By: Chris Shapiro
You will not find a more sincere, down to Earth person in the music industry than John Parr, the artist behind 1985’s international mega-hit “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion).” Listeners and fans can be assured that when Parr speaks, writes and sings he does so from the heart.
“I started out very, very young. I use to go to the Saturday morning matinees you know and they use to have talent shows for the kids between the movies,” Parr said.
Parr was six when he began performing and winning the talent shows. As a result, Parr says that, “I use to get into the movies for free.”
“Then I heard the Beatles on the radio and that was it. The Beatles were the thing for me. Made me want to buy a guitar and then music just exploded for me,” Parr recalls.
MTV fans of the 80s will recall the guitar with the American flag that Parr used, most notably in his hit single, “Naughty, Naughty.”
“That’s actually a mask, it actually clips on the guitar,” Parr goes on to say that, “I’ve had that on the guitar since 1970. I turned professional, I was 19 and I turned professional and I saved all the money that summer from my shows to buy that guitar,” Parr said. Click Here for the Music Video
A friend made the mask out of the same metal material used on racing motorbikes. Parr says that although he has over fifty masks for his guitar, the America flag is the one he has always carried with him for over forty years.
There’s a strong bond for Parr between the symbol on his guitar and the country he loves, “America was a dream for me as a young musician. And then to finally have a break through in the 80s, it was a really the realization of the dream.”
Parr says the mask is more than a good luck charm. In fact, it can be seen as a foreshadowing symbol for Parr’s career as he had it on his guitar fifteen years before he ever set foot in America.
“I tried for over twenty years to break through in England. I could sell a club out and people would come to see me and say nice things,” Parr said. Yet, unfortunately England didn’t hold the key for Parr’s breakthrough and people began to suggest to him that he should perhaps look into going to America.
Around the same time, Parr had been writing songs and sending them out to various names in the music industry.
“I got a phone call from Meat Loaf,” Parr said. “And he said he wanted to meet me and we met up in England. He was doing a concert in England and we got on great.”
Fans can thank Meat Loaf for helping the young undiscovered Parr venture to America where he would finally find his success.
Meat Loaf and Parr began writing songs together in Connecticut where Meat Loaf lived at the time. “He [Meat Loaf] rarely got to write the songs. It was usually Jim Steinman but he and I really collaborated when we’d do songs,” Parr said.
Parr goes on to say that he and Meat Loaf had a unique relationship. They would either write songs together or Meat Loaf would tell Parr what he was looking for and Parr would go about creating it. “We were just mates and still are,” Parr said.
In 1985, Parr received the international breakthrough he’d been searching twenty years for. He was asked by David Foster to help him write a song for an upcoming movie titled St. Elmo’s Fire.
“Well, David tells me the story he was working with Paul McCartney and they were writing together and they heard ‘Naughty, Naughty’ on the radio and really liked it. And I swear this is true, this is what he told me, and he said they liked it so much they started working on a rift similar to ‘Naughty, Naughty’ and were trying to write a song similar. And David Foster’s wife came in, and she just heard ‘Naughty, Naughty’ on the radio, and she said to David and Paul, ‘hey there’s a guy on the radio who stole your song,’” Parr laughs.
“It’s true, a great story. David phoned me and told me that story. I didn’t know him and he said, ‘look I’m going to be working on a movie with the Brat Pack I need you to come over and write a song with me do you want to do it?’ And I said ‘sure,’” Parr recalls.
Parr remembers the creative process behind the song was spur of the moment.
“I went over and it was a last minute thing. We had one day to write ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’ and the movie was going to be dubbed the next day. So we literally wrote ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’ that day,” he said.
“We wrote the music in about ten minutes and I couldn’t come up with words and David showed me video cassette of a young guy that he knew called Rick Hansen. And Rick was a young man who had recently become disabled, he broke his back in a car crash, and he and his buddy were literally, in a Winnebago, were going to wheel the wheelchair around the world to raise money for spinal research,” Parr said.
Parr explains that the lyric “Man In Motion” comes from the sign on the side of the Winnebago that read “Man In Motion Tour.” Parr told Foster that he wanted to write the song about “The Man In Motion.”
Parr says the song fit into the movie but when you listen to the lyrics it’s really about Hansen touring the world in his wheelchair. “The words are entirely about a man trying to circumnavigate the globe in a wheelchair. And of course he did. Twenty-five years have passed and we’ve now raised a quarter of a billion for spinal research,” Parr said.
Parr says the entire song took a weekend to create. He and Foster wrote the music then he wrote the lyrics that night. The following day they were joined by the “who’s who” of L.A. musicians, including members of the band Toto, and the team recorded the song in about six hours.
When he performs the song live, Parr says that he always tells Hansen’s story. If it’s just Parr on stage, he’ll play a segment of the documentary on Hansen’s journey.
“In my heart I’m always thinking about Rick, the man in motion, getting into a wheelchair everyday for two years and wheeling fifty miles, in rain, deserts, mountains and that’s why I never tire of that,” Parr said.
Parr says that what helped to make the song such a hit, and allow people to connect with it, was the fact that he was “energized” by Hansen’s story.
Parr has continued his gift of creating music from the heart throughout his career and there is no clearer example than his 2011 album, Letter to America.
“I’ve been away from America for a very long time,” Parr explains. He likens the album to a letter to an old friend.
“America was the one country that gave me my shot in the 80s.” Parr goes on to say that, “In England, I’d play the club, couldn’t get a record deal and I come to America and they just open their arms. You know Meat Loaf and David Foster and then a dozen Hollywood movies that I work on. America was just so great.”
“When I was able to released this record, I wanted it to be kind of a testament to, you know, to a country that I love,” he said.
“I’ve been in America now for just over a year and what I’ve mainly been doing is I’ve been playing for free,” Parr said.
Parr, now a U.S.O. ambassador, has been playing at military bases across the country, at his own expense, for U.S. Troops. He says it’s his way of giving back.
“Everybody’s waving the flag for the troops but in my day, in the 80s, you know people were not very nice about the military. The guys didn’t even wear their uniforms in the street. It’s a very different climate,” Parr explains.
Parr will be releasing a new album titled Mission on July 4th of this year. Mission will be available for download on July 4th and hard copies will be released at the end of July.
“I think it’s the best album I’ve ever made,” Parr states in reference to Mission. He says the album is a combination of rock and acoustic tracks with every song having a military connection. It showcases the solider, the family and every aspect involved with being in the military.
Parr says the album is still “Rock ‘N Roll” but the meaning and inspiration comes from the military. “It makes you think and that’s what I really wanted to do,” he said.
“We live in a world where everybody’s staring at the screens and staring at the tablets and whatever,” Parr says, “you’ve got to look up sometimes and go, ‘I never thought about that.’”
Recently, Parr has teamed up with U.S. Cares. It is an organization that directly supports U.S. Troops in need. U.S. Cares helps those troops who return from duty and are in financial need.
“This organization helps financially helps, immediately, and they’ll pay your gas bill, pay your car, pay your mortgage, whatever straightway. So I was so impressed by these that I said ‘I want to be involved,’” Parr explains.
Parr states that a large percentage from the album sales will be donated to the U.S.O, U.S. Cares and Military Families Charity.
Knowing the difficulty of the music industry and the struggle to breakthrough, Parr’s words to young musicians are these: “I would tell them make sure this is what you want to do. If it’s in your blood and in your heart and you want to do it, you’re going to embark, unless you’re very lucky, on one of the most painful roads.” Parr goes on to say that, “it’s tough, it’s heartbreaking and you’re going to see a lot of people who didn’t pay their dues make it.”
After realizing the challenges that lay ahead, Parr goes on to say that musicians need to “energize” themselves. He states that, “if you want to be a great guitar player,” it all comes down to “you.”
“Make your instrument speak with your voice. Don’t try and copy other people’s sounds, make the sound of that guitar, the sound of that drum kit to you. The greatest thing anybody could say is they hear you played your instrument on the track and they knew it was you. Very few people in the world of music you can hear their instruments,” he said.
Another thing he would tell all musicians is to take pleasure in the moment. Whether you’re writing a song or performing, Parr suggests that musicians always take pleasure in the moment and not get carried away with the future.
Parr says that, “the journey, the journey to where you are going is the fun. That’s the life and the fun.”
Words spoken from the heart are the highest regarded among all peoples and such is the case for Parr in both his music and life beyond.