On Wednesday, some 52 years after his first Hitsville recording session, Ray Parker Jr. stood in Studio A and pointed to a precise spot along the east wall.
That’s where, as a 15-year-old guitar phenom, he sat alongside bassist James Jamerson as Motown’s Funk Brothers house band cut a track in 1969.
Parker, visiting the Motown Museum on Wednesday, said he doesn’t remember the song. He recalls simply that he was “tickled pink” when Motown arranger Paul Riser phoned him for the session — and that his jaw dropped when Smokey Robinson came walking in.
Parker’s Motown trip was part of a Detroit homecoming as the documentary “Who You Gonna Call?” makes its U.S. premiere Thursday evening at the Redford Theatre, part of the 2021 Freep Film Festival. The lively film chronicles Parker’s deep career as a session player in Detroit and L.A. before the blossoming of his own time in the limelight.
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Memories flowing, the “Ghostbusters” singer-songwriter conjured the spirits of his old Motown days on Wednesday, recounting his work with the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Spinners, Diana Ross, Holland-Dozier-Holland and others.
“This seemed a lot bigger when I was younger,” he said inside the frozen-in-time Studio A, where he was joined Wednesday by “Who You Gonna Call?” director Fran Strine and Motown Museum collections assistant David Ellis.
Before he headed off for the West Coast in 1973, Parker also did sessions at Motown’s Studio B on West Davison — the former Golden World — along with work for Holland-Dozier-Holland’s Invictus-Hot Wax labels.
These days, the Motown Museum’s studio setup includes the 1867 Steinway grand piano originally housed at Studio B. Parker said it was likely the same piano played by Gaye during their work together at the West Davison site.
Parker took a seat at the Steinway on Wednesday to noodle around, breaking into a jaunty rendition of “Ghostbusters” — the 1984 soundtrack hit that took him to the top of the charts.
Remembering his days as a teen hotshot, Parker said Motown’s older musicians were welcoming, though “they called me young punk.”
“If there were bad notes, it got blamed on me,” he said.
He regarded the Funk Brothers’ Robert White as a personal hero — a player whose style informed Parker’s own approach as a rhythm guitarist. When Motown Records moved to L.A. in the early ’70s, with Parker soon to follow, he was glad White stayed behind, he joked.
At 67, Parker’s recollections of his Detroit days remain rich and sharp — and maybe even still inspirational.
“It feels like magic here,” Parker said as his Motown visit wrapped up. “Makes me want to go home and write something.”
Contact Detroit Free Press music writer Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or email@example.com.
‘Who You Gonna Call?’
U.S. premiere at Freep Film Festival
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Redford Theatre (Includes post-film panel with Ray Parker Jr. and director Fran Strine.)
2 p.m. Sunday, Emagine Birmingham 8
Tickets and passes on sale at freepfimfestival.com.