Junior Parker was born in either Clarksdale, Mississippi, or West Memphis, Arkansas.
He sang in gospel groups as a child, and played on the various blues circuits beginning in his teenage years. His biggest influence as a harmonica player was Sonny Boy Williamson, with whom he worked before moving on to work for Howlin’ Wolf in 1949. Around 1950 he was a member of Memphis’s ad hoc group, the Beale Streeters, with Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland and B.B. King.
In 1951 he formed his own band, the Blue Flames, with the guitarist Pat Hare. Parker was discovered in 1952 by Ike Turner, who signed him to Modern Records. He put out one single on this record label, “You’re My Angel.” This brought him to the attention of Sam Phillips, and he and his band signed onto Sun Records in 1953. There they produced three successful songs: “Feelin’ Good” (which reached # 5 on the US Billboard R&B chart), “Love My Baby,” and “Mystery Train”, later covered by Elvis Presley. For Presley’s version of “Mystery Train”, Scotty Moore borrowed the guitar riff from Parker’s “Love My Baby”, played by Pat Hare. “Love My Baby” and “Mystery Train” are considered important contributions to the rockabilly genre.
Later in 1953, Parker toured with Bobby Bland and Johnny Ace, and also joined Duke Records. Parker and Bland headed the highly successful Blues Consolidated Revue, which became a staple part of the southern blues circuit. He continued to have a string of hits on the R&B chart, including the smooth “Next Time You See Me” (1957); re-makes of Roosevelt Sykes’ song “Driving Wheel” (1961), Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago”, Guitar Slim’s “The Things That I Used to Do” (1963), and Don Robey’s “Mother-in-Law Blues” (1956); plus his own “Stand by Me” (1961).
His success was limited after he left Duke in 1966. He recorded for various labels, including Mercury, Blue Rock, Minit, and Capitol.
Parker died on November 18, 1971, at age 39, in Blue Island, Illinois, during surgery for a brain tumor.