John Parr was born in Worksop, England and had a major world hit
with 'St Elmo's Fire' in 1985. He has written for many
artists and also acted as co-producer with Mutt Lange for
Romeo's Daughter's debut in 1988.
Hi John, you've just completed a UK tour with Richard Marx
ending with a wonderful evening at the Royal Albert Hall, how
was it for you?
It was a dream come true for me. When I was a kid my dad managed
me. He used to say " You don't need a band, just sit on a stool
with your guitar, tell em' a few stories and just play". I
wasn't having any of it back then - I was just rocking out with
All these years later I still love kicking it with the band but
sitting up there at the Albert Hall my dad's words came flooding
back. Just before I started to play my last song "St Elmo's" I
tried to say" this is for you dad" but the words just wouldn't
come out. I actually started playing the wrong song. I have
played most of the big gigs around the world but this place
really got to me.
You became a household name on both sides of the pond with the
smash hit 'St.Elmo's Fire'; Can you tell us the story behind
David Foster told me he was writing with McCartney, trying to
rip my tune "Naughty Naughty" (allegedly). Foster's wife came in
the room and say's "there's a guy on the radio singing your
song!" Needless to say it freaked me out when he relayed the
story. But he swears its true and say'
s what led him to
make contact with me.
He was doing the soundtrack for the movie and had a bunch of
songs with other artistes recorded. He asked if I'
d come to the
studio and write a tune with him.
I got there and he was really fried. He wasn'
t interested in
writing he just wanted me to sing one of the tunes he had
recorded. I persuaded him to just give us a couple of hours to
write a new tune. He eventually submitted.
We actually wrote 3 songs. I would have settled at song 2 but he
saw our potential and I learned a lot that day. Our 3rd song was
the one and I knew it there and then. Written and recorded in
two days it was the most magical time for me - all those
incredible players that came through the studio doors - Michael
Landau in and out in 3 hours - Jerry Hey and his incredible horn
section the same - Richard Page on BV'
s - Humberto Gatica on the
board - man it just doesn'
t get any better than that.
The video which accompanied St.Elmo's Fire at the Albert Hall
also made my hairs on my back stand on end. Any chance of the
song being re-released maybe with an acoustic version too, as
that song now has another meaning.
Yeah the Rick Hansen story is the true inspiration for the song.
Though David and I wrote the tune real quick, I was struggling
to find the lyric. He say'
s this is nothing to do with the movie
but take a look at this… He pushes a video cassette into the
machine and up comes this great looking young guy on screen,
He says 2 years ago I was fishing with my buddy just outside
Vancouver - we had a great day and were thumbing a lift home. A
pick up truck stops and his buddy Don Alder jumps in the cab and
Rick Hops in the open back. A mile down the road the truck
crashes. Don walks away without a scratch but the tool box in
the back smacks into Rick'
s back and breaks his spine.
As I watch the screen I realize that Rick is in a wheelchair… he
continues, "You break your arm or your leg and you'
re in a cast
for 6 weeks - you break your back and you'
re in a chair for the
rest of your life - this can'
t be right! I'
m gonna get in this
chair and wheel it around the world and raise money just to make
people take notice and maybe in the end we can fix things".
I am glued to the screen as I watch Rick wheel out of a deserted
shopping mall car park. A small camper van follows him with Don
at the wheel; on the side it says "Man in motion world tour".
And in that moment I knew …. My life was not about trying to be
rock star or writing a hit, it was about this. I had to help; I
had to write the song about Rick and his impossible dream. The
rest as they say is history.
Two years, two months and two days after he wheeled out of that
deserted car park - he wheeled back in to Vancouver. A million
people lined the street - brass bands playing the tune…. People
singing, crying… Rick had wheeled 50 miles a day for every day
of those 2 years.
Across deserts, mountain ranges - even across the Great Wall of
China. St Elmo'
s (Man in Motion) had been number one in almost
every country he wheeled through. David and I played our tune
that incredible day of Rick Hansen'
s triumphant return. - Yes it
s song and every man woman and child sang it with us.
So it is a long winded answer but it's a story I never tire of
telling - to sit just with an acoustic and play the song as a
soundtrack to Rick's incredible story is privilege. And yes I
think I will always keep doing different arrangements of the
song - the acoustic version on Letter to America was very
emotional to record.
You have a new album coming out on July 4th (Independence
Day) 'Letter To America. Can you tell us more about that., is it
all new songs or a mixture of old and new?
Letter to America is a double album - a rock album with around
17 tracks and an acoustic/ unplugged album with around 12 or so
tracks on it.
I would say it reflects me completely as an artiste. In the past
I have been criticised for being too diverse and so by doing two
separate records in one box it frees me - to be balls to the
wall rockin, or up close and personal.
The record has just about all the songs I am known for on it but
either with a new take or a different angle. In essence I would
s a marker for me - it celebrates my past and is a
signpost to where I am right now and where I'
m heading. Having
been unable to make records for so long I really wanted to make
up for lost time.
You're orignally from Doncaster, tell us about your early
days playing in the workingman's club scene.
Actually I was born just outside Sherwood Forest. I only moved
to Doncaster in the late 70'
s. Me coming from Worksop and my
wife coming from Castleford, Donny seemed like the bright lights
I had played the clubs since I was a kid. My first paid show was
with my school buddies "The Silence" we were all around 12 when
we played Worksop Miners Welfare for Six Guineas ( £6.30 in new
money) a S**t load of cash back then - especially for a kid.
Dad managed us and drove the truck - an ex-army ambulance. We
did 150,000 miles gigging around England before we turned 16.
Every year we felt we would make it but as our teens turned into
our twenties the clock just kept ticking, we were heading
The boys packed it all in when the umpteenth truck finally gave
up the ghost. I kept plugging away writing but I stopped doing
the clubs in 1979 - it was a pretty sad day as I had done it
You eventually signed a publishing deal with Carlin' Music,
but one of your first songs to be recorded by another artist was
'Danger In Paradise' by the Tygers Of Pan Tang for 'The Cage'
album in '82, but you weren't too happy with the finished
Hey I was thrilled anybody would record one of my tunes - but it
is a bit disappointing when after it had all that dough spent on
it, it comes out barely better than your 8 track demo. I am sure
s feel the same.
What other songs have you written for other artists we may
not know about?
I wrote with Romeo's Daughter, Marilyn Martin, Richard Marx,
Bobby Whitlock, Bernie Marsden, and Jim Cregan - man come to
think of it I have done a lot of collaborations - I love to be
in a good team.
It was a big thrill to write for Tom Jones but again I wish I
could have worked on the track with him - logistics didn'
and I just feel there was so much more that could have been in
He is one of my all time favourite singers and the track comes
off a bit cabaret. Tom is a true soul rocker and I missed my
chance to work with one of the greats.
Photo: Ian Pollard/GRTR!
How did the boy from Yorkshire end up in the USA?
The Who had just broken up (for the first time) and John Wolff
was looking for a new outlet - he went to my publishers and
sifted through tapes and came across mine. He was loud, brash
and in your face - everything that I am not (off stage) a
perfect combination - we were unstoppable - I loved him then.
Wolff started out as a driver for Keith Moon in the sixties and
was with him and the band from beginning to end of The Who -
every story and happening he witnessed first hand.
During the endless flights and road trips that Wolff and I
shared I got the history of rock and roll. Although I knew John
Entwistle and Roger a little, Keith unfortunately was raising
hell on another plain by then.
Wolff and I set our company up in 85 Bogus Global in memory of
Keith. On a drunken flight he and Wolff had decided the whole
world was Bogus and a company should be created to reflect it -
I mean any body who would deal with a company called Bogus
Global should have their bumps read…right! Any how BG is
thriving as it has been for the past 25 years and is a living
testament to the great man.
Is that how you ended up writing the title track for Roger
Daltrey's 'Under A Raging Moon'?
I was writing with Julia Downs one day, laughing about a Keith
story when she started to play the riff on the piano - the song
came in a blinding flash - I wish I still had the demo but can'
find it for the life of me… we played it for Roger and he loved
it. It became the title track of his most successful album to
I performed it as a duet at Madison Square Garden with him -
Yoko, The Ox and a bunch of faces got up for what was an
You worked on the 'Bad Attitude' album with Meat Loaf, but only
two of your songs ended up on that album. Why? And how was Meat
when you first met him.
Meat Loaf heard a demo tape of mine and a meeting was set up at
Newcastle City Hall where he was doing a show. This would be
around 83/84. I came prepared; I wrote some new songs for him
and demoed them with my best Meatloaf impression… We hit it off
and within a month I was living with him and his family in
I was in the studio with him and the band in the day and we
would just hang out together out of hours. Meat and I became
close - he had a fearful reputation but I have never seen a bad
side to him. He has an immense talent that I feel is actually
overshadowed by the billboard perception we all have of him and
of course he plays it to the hilt.
He is a great writer that deserves far more credit than he has
received. As to why only a few tunes of mine got on the record -
I would just say it'
s like an old movie… only the names change.
s a lot of politics - keeping people sweet…. Things always
suffer because of that. Or maybe they felt my other songs were
Did you feel you were stepping into big shoes considering
Meat Loaf principal songwriter before was Jim Steinman?
Meatloaf used to introduce me as Jim'
s successor - the new
Steinman. I had studied Jim'
s work very closely and have to say
he is very original in his song construction. When I wrote
specifically for Meat I would never be afraid to go over the top
- for instance most writers will repeat a line once or twice -
Jim will sometimes go 3 or 4 and just when you think it'
much it somehow feels just right - the same goes for some of the
musical sections of his classics. That'
s not to say I was
ripping him - I just wanted to keep the tone. Meat is like
Wagner, Beethoven, Shakespeare and Seeger all rolled into one.
He needs something to get his teeth into.
Your relationship with Meat Loaf did continue as you both had
a hit record with the single 'Rock 'n Roll Merceneries' from his
'Blind Before I Stop' album.
I loved our time together making Mercenaries - from recording
out in Germany with Frank Farin, to shooting the video with
Terry Donavan. We promoted that tune all over the world - just
him and me - picking up TV bands along the way. Our friendship
deepened and we just loved it - well I loved it. You'
ll have to
ask meat for his take on it.
You worked with Mutt Lange on production for the debut
Romeo's Daughter album?
Mutt Lange is the king for me, both as a man and as a record
producer. I was inspired by him before we met and then getting
to do a record together was a privilege very few have had.
The way he nurtured Romeo'
s Daughter and helped them develop a
style - it was great to be part of that team. I will always
remember … Mutt and Craig Joiner were coming in the next day to
s, which meant I was in charge for the day… " What time do
you want us boss?" now Mutt Lange saying that doesn'
t get much
better… but the next day I am pinching myself as I am directing
the recording… "Can we go again, it was a little flat" … "FLAT,
" said Mutt - not in a loud voice, he never raises his voice…I
stood my ground - I reckon it was Craig who was out of tune but
to give Mutt his due he never challenged me the rest of the day.
I learned three things from being around Mutt. Alterica coffee
(instant but tastes like ground), Chocolate Hobnobs (man they
are just great but because he is a veggie he can eat a box) -
me, I just got fat. And the final thing I learned…. that he is
The Best. I heard it in his records before we met and I
witnessed him in the chair making them. What a life I have had.
It was shortly after working with Mutt I began a legal action
against someone who shall remain nameless. I thought it would be
over real quick and justice would be done. I was wrong. I was
finally free December 29th 2010. When you are in litigation no
major label will touch you. I had no outlet for my music so
everything was just put on ice - it nearly killed me.
With Mutt there is a Def Leppard connection - they were riding a
massive wave Stateside with Pyromania and Hysteria albums...Did
you guys ever meet up at the time being fellow Yorkshire lads?
Joe and the boys go right back to a studio I had in the early
s. They recorded some of their demo'
s there. Steve used to
come to my working men'
s club gigs - he was only a little kid
then - his dad used to sneak him in. His loss hit us all very
I have done a few shows with Joe and Rick and jammed on stage
together. They are lovely lads who have never forgotten where
they came from and will always go the extra mile for their home
town and its community.
On the recent tour you have been playing 'A Best A Man Can
Get' popularised by the Gillette advert, although i don't
believe you actually sang it on the original commercial?
No I never sang any commercials. My role was stretching the 30
second jingle into a full blown song. A tough gig - can you
think of a rhyme for Gillette…?
In the end I wrote it about kids - my kids your kids - they are
in truth The Best a man can get.
During the Rick Hansen campaign we did a rewrite of St Elmo'
for McDonalds. And before you think "Oh he sold out" in return
they gave a dollar to the campaign for every burger sold - in
that six month period we raised over $23,000,000 for spinal
Your last studio album was 'Under Parr' in 96, then we didn't
hear anything from you in over a decade, why was that?...
I was dead in the water long before Under Parr. From the
nineties onwards I was locked in the litigation. I was ducking
and diving doing little deals here and there to try and stay
afloat. All my income was frozen for almost twenty years so I
had to really bob and weave.
Man With A Vision was really a bunch of demos but as there were
no deals on the table I was forced to release it through Blue
Martin a small label in Switzerland- it was the only game in
town - on the up side the owner of that company Martin Scheiss
and AR Sue Beherendt became lifelong friends.
Even though we had very little exposure due to the court case -
they invested in Under Parr. I told them not to unless they
could afford to promote it properly. In the end they spent a ton
of money making the record and had little left to promote it. I
walked away from music for the next ten years. It broke my
I was making records that only my family and friends heard -
some of my best work I think, that no body was going to hear.
The guitar stayed untouched in the box for ten years and I never
sang a note.
Photo: Ian Pollard/GRTR!
What kept you going?
I never give in. I can'
t be beaten. It'
s just in me and in truth
it can be a curse. When it would be far easier and less painful
to just roll over and submit - I just can'
I threw myself into a ton of different things but always applied
myself to it in the same way I had my music - always trying for
the magic - reaching for perfection (no one ever reaches it) but
I keep on reaching.
I bred dogs and won Crufts. I learned martial arts, became an
instructor and with the guidance and friendship of Kenny Walton
our coach - I helped steer my eldest son to 8 world titles and
my youngest to 9 British titles and 1 world.
I went into movies became a screenwriter and produced a short
that just missed an Oscar nomination by 2 places in 2006. So
yeah I kept busy. I'
m not bragging -You asked me… so I spilled
You've kept your roots in Doncaster and even got to record a
song for your football team Doncaster Rovers with the rather
nifty 'Out Of The Darkness' in 2007?
A few short years ago Donny Rovers were about to be relegated
from the conference league. They were playing in Belle Vue, a
rusting old ground that really summed up the team. Somehow they
dragged themselves up by their bootstraps and clawed their way
back up the divisions and finally into the Championship. They
now have an 18,000 seater stadium, The Keepmoat, and the town
has something to believe in once again. I just wanted to write a
little tribute to their story. "Walking Out of The Darkness".
That must off really made you proud to hear that song being
blasted out over the PA to the terraces?
It was great to hear the team come out to the song but the high
point was when they played in the final at the Millennium
Stadium - the whole ground was rockin'
Do you ever think we will see the day when Doncaster Rovers
can make it as a Premiership team? They only got one league to
I actually felt it was going to be the fairytale leap straight
into the Premiership. But I know the reality all too well. My
dear Friend Gerry Francis is a testament to the realities of
football. He has incredible knowledge passion and skill, but in
this high finance game you need the dollars as well I am afraid
to say. It can be done though - his work with Stoke proves it.
Doncaster can be a Premiership team. Anything is possible with
desire belief, commitment and investment…
You've done some acting before in the Rock Opera 'Paris' in
I am very proud of Paris. As soon as I heard the demos I
committed to it. I started training, running a lot to build up
my stamina - I was going to be singing live with the LSO on the
record so no chances of a second take.
s a huge record with some 400 musicians playing - it'
story of the Trojan wars and I got to play the ill fated Paris.
I worked with some amazing talents on that record from right
across the board. Harry Nillson Barry Humphries, Demis
Roussos, Francis Rossi. It was one of the greatest experiences
of my life and through it I met my dear friend David Mackay (The
co-author with Jon English) our families have become as one over
these past 20 years. Check Paris out, it truly is remarkable.
m only in it - I didn'
t write it so I can be somewhat
objective… I can… I can…
Your son Ben has taken up the acting bug, I believe he can be
seen almost daily on our screens?
Yeah Ben was in Hollyoaks for a while. Nothing to do with me -
he got himself an agent and got the gig out of the box - no use
of family name… he is an amazing chap- very dedicated as I said…
8 times World Tae Kwon Do champion - I think they just
recognized that this was a young man with real potential - I
apologize - a very proud dad…
Obviously your first acting role was in the video for your
first hit single 'Naughty Naughty' which was a top 40 hit in the
US . In that video you have three woman doing their best to rip
your clothes off in one scene....Do you still have that effect
on the women John?
Yes I never leave the house without wearing two sets of boxers.
I was living every young man's dream back then. The cars, the
girls, the adulation but I was still yearning for Donny…. YEAH
When can we can we here in the UK expect to see you live
again with a full electric band again? What about Firefest?
I leave for the States in a couple of days to put the band
together. I am out there touring for the summer. We have some
shows booked for Sept/Oct in the UK which in the main are up
close and personal stuff.
I love playing with the band so I hope it pans out that we can
bring them over at that same time. I guess it all hinges on how
things go over the next few months with Letter to America.
I have been to a couple of Firefest shows - my buddy Gary
Brandon was there a couple of year ago with his band White
Sister - I think the last show I saw there was Romeo's Daughter.
s a great festival and I would love to be a part of it -
Twist their arm guys…
s me chapter and verse. Any of the above is possible if
you apply your self. My son had no natural talent as an athlete
- in fact he was kinda awkward.
Through dedication and nurturing he hit the heights as a world
class martial artiste. I did the same in my chosen profession.
You are as good as your next gig - reputation is great - but I
am looking to the future. I practice harder than at any time in
my life. My desire to comeback and prove myself beats as strong
in my heart as it did when I took the stage at Worksop Miners
welfare in 64. "If you know what you want you better come out
fighting" and I'
m just waiting for the bell…
Interview © June 2011
Photos by Leslie Linyard, except where stated.
Gig review (May 2011)
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