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Tributes pour in for British-born blues legend Denis Parker, dead at 78

Despite health challenges and a recent close call, Parker said he loves to continue to write new music.  (Denis Parker/Facebook - image credit)
Despite health challenges and a recent close call, Parker said he loves to continue to write new music. (Denis Parker/Facebook - image credit)
Despite health challenges and a recent close call, Parker said he loves to continue to write new music.
Despite health challenges and a recent close call, Parker said he loves to continue to write new music.

Denis Parker, a prominent British-born blues musician who spent more than 50 years writing and performing music in Newfoundland and Labrador, has died. (Denis Parker/Facebook)

Denis Parker, a prominent British-born blues musician who spent more than 50 years writing and performing music in Newfoundland and Labrador, has died.

He was 78 years old.

Parker is remembered by fellow musicians as a trailblazer and a leading force in the St. John's blues scene. He also spent years as the head of MusicNL, where he supported other musicians.

"For 42 years, Denis Parker's music has been a part of my life," said Tony Ploughman, the manager of Fred's Records in St. John's, in a Facebook post.

"It will not cease to be a part of my life until I cease to be."

History of health problems

Parker, originally from England, moved to St. John's in 1971, and is remembered as someone who was always playing the blues on his guitar in the city's local pubs and bars.

In a Facebook post, actor Mark Critch says he remembers he and his brother sneaking into Parker's gigs when they were underage.

He says having Parker's posters on the set of Son of a Critch was no accident.

"When we were creating our bedrooms for Son of a Critch, there HAD to be Denis Parker tapes and posters," Critch wrote in a Facebook post Sunday.

Blues musician Denis Parker sets the mood in Rocket Bakery
Blues musician Denis Parker sets the mood in Rocket Bakery

Parker told the St. John’s Morning Show in 2019 that, despite a host of health problems, he continued singing and performing in the province. (CBC)

Even after having heart attacks and a host of other health problems, Parker continued singing and performing in the province.

Parker told the St. John's Morning Show in a 2019 interview that he had heart attacks, five heart bypass surgeries, pneumonia, bypass surgeries on both of his legs and influenza. He said at the time that he had "30 per cent heart function."

He said touring wasn't in the cards for him because of his health, but that he was content with continuing to write and play local gigs.

"My career is basically non-existent, I suppose, except the fact that I'm still writing music and I'm still recording music, which is what keeps me sane," Parker said at the time.

During his 2019 interview with the St. John's Morning Show, he remembered the exact date and time he came to the province — Nov. 4, 1971 at 1:30 p.m.

He said he came to the province after meeting Newfoundland musicians in London who were playing with the group, Lukey's Boat. He said he "wasn't doing a hell of a lot" at the time, so when he was invited to Newfoundland and Labrador to start a band, he jumped at the chance.

That band was Mantis, the first group he performed with in the province.

"When you create something, it's a special event," he said at the time.

"So that's the biggest thrill. I mean, it's great to get up in front of thousands of people and play a 50-seat bar and people love it, but the biggest thrill is actually writing a song. So that's my greatest joy and that's what keeps me going really."

WATCH | Denis Parker appeared in this October 2021 CBC feature on the Black Sheep, a St. John's pub that has featured Parker and many other performers:

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