Forging rock, blues and country guitarist Lee Roy Parnell always gets the floor moving
After listening to sound clips of Texas roadhouse country-blues rocker Lee Roy Parnell, a part of me was wishing I could review his upcoming show at the Big Room instead of preview it, because I would probably get to open up with something like, “Damn, the dude kicks ass! I love him!”
I mean, I figured if the clips sounded that good, the live show’s got to be great.
After listening (more than once) to the singer/songwriter/guitarist’s new CD, Back to the Well, and then talking to him by phone, I’m going to say it: “Damn, the dude kicks ass! I love him!”
With a sound all his own that at times brings to mind the soulfulness of Van Morrison, the bad-ass blues-rock of ZZ Top, the R&B vocal smoothness of ex-Texan Boz Scaggs and a guitar style descended from the godfather of blues guitar, T-Bone Walker, the 49-year-old Parnell is pure get-down pleasure to listen to.
Add lyrics that are bursting with poignancy, and Parnell’s got you in the palm of his hand. (From “Daddies and Daughters": “I held you and I saw you and still / I could not believe / Face to face with an angel / There staring right back at me / Placed in these working man’s arms / By the hands of the Father / Oh, Mary full of grace, blessed the love / Between daddies and daughters … “).
Add his soothing Southern speaking voice, and he’s pretty much got you wrapped around his little finger. Parnell and I talked for a good 40 minutes (long by usual phone interview standards) because we were just having such a nice time.
I commented early on to Parnell that it sounded like his voice had gotten deeper and richer since, say, his 1992 straight-up country album Love Without Mercy, to which he responded (with “I” pronounced as “ah"): “My voice got, I dunno, just naturally I have more range now than when I was younger, both top-end and bottom-end. It’s not unusual. Classic opera singers have their best years between the ages of 40 and 60.”
I threw out some names to Parnell for his response, names of the artists that come through in his music.
Van Morrison: “I love Van. We’re both students of soul music.”
ZZ Top: “Oh, Billy [Gibbons] was our rock ‘n’ roll guitar hero in Texas when I was growing up! All of us guitar players in Texas were tapped in to what Billy was doing.”
Boz Scaggs: “I love him very much. Once again, another Texan, moved to the Bay Area after going to Europe, and after playing with the Steve Miller Band. Incredibly influenced by T-Bone Walker. Had big hits during the disco era. I loved him before and after that era.”
Joe Louis Walker/West Coast Blues sound: “Everything I ever heard from [Joe Louis Walker] I’ve liked. West Coast Blues was shipped out to L.A. back in ‘49, ‘50. T-Bone Walker was one of the first [to go to L.A.]. It’s all comin’ from Texas. … Those guys could play in South Central for whites and blacks, and they just owned it. It got ’em off the Chitlin’ Circuit. It was open season on blacks in the South.”
Nashville-based Parnell (whenever he gets four or five days off from touring, Parnell goes back home to Texas to relax at his 150-year-old house made of rock on 80 acres where he has no phone or television) brings fellow Nashville-based (ex-Minneapolis) musicians John Coleman on piano and Johnny Richardson on drums, and Minneapolis electric bassist Charles Hayes (whose get-down cred includes working with Prince) to his Big Room gig.
“I like playing with a small band,” Parnell said. “There’s more space. Not physically, but sonically. Plus, those guys are good to hang with on the road.”
I thanked the gracious and engaging Parnell at the end of our conversation, telling him how much I had enjoyed speaking with him, to which he replied, in his lovely drawl: “Thank you so much! I appreciate you, babe.”