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Parnell needs no luck this time

By Jeffrey B. Remz, November 1995

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The Hot Links include James Pennebaker on guitar, Lynn Williams on drums, Stephen Mackey on bass and Kevin McKendree on piano. Former Links Reese Wynans also played organ.

Prior to actually recording the formal album, Parnell et al holed up to record eight tracks. "It knocked everybody out," he said. "Here's your next record."

"We went from there," he said. "Everybody said 'we don't touch this.'"
The record definitely has a live feel to it. "Most of the time, we would take the first, second, in some cases, the third take," Parnell said. "You run into trouble when you start trying to get it too perfect. Then, it's all uninspired. Once you played through 15 times, it's like...'can we go onto something else now?'"

While the basic content has remained the same over the years, Parnell is singing with more confidence. "The longer you do something, the more confident you become," he said, adding, "It's just being acclimated to being in the studio and not being afraid, let it all hang out."

It has taken Parnell, who is 39 in December, a long time to reach his current status. Like seemingly many country musicians, music was in his blood from the start. He grew up in Stephenville, Texas.

Bob Wills was a neighbor and family friend. At six, Parnell performed with Wills on a radio show. Wills and his Texas Playboys often came by the Parnell ranch for a visit.
On the new disc, in fact, the fiddle used by Wills was played by Pennebaker on "A Little Bit of You." During the rest of the recording, the fiddle was kept in view, sort of as a shrine.

As a youth in the '60's, Parnell was turned on by The Beatles, for awhile anyway.

That was until he became a blues fanatic. "The first time I heard BB King, I put all my Beatles records in the trash," he said. "It was over. Forget that. It's like I didn't like no looking back."

Even when he was young, Parnell had no illusions about what he wanted to do. "I never had another thought of anything but this," he said. "There was never a question. By the time I was 14, I was playing dances. My mother would drive us to dances."

The band changed names a number of times, but "mostly it was just Lee Roy & Them."

A key influence growing up was the late Duane Allman, who apparently steered Parnell to the slide. "It was a feel thing," he said. "The first time, I heard (the Allman Brothers Band Live) At the Fillmore East, (I thought) oh my God, he's doing something with his guitar, and I don't know what he's doing. I went on this crusade for next 20 years trying to figure out how the hell he did it. I'm still trying to learn. It's strange, 38 year old and I feel like a baby boy."

Parnell did a stint with the eccentric Kinky Friedman as one of his Texas Jewboys (you didn't have to be Jewish to be a Texas Jewboy).

In the early 1970's, Parnell trekked to Nashville to check out the scene. He didn't stay too long - about 18 months. "I was just drinking beer and trying to play guitar in bars," he said. "I was looking (and) wanted a record deal, but for all wrong reasons. I didn't develop I until I was in Austin."

And that's where he went back to from Nashville. The Texas musical mecca was what Parnell referred to as his "proving ground."

He played music full time, "if you call $35 a night making a living. We were poor. We were broke, but everybody was."

He played the clubs for another 10 years before heading up north once again to Nashville. "It was time to bring the apples to the market," he said. "I had developed myself to some extent."

"The climate in Nashville was much different at that point," he said referring to the revival of a more traditional sound. "Steve Earle was being signed. Lyle Lovett was being signed. (Parnell's cousin) Nanci Griffith. Robert Earl Keen was here. The climate was good for Texas singer/songwriters. It was opened up, of course, The path had been paved by Rodney Crowell and Guy Clark. So, it looked like the right place to me."

Parnell received several record offers, but had developed a relationship with Dubois. "Tim was the only (person) I felt would allow me to do whatever it was I needed to do," he said. "Make the mistakes."

His self-titled debut in 1990 yielded several mid-charting singles including "Crocodile Tears" and "Oughta Be a Law." Even then, Parnell did most of the writing, helping write 7 of the 10 songs.

The follow-up, disc "Love Without Mercy" found Parnell near the top of the charts with "What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am" and "Tender Moment."

His career was headed on the right track with"On the Road" with a few more hits: the title track and "I'm Holding My Own."

During this period, Parnell received a huge career boost from Mary-Chapin Carpenter. Parnell lent his slide guitar and good looks to the video for "Shut Up & Kiss Me." His face was plastered all over television. Carpenter returned the favor on "We All Get Lucky Sometimes," singing backing vocals on the title track.

When asked about the effect of the cameo, Parnell said, "Big. I think it was big. It was the nicest thing. She's been good to me."

Parnell also aided himself by writing "That's My Story," which didn't fit with his disc, but became a big hit for Collin Raye.

While different from much of what's going on around him in Nashville, Parnell indicated the timing may have been just right. "It's a funny climate out there right now," he said. "I will put it this way. If I was sitting in Austin now and the climate looked the way it did, I probably wouldn't come. It's going to change, but right now the emphasis is not necessarily on the singer/songwriter as you know if you're watching at all. There's always a cycle, and it will pass. What's happening right now will pass. There's some good music out there now. Don't get me wrong. Especially our female artists - Trisha, Chapin, Martina McBride. These people are making great records."

"I'm a musician," he said. "I'm a writer. I've never been into this thing for the money. I don't give a damn about flavor of the month, trends. I don't give a damn about any of that. I just love playing music."

"What else am I going to do?" Parnell said.

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