When singer-guitarist Monty Byrom recently moved on from his post fronting the Buckaroos at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, the obvious question was raised: Who now?
Byrom, a fantastic guitarist, songwriter and bandleader who piloted groups including Billy Satellite and Big House to success, had been with the Buckaroos since 2007, just a little over a year after Owens passed away.
Rather than filling those legendary boots, Byrom did his own thing and it caught on. His successor, singer-guitarist Rudy Parris, aims to bring that same recipe to the Palace stage starting March 1.
“Byrom is one of my heroes,” Parris said. “I caught wind of Big House back when they came out in the early '90s and instantly fell in love. I was like, ‘My gosh.’ I could not believe this was happening in Bakersfield, California, and my first instinct was, ‘I have to know these guys. I have to meet them. I have to find out how they tick. … I wanted to be part of their lives.”
‘What happens when you do that with people you get to catch some of their spirit; you get to catch some of what makes them who they are. It’s something I’ve done my whole life. I’ve done it with Merle Haggard, Buck Owens. I’ve been around George Jones, B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis. When you get around these people, man, it’s infectious and it gets in your soul.”
The 53-year-old Parris is ready for that gig the first Friday in March, performing with the group universally considered one of the greatest country music backing bands in history. The Visalia-based musician will continue to perform with the band the first weekend of every month.
If Parris' name seems familiar, don't be surprised: He received nationwide attention competing in season three of NBC’s "The Voice." There, he introduced his fiery, bigger-than-life stage persona and talent to prime-time audiences as part of Blake Shelton's team.
His voice is as big as the imposing figure he is but also as emotive, powerful and versatile. When he performed a tribute to Merle Haggard last year at the inaugural ceremony at the Bakersfield Music Hall of Fame, he brought the house down with his soulful performance.
His guitar playing is on another level. Everything he does, from performing to even giving a phone interview, is done fearlessly, boldly and with his entirety.
“That’s what I do I'm an entertainer,” Parris said. “The thing about me, when I do what I do, it’s all about the people. It’s not about, ‘Look at me and what I can do with my abilities.’ It’s all about how can I change the atmosphere here? How can I create excitement? How can I get people to walk out of here tonight saying, ‘That was the best money and time we’ve ever spent. That was very, very, very enjoyable and pleasurable.’”
“I’m here to take people who are dealing with things and take them away from that. I come in with more of a servant attitude.”
And that’s a huge foundational commonality that Parris, Owens and Byrom share: They’re entertainers to the core. It wasn’t about being the star; it was about making sure that people had a good time. Buck Owens was the epitome of a great entertainer being a great host.
“To think that I’d be part of that legacy someday means a lot to me because of how important it was to my family as a young boy,” Parris said. “My dad loved country music. He had a beautiful voice, played guitar; my mother loved the steel guitar. She would always pick that out out of all the instrumentation. She was like, ‘I love the sound of that.’”
“So years later, to be part of that same legacy, just to be playing with Jim (Shaw, the Buckaroos keyboardist) and to be at the Crystal Palace and to be part of the Buckaroos, the existing name and legacy, is just huge for me, man. Huge.”
Is there any material he wants to bring with him to the Crystal Palace?
“I’d like to try to do some of the classics that a lot of people don’t do, like ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ by Glen Campbell,” Parris said. “Really good classic songs that aren’t staples in a lot of people’s set lists.”
“I really want to bring — more than anything — good country music there, because that’s what I’ve been doing for 37 years. That’s what I love and that’s what I’m good at. That’s what that place is founded on.”