From prodigy to pro, Maryland musician lives rock ‘n’ roll dream

HAGERSTOWN — Justin Parks got his first guitar when he was only 4 years old.

That was about 25 years ago.


These days, he’s teaching other young musicians at the Maryland Institute of Music in Hagerstown when he’s not playing with his own band, Stone Horses, or touring with others across the country and sometimes across the border.

Last summer, Stone Horses broke into the Billboard Top 40 with their single “When I Get Paid.”


Stepping on stage to perform is “a thrill like no other,” says guitarist Justin Parks.

Parks is living the rock and roll dream, says his dad, Rik Parks.

But while Justin Parks is humble about his accomplishments, his passion for music bubbles underneath.

He was a rock ‘n’ roll baby

Ask Parks about how he got his start in music, and he immediately mentions his dad. Rik Parks, who now owns the Maryland Institute of Music, played in a band called Frenzy.

“His band would rehearse in our basement,” Justin said. “I would always stay up and listen to his band, and I just wanted at the time to be like him.”

At first he thought he’d like to play the drums. But the youngster found them to be “too noisy.” He picked up the guitar — his first was a gift from a relative — and everything fell into place.

“It was easier to play than playing the drums,” Parks said.

He started playing publicly when he was about 14, he said. But at that point, he struggled a little with stage fright.


“Whenever I first started playing gigs, we’d pull up to the venue and I’d be like, ‘Hey, could we just not do this?’ I’d be so nervous. It was bad. It was really bad.”

But his dad encouraged him to go through with it — if in a slightly deceptive manner.

“He’d lie to me and say stuff like, ‘If anybody else in the crowd could do what you’re doing, they’d be up on stage,” Parks said, “which is a lie because we’d always play in front of musicians — which would make me more nervous.”

But he got over that. Now when he steps onto a stage, it’s a rush.

“It’s a thrill like no other,” he said, and one he never gets over.


And speaking of thrills, a few stand out: sitting in on bass with Hagerstown-based Kix for a day in 2019; opening for KISS at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia; and playing at the Whiskey A Go Go in Los Angeles.

He was only 17 and a student at Williamsport High School when he was part of a band called So Low that won a contest to open for KISS. His dad submitted the contest tape. The entries were narrowed down to the top five, and “somebody from KISS’s camp hand-selected us.”

But the attention at home leading up to the show was a little unnerving.

“My teachers would call me out in front of the class and say, ‘Hey, someone’s opening up for KISS.’ It just felt awkward,” Parks said.

And it was with So Low that he played the Whisky A Go Go, another milestone in his career.

“The history of (Whisky A Go Go) is cool because obviously Led Zeppelin played there, my favorite band. I love Led Zeppelin, and the thought that I was on the same stage as Jimmy Page and Robert Plant was mind-blowing,” Parks said.


“There’s tons of history in the Whisky A Go Go, but that alone was enough. Everyone’s played there — Van Halen, The Doors, everybody.”

Whiskey a Go Go in West Hollywood is where Jim Morrison and The Doors served as house band.

Having a single in the Top 40 was cool, he said, but not necessarily lucrative, given the evolution of recorded music from CD sales to streaming. But it does bring “bragging rights.”

He also got accolades from guitarist Dave Navarro (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction) and the late drummer Vinnie Paul (Pantera) when he performed in an “Ultimate Shredder” competition.

But Page and the late Eddie Van Halen have been his top influences, he said, along with Joe Walsh, who’s had a solo career in addition to his membership in The Eagles and the James Gang.

Now he’s a man in demand

Parks also managed to get past his issue with drums, and now, in addition to teaching Institute students guitar, he teaches drums and vocal.

He has about 50 students, and he not only teaches them music and theory but helps young students prepare to enter other programs — including the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts in downtown Hagerstown.


Parks himself was a BISFA student when the school first opened, though he later decided he wanted to graduate with his friends at Williamsport High School. But all the students he helped prepare for BISFA have been accepted, he said.

And not only there — three or four of his students are now studying at the Berklee College of Music in Boston — alma mater of Grammy winners Quincy Jones, Melissa Etheridge, Bruce Hornsby, Diana Krall, John Meyer, Gillian Welch and scores of others.

Meanwhile, Parks is playing big stages and recording with other musicians as well as writing and recording music with Stone Horses.

It’s a lot to keep up with, but he loves all of it. “I depend a lot on technology” to help juggle his calendar, he said.

He’s played with L.A. Guns and Steel Panther; recently toured South America with Michale Graves, formerly of The Misfits; and is working on new material for Stone Horses. He and bandmate John Allen write music together and record demos in Allen’s basement studio.

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“We’ll just kind of bounce ideas off each other and go down and record them,” Parks said.


“It would be cool to have a song everybody knows,” he says as he reflects on his songwriting ambitions — the kind of song that achieves the brand of immortality of “Stairway to Heaven.”

They’ve recorded in Nashville with Marti Frederiksen, a songwriter and producer who’s worked with acts ranging from Aerosmith to Carrie Underwood. Stone Horses hopes to release a new EP soon.

And then there are all those students.

“I love teaching here at the Maryland Institute of Music, watching my students grow and go out and do their own thing.

“I remind them that anyone can be as good as they want to be, be as good as Eddie Van Halen, if you have that want, to work hard … you have to love it; you have to love what you do. Five minutes a day isn’t gonna cut it.

“It’s like with anything — you can be good at anything if you put enough time in, and want to do it.”