WHO YOU GONNA CALL? (2022)
Featuring Ray Parker Jr., Nathan Watts, Ollie Brown, Sylvester Rivers, Hamilton Bohannon, Ernie Hudson, Brian Holland, Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, McKinley Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Scotty Edwards, Don Passman, David Foster, Jay Graydon, Lee Ritenour, Steve Lukather, Boz Scaggs, Cheryl Lynn, Herbie Hancock, Clive Davis, Bobby Brown, Ivan Reitman, Elaine Parker, Jericho Parker, Gibson Parker, Redmond Parker and Ray Parker III.
Directed by Fran Strine.
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 87 minutes. Not Rated.
Imagine a documentary filmmaker is looking to make an hour and a half long deep dive into the life and career of a singer-songwriter and thinks to themselves, “Who you gonna call?” I’m not sure that most people would think of Ray Parker, Jr.
Which is not in any way an insult to Mr. Parker. He is a fine guitarist and singer who for about a decade (1977-1986) had a very successful run of hits – charting 12 top 40 singles, both in his band Raydio and as a solo artist. His theme from the movie “Ghostbusters” (from which this doc takes its title) topped the charts in 1984 (his only #1 hit) is still considered a musical standard.
Like I said, a solid career as a hitmaker. However, 32 years on from his last top 40 single (and he was a guest artist on that song which was officially recorded by Glenn Medeiros), is the world really waiting around for a film about Ray Parker, Jr.?
Well, maybe we should be, because the guy has had a fascinating life.
It turns out, he also had a pretty stellar career as a session musician, started working with some major stars when he was in his early teens. (I honestly didn’t know this until seeing this movie, but color me impressed.) According to Wikipedia: “Parker also wrote songs and did session work for the Carpenters, Bill Cosby, Rufus and Chaka Khan, the Supremes, Aretha Franklin, Deniece Williams, Bill Withers, Michael Henderson, Jean-Luc Ponty, Leon Haywood, the Temptations, Boz Scaggs, David Foster, Rhythm Heritage, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Herbie Hancock, Tina Turner, and Diana Ross.”
He wrote songs and recorded with Marvin Gaye when he was only 16 years old. (He played on the What’s Going On album.) He was a member of Stevie Wonder’s band when Stevie recorded Talking Book and toured with the Rolling Stones in 1972. He was also a member of Barry White’s band Love Unlimited Orchestra and played on such hits as “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Baby,” “You’re My First, My Last, My Everything” and “Love’s Theme.” (Parker recollected in this film that all three of those songs were recorded the same afternoon.)
At one point, he was such a big deal as a guitar-slinging kid that he totally blew off a then-unknown Chaka Khan, who wanted to work with him. A year later he wrote the song “You Got the Love,” the first R&B number one single for Rufus. When recording the album, lead singer Chaka Khan asked if he remembered her, and he didn’t. But the song helped to cement both artist’s stardom.
Who You Gonna Call? director Fran Strine recognizes the ingrained fascination of these early stories and adventures. In fact, the film doesn’t even touch on Parker’s career as a front man until over halfway through the movie.
In fact, this film gives Parker’s solo career a bit of a short shrift. It doesn’t mention several of his biggest hits, including “I Still Can’t Get Over Loving You” and “Jamie,” and his second biggest solo hit “The Other Woman” is only acknowledged by having Parker perform the song live at the end of the credits. Of course, they do spend some time on the gorilla in the room as far as Parker’s career, the hit single theme from “Ghostbusters.”
Not completely surprisingly, Who You Gonna Call? ignores the controversy surrounding the wildly successful “Ghostbusters.” Rocker Huey Lewis sued Parker and the record company, saying that the song was a direct rip off of the bassline and the guitar riff of his own recent huge hit single “I Want a New Drug.”
The parties ended up settling out of court, with Lewis getting an unspecified payment, but both sides signed a confidentiality agreement not to talk about the settlement. Lewis did discuss it in a 2001 episode of Behind the Music on Huey Lewis and the News, at which point Parker sued Lewis for breaking the agreement. I’m not sure how that suit ended up (it never seems to have been discussed publicly, probably due to another confidentiality agreement), but I guess that Parker couldn’t very well discuss the lawsuits himself in his own film, even if he wanted to, which he probably would not.
That said, this film probably does – perhaps even unintentionally – shed a little light on the subject. It seems that Parker was in the middle of a personal musical hiatus in which he had moved home to Detroit and was caring for his parents, who were both dying. He hadn’t performed or written any music in quite some time and was totally out of the performance mindset, so perhaps he did not even realize the close similarities.
However, much more interesting was Parker’s life and young career. It gives the performer the due that we may not even have realized he deserved.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2022 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 11, 2022.