Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Flashback #7 - 'Mystery Train'

Happy New Year, folks!
I caught a couple of excellent gigs in Edinburgh by Blues’N’Trouble and the Jensen Interceptors over the festive season, but opted to have a holiday from reviewing for the week and just enjoy the craic.
Blues'N'Trouble get festive and funky
However in the course of listening to B’N’T's album No Minor Keys I came across their nicely funky version of ‘Mystery Train’, which put me in mind of my first encounter with the song.  It was probably right about this time 36 years ago, when UFO were promoting their new album No Place To Run, and I heard a couple of band members being interviewed on radio – singer Phil Mogg and bassist Pete Way I’d guess.  Their version of ‘Mystery Train’ was given a spin, and they explained that it was a cover of an old blues song.
They went on to mention that the song was turned into a big hit by Elvis Presley, and then suggested that Colonel Tom Parker had had the effrontery to credit the song to himself – and in doing demonstrated that their knowledge of the song’s history had its limitations.
UFO sporting an 80s look
Because of course the ‘Parker’ whose name they’d come across in the writing credit wasn’t Elvis’s manager at all, but Junior Parker, who at one time played harmonica with Howlin’ Wolf, and later got a deal with Sam Phillips – who was subsequently given a co-writing credit for ‘Mystery Train’.
Colonel Tom Parker may have been a ‘brand manager’ long before the term even existed, who had little feeling for the music but succeeded in commodifying Elvis.  He may even have been deserving of the stirring closing line spoken by the ghost of the King in The Waterboys’ song ‘I Can See Elvis’ – “I’m gonna slit the throat of that skinflint the Colonel!”  But he didn’t stoop to pinching a writing credit for ‘Mystery Train’.

Whatever, the song has become a blues standard, so you might want to check out how Junior Parker’s original stands up against UFO’s 1980hard rock version – or alternatively this rockabilly rendition by the StrayCats.

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