As a songwriter, Lee Roy Parnell has had more than 20 singles make the Billboard Hot Country Singles charts. His voice is rich and soulful, and the fact that Gibson released the Custom Shop Lee Roy Parnell Signature 1959 Les Paul Standard earlier this year, speaks to his legendary guitar prowess. Parnell’s immense talents will be on full display Wednesday night when he brings his trio to Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace as part of the Guitar Masters concert series.
Born in Abilene, Texas, Parnell has been around music all of his life. His father performed with the King of Western Swing, Bob Wills, and Lee Roy’s first performance was on Wills’ radio show at the tender age of 6. “Western swing is really the blues,” said Parnell, noting that that early influence served as the foundation for his musical journey.
Parnell moved to Nashville in 1987 and released his self-titled debut album for Arista Records in 1990. In all, he has nine albums to his credit including his most recent, "Midnight Believer."
In 2011, Parnell was elected into the prestigious Texas Heritage Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Rodney Crowell, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison and Buck Owens.
This will not be Parnell’s first visit to Bakersfield. He performed at the Crystal Palace for Buck Owens’ 69th birthday bash in 2003, and at least two other times with his own band.
Parnell also had long association and deep admiration for and kinship with Merle Haggard. “Merle always had a voice like no other and I started realizing that his songwriting was second to none. He got so much of his bandleader skills from Bob (Wills). I think it was because he didn’t live in Nashville … he was off out there doing what he does and he was drawing from the inside. It was a whole different way of going about things,” he said. “I just loved the attitude of Bakersfield, always have.”
Feeling the country music scene in California was being overlooked, Parnell convinced the country music cable channel TNN to come to Bakersfield to do a piece on Haggard. He recalled taking a camera crew to the boxcar Haggard once lived in and visiting Haggard’s home on the Kern River near the mouth of the canyon. “I don’t know, we had kind of the same blood running through our veins. I just adored him,” Parnell said.
“I loved Buck, too. And I loved Red Simpson and I loved the Maddox Brothers and Rose,” he said, reeling off legends of Bakersfield Sound. “I loved that whole thing, man. I guess you could say that I have pretty strong allegiance and eyes to Bakersfield, California.”
Though he has had commercial success on the country charts, Parnell’s sound defies conventional classification. He draws from a broad range of musical sources, including soul, delta blues, roadhouse rock, Southern boogie, Texas swing and gospel.
Joining Parnell on Wednesday will be guitarist Adam Fluhrer, along with vocalist and percussionist Lisa Stewart.
“It’s unusual that we’re doing a trio show, which is a different kind of thing — it leans on songwriting more,” he said, “It (The Crystal Palace) is such a great room and such a wonderful audience.”
Although he has been performing since he was 6 and recording for nearly 30 years, don’t think for a minute that Parnell has lost his passion for music.
“I’m just as passionate about it as I’ve ever been,” he said. “It’s like an artisan well, don’t you ever stop that up and think you’re going to save it. That’s the very way you’re going to kill it.”
Glenn Hammett wrote this on behalf of the Guitar Masters concert series.