really well together because we are creating a song. And whatever that song is, it gets its own identity, and you do what's best for the song. And he tells people that about me, that I write for the song, and I love that about him. So I can come in, my songs are mostly produced already when we come in; I've got an idea of what I want it to sound like, and so they're kind of done, but Kevin's able to take it and just give it that oomph. Put that icing on the cake. Give it that last thing that just really makes it great. And he's really good at bringing the best out of the band. He's really good at making you think it was your idea! You know, and that's really great for a producer, especially when you're working with your own band. I'm not using studio musicians. [I’m] coming in with [my] own guys. And, you know, we're not in the studio all the time. I mean, we're not [drummer] Noah Levy, right? He uses Noah all the time because Noah's fantastic, and he can go in and he can just do the thing. And you know, my guys are great, too, but we're not studio rats. We're not in there all the time, and so he's really good at taking what we do and pulling the best out of it and making a great record. And I just, I love the way we work together. And he just, he gets me.

Kevin Bowe's basement holds a private studio for music production.
Kevin Bowe is his home basement studio in Minneapolis.
Maria Alejandra Cardona | MPR News 2017

Mike Pengra: And these are all original songs?

Joyann Parker: Yes. 

Mike Pengra: Wow. Well, congratulations on the record.

Joyann Parker: Thank you.

Mike Pengra: Joyann Parker, her new record is called Roots. And I'm looking forward to seeing — I know you got a lot of gigs coming up, especially I saw something in Nashville coming up?

Joyann Parker: Yeah, we have a few gigs in Nashville. We're actually doing an in-studio; WMOT has Finally Fridays at 3rd and Lindsley. So Mark and I will be there doing that, and we have a couple gigs, one at a place called Papa Turney’s, which is a cool little blues joint.

Mike Pengra: Sweet.

Joyann Parker: Yeah, I'm very excited.

Mike Pengra: We might not see a come back if you're going to Nashville, girl.

Joyann Parker: Well, we'll see!

Mike Pengra: All right. Joyann, thanks for coming in today.

Joyann Parker: Thanks for having me.

Video Segments

00:00:00 Faintly Optimistic
00:04:12 What’s Good For You
00:07:51 Wash It Away
00:11:37 Interview with host Mike Pengra
All songs from Joyann Parker’s 2023 album, Roots.


Joyann Parker – lead singer, electric guitar
Mark Lamoine – electric guitar, vocals
Chris Bates – bass
Tim Wick – keyboards
Bill Golden – drums, vocals
Scott Graves – saxophone


Guest – Joyann Parker
Host & Producer – Mike Pengra
Video Director – Josh Sauvageau
Audio – Evan Clark, Cameron Wiley
Graphics – Natalia Toledo
Digital Producer – Luke Taylor

Joyann Parker – official site

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.