Not just the Ghostbusters guy: Documentary explores musical career of Ray Parker Jr.
Everyone immediately recognizes the theme song from the 1984 film Ghostbusters. But that song overshadowed the rest of the storied career of composer Ray Parker Jr.
A new documentary, which debuted Friday at Edmonton's NorthwestFest, sought to change that by showing Parker's legendary musical journey and rise to fame.
The 90-minute film, Who You Gonna Call?, puts Parker in the driver seat to explain in his own words how he developed his talent and worked with other musical giants, including Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Marvin Gaye, David Foster, and Tina Turner.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Parker told CTV News Edmonton how he was raised to see a particular type of future, one that didn't include making records and Billboard hits.
"My father worked at Ford for 48 years so he was prepping me to get a job the same as him and do better," Parker said. "So for me, it was going to be Ford Motor Company or Chrysler GM.
"I really thought it would be my future."
"When you grow up in Detroit," Parker added, "that's what you're going to do."
BACKYARD GIG CHANGES EVERYTHING
At the time, music was just a hobby, he said. He enjoyed practicing guitar at home, and at 11 years old, his sudden first break.
"At one point, I really just played (the guitar) all day every day," Parker said. "My first break was my father putting my amplifier outside the house, outside the front door.
"He said, 'I just can't hear it anymore.' I love my son, but I can't take any more guitar. Somebody drove along the street and heard me playing and offered me my first job to play."
He was offered a backyard gig that would change the trajectory of his musical ambitions. From there, Parker continued to practice and gain recognition by playing at the 20 Grand nightclub — a hotspot for Motown acts.
MEETING STEVIE WONDER
At 16, Parker co-wrote and recorded his first songs with Marvin Gaye. That would open more doors, from being featured as a guest guitarist on Stevie Wonder's Maybe Your Baby to become lead touring guitarist for Wonder as he opened for the Rolling Stones' 1972 American tour.
"I never thought I'd meet Stevie Wonder because he was my hero growing up as a kid," Parker said. "He was the one that taught me how to write songs and all that kind of stuff."
"Going on tour with him and the Rolling Stones was probably, if there was a turning point in my life, that was the turning point," Parker added.
"They took me around the world and I saw different things, how to write songs, how to publish music. I mean, it just opened a whole new door that I'd never been in."
'I DIDN'T THINK ANYBODY WOULD HEAR IT'
That eye-opening experience and all the other musical collaborations and projects was what allowed him to get the call to write a song for Ghostbusters.
Initially, Parker was approached to create a piece of short background music for a scene in the now blockbuster film.
"It wasn't going to be anything," he told CTV News Edmonton. "It was just a little cue. In fact when I recorded the original song, it was only a minute and something long. It's only a minute and something long because it's hard to write music for only 40 seconds and stop."
"So I just played a little bit of it for the director," Parker said. "Next thing I know, he called me back, um, can you make that a bit longer and expand it so maybe we could put it at the end of the film. Then he called back, 'can you make it how long a record is?'"
Parker had three days to create the song that would go on to become a smash hit.
"Did we know it was going to do what it did?" Parker asked. "Absolutely not.
"It just took off and had a life of its own," he said. "There's something in that song that makes everybody happy. It doesn't matter what language it's in. It went number one in 52 countries around the world.
"I'd claim to be a genius but I can't make another one," he added. "If I knew what was so good about that one I would definitely have made 15 or 20 more."
'THAT SONG DOES NOT DEFINE HIS CAREER'
Fran Strine, director of the documentary, said the film takes viewers on a musical rollercoaster.
"Of course, everybody knows Ray Parker Junior from Ghostbusters, but that song does not define his career," Strine said. "He's not just the Ghostbusters guy."
"Ray at 18 years old played guitar in Lovely Day, which is one of the biggest iconic songs as well," Strine added. "The stories never end."
Strine says the film sounds just as good as it looks, as it was sound mixed at Skywalker Ranch.
"So we are super excited to bring it to be able to bring it to a theatre atmosphere with people in the seats where they should be watching a movie like this," he said.
"(It's got) great stories, wonderful music," Strine added. "The film is just packed with hit songs and surprisingly enough, there are only about three minutes of Ghostbusters in it, in a 90-minute movie. That's how large his career is."
Sony Pictures has picked up the documentary, Strine said, with details about future showings and distribution to come.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Nahreman Issa