are so pleased to have had the opportunity to interview 80s hit maker
and all around cool guy, John Parr. He hit the 80s music scene in 1985
with the very awesome “Naughty Naughty” which went to #23 on the US
charts. He followed it up later that year with his highest
the #1 hit, “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion).” In this interview, John
talks about touring England in his early teens with his first band in an
old army ambulance, his involvement with the Man in Motion tour, hanging
with the Brat Pack, what it took to maintain his awe-inspiring 80s
mullet, and his new album “Letter to America.” Thank you, John, for
talking with us. Enjoy!
I understand that you started your first band, The Silence, when you
were just 12 years old (would have been around 1966). That’s amazing.
Did you have to take your mom with you on tour? Do you have music from
that period that you could share with us?
Both my Mum and Dad were very supportive – Dad converted the shed into a
rehearsal room for me and the band. He drove us to gigs in a beat up old
army ambulance. We had covered over 150,000 miles before I left school
at 16 years old.
You’ve written a
lot of music over the years both for yourself and others. What is your
favorite piece of music that you’ve written?
It would have to be “St. Elmo’s.” I am proud of some of my other tunes but
the moment of creation of that song was truly inspiring. I had just been
shown a video of Rick Hansen, a young guy who had recently been disabled
in a car crash. He was about to set out on an impossible quest ... to
wheel his chair 25,000 miles around the world to raise money and
awareness for spinal research. It was called The Man in Motion Tour. The
rest is history – he succeeded and so did I. Since that time I have
remained involved with the charity that has now raised in excess of
$250,000,000 for spinal research. I have seen many hopeless cases walk
Your song, “St. Elmo’s Fire” hit #1
on the charts in the US in September of 1985. When you wrote the song,
did you have any idea it would be so big?
As I said in the previous question, I was so charged by the whole moment.
I remember it all vividly. I knew when I heard the playback that this
was bigger than either David Foster or I could have imagined. ...
"St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)" (1985)
Also related to “St.
Elmo’s Fire,” did you have the opportunity to get to know the Brat Pack
stars of that movie? What were your impressions?
I got to hang out a little with them. Initially I don’t think they wanted
to be on the set of the video but the barriers soon came down and the
fun began. We would go to clubs and they would want to get up on stage
and sing a few songs – you couldn’t get them off. Rob Lowe and I did a
duet together for one of David Foster’s charity events.
I LOVE the song “Naughty Naughty.” The music is awesome, the lyrics are
great. Rhyming “naughty” with “haughty” and “bawdy” is the perfect
combination of high and low brow. There’s not much information out there
about this song. Can you tell us a little about writing this song and
the making of the video?
Well the song was not written when we went to Criteria Studios in Florida
to record my first album. We had a two week rehearsal room booked (Mary
Fleming’s Place) so each day we would polish the songs we were going to
record. I started to come up with the riff and we would just fool around
with it each day as a warm up. It eventually turned into this cool
little tune. I began to hear all these really weird sounds in my head
that I wanted to put into it. I was confident we could pull it off. So
we actually decided to record. It worked out well but when the band left
for the UK leaving me to finish up, “Naughty” still had around 40
seconds of nothing in the break down sections. As I said, I’d heard all
these sounds in my head I wanted to put in. So, I got JJ over from the
UK – he was the programmer for the Trevor Horn and a member of Art of
Noise – I was certain he would arrive with all those magical boxes. ...
Trouble was, when he arrived at the studio, he had no equipment or
The Bee Gees were regulars down at Criteria and they lent us their
Fairlight sample synth. JJ and I just made weird sounds and recorded
them into the Fairlight ... kicking dustbins, rolling metal ashtrays
around, banging anything that sounded strange – what we did to the
guitar was criminal. Anyhow we messed them up in the synth and finally
they became those magical sounds you hear in all those break points on
The video was shot in San Francisco. Cars, girls, fun, rock and roll and
of course me as a moody mechanic who storms out of the garage, leaps
into his 65 Mustang convertible, picks up his girlfriend, and flies off
over the Golden Gate Bridge. ... Well you would wouldn’t you?
I love cars and always try and work one or two into the videos. I remember
we also had a white Rolls Corniche full of crazy girls in that vid too.
"Naughty Naughty" (1985)
I’ve read that the girl in the beginning of the “Naughty Naughty” video
(in the car with the yellow tights) is a 22 year old Lisa Rinna. Can you
That is true. She was just a sweet innocent thing ... one of her early
roles I think. Why they put her in those horrible yellow tights I’ll
never know. We did have fun however. I remember Meit Avis was the
director. He did all of Huey Lewis’ vids.
We cover all aspects of the 80s at Like Totally 80s, and that includes
fashion. I gotta say, you had an era-defining mullet in the 80s. I am
not sure where the question is in here, but would you like to comment on
your mullet’s awesomeness?
Well I always thought David Essex (top English pop star) had a great
Barnett (haircut). But my hair was as straight as pump water, so I
decided to have it permed. You will notice throughout the dozen or so
vids I did then the volume of hair just kept going up and down. It just
depended how long it had been curled before we filmed. Well it never
quite measured up to David’s hair, but what was worse – the hair and
makeup girls would insist on back-combing it. Well anyone will tell you
who has been “permed” ... Don’t do it! You see it just explodes. The worst
case is on “St. Elmo’s.” I mean it’s like a dead animal on top of my
head bouncing around. Not quite so bad in “Naughty,” but the sea air
definitely didn’t help. It was a very curly day.
You have shared the stage and toured with a lot of amazing musicians
over the years. What experience stands out in your mind?
Tina Turner was a magical tour for me. She was the hottest thing on the
planet with “Private Dancer.” I did 40 shows with her and saw everyone.
She’s a true great who taught me some great lessons and game some
invaluable advice. My last show in America was with Roger Daltry. We did
Madison Square Garden. We sang a song Julia Downes and I had written for
him, “Under a Raging Moon.” Yoko and all the Lennon boys got on stage
with us and host of The Great and the Good. It was truly surreal.
All of the work you’ve done over the years, what are you most proud of?
I have done a little bit of work with UNICEF and have generally made
myself available for good causes. As a musician you usually just show
and play a benefit. I try whenever possible to understand what the aim
of the organization is and see if I can give a little more. I have
written 4 or 5 tunes for them ... wounded soldiers, stop human traffic,
runaway kids, educational projects, and a bunch of cancer related
events. It’s the least I can do.
When you are not making music, what do you like to do?
I live in a very old house that always needs something done to it. By
the time you get done ti’s time to start where you began. It is a pretty
big old place, so a lot of ‘DIY.’ I’m a bit of a bodger, but I get there
in the end. We have always had dogs. We have bred them and shown them
even won Crufts (top dog show in the UK). I’m also a martial arts
instructor. I teach mainly kids, not just how to kick, punch and defend
themselves, but martial arts is also about training the mind, being
respectful, and considerate. If only everybody did it...
You have a new CD coming out and a US tour coming up this summer. Can
you tell us more about both? We are really hoping the tour includes
dates in the South – say it does!
My album ‘Letter to America’ is a double album – a rock album and an
acoustic album. It reflects my music and the two kinds of shows I do. It
has my classics on it and themes from some of the movies I’ve written
for including Three Men and a Baby, The Running Man,
and American Anthem. It also has a new recording of “St. Elmo’s” with
the band as well as an acoustic version. I am very happy with the
record. It is a thank you to the country that gave me a chance in the
first place and the one I am not returning to ... America.