Two weeks before getting his sheepskin, Parnell decided to call it quits.
"You have to understand. I grew up in rural Texas. It was tough," he says with a laugh during an interview from Nashville. "If you let your hair grow down below your collar, they sent you home. A lot of people didn't think I'd amount to anything. Being Scot-Irish, the worst thing you can ever do to me is tell me no. That's just an invitation enough for me to make sure it gets done. It was a rebellious thing."
He may not be quite as much of a rebel these days, but Parnell, 40, does country music his way.
And that means a combo of blues and country with healthy doses of honky tonk thrown in. Of course, Parnell lets his slide guitar - one of the most distinctive instruments in country today - do the talking too.
Parnell's country isn't the manufactured sound seemingly omnipresent in pop-oriented country these days where the emphasis is on scoring hits.
On Parnell's new disc, "Every Night's a Saturday Night," out June 17, he continues to follow his own musical instincts.
"I wanted to get a sound similar to what we have live on tape," Parnell says.
"One of the things that I've always gotten from my fans was 'I love your albums, I buy your albums, but seeing you live is so much more exciting. I kept thinking, 'what are we missing in the studio? What are we doing or not doing in the studio that's removing that element of excitement?'"
Parnell says he thinks the record is successful in capturing the live feel. "Most of the songs were done on the first take or the second take. It just didn't take very long to get that done. We recorded the whole thing in about four days...Mixing was all done in four days. If you notice, there's very little processing on that record of any kind...It's just as dry as an Al Green record. It's right in your face."
"All the records that I tend to live with and listen to over time have had that feel, not some canned record," he says. "Bob (Wills, the father of Texas swing and a family friend) called it canned music too."
Like his previous four albums, "Every Night's..." musically diverse.
"When I go to make a record, I really try to make an album," says Parnell. "I don't try to make a record that has four hit singles and a bunch of filler on it. It needs to make sense to me from the top of bottom. There should be a specific mood to the middle. Somehow it has to take you on a musical journey, forget about what you're dealing with or whatever or help you with whatever you're dealing with by ensuring some sort of positive (message)."
"It's about real life, and real life is never rosy, but there is always hope if you look for it in the right place," Parnell says. "That's what I strived to do lyrically with it. Musically, I tried to make it feel good, make it fun to listen to."
"It's often said music is just medicine, it's nourishment for the soul," Parnell says.
Optimism runs throughout the album. A few album titles - "One Foot in Front of the Other" and the first single "Lucky Me, Lucky You" - demonstrate that.
Parnell had a hand in writing half of the 10 songs, including a few with well known writers Gary Nicholson and Bob McDill. The entire band wrote the closing instrumental "Mama, Screw Your Wig on Tight," a lively burner they do in sound check.
Perhaps the most touching song is "All That Matters Anymore," penned with Nicholson. The song talks of chasing after money and what it can buy, but "the more I had the less I was satisfied." Parnell then sings of having "seen my children grow away from me/Knowing I was not the best dad that I could be."
While depressive sounding, Parnell grows optimistic: "I've almost found the peace I'm longing for/Taking comfort in your sweet love."
Parnell describes the song as "probably the most autobiographical song I've ever written and probably hits home more than anything I've ever released. I know this has hit home with a lot of people. We've been playing it on the road. There are a lot of fellows out there who don't have a dry eye."
"I always have a yearning in my heart and a constant need to be with my children. But I can't because I'm on the road so much," says Parnell who has a son, Blake, 16, and daughter, Allison, 12. "That was the center piece in that song...You find out that (with) money or fame or whatever it is that you're apt to get in life, if it ain't about love, family, fulfillment of the soul, then it's a waste of time. We have to have enough money to live on, but anything past that is greed."
Parnell definitely is not of the country musician variety who craves the riches of life. "These guys (may have) all the money, but they got no life," he says. "The yacht does not impress me in the least. The big car, the big house doesn't impress me because I've seen those unhappy son of a guns. I don't care to be one."