Byron Parker

Biography by

Known under the amusing but somewhat dusty stage name of "the Old Hired Hand," this performer's real forte was as a radio announcer. However, the loose blend of live radio production and music that dominated…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

Known under the amusing but somewhat dusty stage name of "the Old Hired Hand," this performer's real forte was as a radio announcer. However, the loose blend of live radio production and music that dominated the classic days of country music, old-time, and early bluegrass radio broadcasting allowed him to develop an interesting persona that was half-disc jockey and half-frontman vocalist; although he also tended to incorporate someone with a smoother voice to act as the real lead singer. More important to bluegrass lovers, he presided over a loose aggregation of bluegrass pioneers based out of South Carolina through the '40s on his radio and recording projects. The combo often included the titanic tandem team of fiddler Homer "Pappy" Sherill and DeWitt "Snuffy" Jenkins, as well as guitarists and singers such as Leonard Stokes, Clyde Robbins, Floyd Lacewell, and Gene Ray. Whether Parker's influence was benign or heavy handed, the musical results cannot be denied. This influence includes the early Bluebird recordings, with their mysterious traces of what would eventually be considered bluegrass; and the wonderful country tunes of the later Deluxe days, such as the anthemic "Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar," often pulled out as a favorite track from the Rounder label's first volume in its Early Days of Bluegrass series.

Jenkins and Sherrill were on hand throughout the Parker combo tenure, coming up with instrumental touches that have been considered key influences on the progressive bluegrass developments of players such as Earl Scruggs and Don Reno. Following the leader's death in 1948, the group itself adopted his old nickname and became known as the Hired Hands. Parker was also one of the earliest members of the Monroe Brothers band, and has been credited with playing a key role in their success and the popularization of bluegrass that resulted. He played with the Monroes from 1934 to 1937, appearing on the group's first recordings for Victor in 1936. His departure also coincided with the decision by brothers Bill Monroe and Charlie Monroe to pick their separate ways. At this point, Parker organized his first band, the Hillbillies. Later he would refine the name only slightly, changing to Byron Parker & His Mountaineers, or often the Old Hired Hand & His Mountaineers.

A '70s turntable disc jockey named Byron Parker is no relation, although there are those listeners whose mortal fear of the '70s disco scene have led them to believe he is some kind of evil reincarnation. If so, there is possibly also another evil twin in the equally frightening world of late-'50s and early-'60s hi-fi demonstration discs. There, a Byron Parker is found who recorded as the leader of a percussion ensemble for theWestminster label.