Lee Roy Parnell goes back to the well – May 2006
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Lee Roy Parnell goes back to the well  Print

By Holly Gleason, May 2006

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Laughing, Parnell admits that while he knew the music would bring him, the shift also came with its own slippery slope of trepidation.

As he explains, "We borrowed money against the house to keep going until things turned around...I come from a ranching family, and if you don't get rain come the first of the year, you're going back to the bank - so you understand those cycles."

"It's just when you lose a record deal, suddenly it gets really hard to get booking agents on the phone...your publishing deal kinda evaporates for some people 'cause it's based on putting records out...Everything just closes in on itself."

"I got lucky, though, 'cause when I was going through that rough patch - and it was - Willie (Nelson, who is Yoda) gave me some really wise advice. I was up on his bus, and he looks me in the eye - way deep in my eye - and he says, 'You'll be surprised how quick you become a living legend instead of a has been. But you can't quit 'cause you won't get there then...'""I don't know about the legend part, but he sure was right about the quittin'. That's the gift: you can't see it any more...you're just going on instinct and survival - and those things will carry you to where you need to be."

For Parnell, it was clarity, songwriting and heroes that turned out to be friends. Having been ignited by the sound of Duane Allman's slide guitar, it wasn't long before the soft-spoken musician/writer was going to the source of his inspiration.

First making friends with Dickie Betts, who invited Parnell onstage at Detroit's Pine Knob, then getting to know all of the Allman Brothers - including stints sitting in with the legendary Southern band that fuses jazz and blues, rock and gospel underpinnings during their legendary runs at New York's Beacon Theater, it was a spark that carried over to a world without rules.

The Allmans friendship led to a kinship with Warren Haynes, the reflective hub of Government Mule - and out of those impromptu stages shared, the seeds for Parnell's deal at Universal South were sown.

For it was after marketing head Van Fletcher saw Parnell jamming with his friends on several occasions, he approached former Arista head Tim DuBois about signing his former artist.

"I wasn't looking for a deal," Parnell admits with a laugh. "And when I got the call - because we'd been living on the songwriting, during all of this, always, it was the writing that kept us fed - I figured they've got a good roster...there's probably a song or two they want a lyric change to. You know, something sensitive like that..."

They wanted songs alright - and the guy singing them. But Parnell, who'd made five albums in the confines of the Nashville record business, knew that he couldn't do what he'd done before. He explained that he'd be happy to make a record, but it would need to done on his terms, and it wouldn't be something that was designed to be worked in the traditional country radio mode.

DuBois, Fletcher and artist development head Susan Levy were in agreement. What they wanted was Parnell, heart and soul.

Re-teaming with producer John Kunz, who'd engineered his Arista releases and co-produced "Tell The Truth," Parnell scraped his soul wide open, threw the doors and windows of his life up and let go of any sense of reservation about how far to go.

"Old Soul," a song about the sacrifice a mother makes - with joy - for her children, resonates with love and wisdom, while "Daddys & Daughters" offers his own Allison a mirror into how strong his bond to his only girl is.

"Something Out of Nothing" is a devotion of gratitude to a woman who saw what was inside the man who'd lost his own sense of self, as is the redemptive "Saving Grace."

"As writers, as artists, I think we spend the first half of our lives growing skin in layers, like an onion," he offers of his creative process. "You obtain and grow them, keep adding and learning... and then, you spend the second half of your life pulling 'em away."

"I've been trying to (stand naked) for years," Parnell continues looking for the words. "I like things organic, simple, deep. To me, that's where the soul is. I mean, there are no secrets between Gary (Nicholson) and I - or Tony (Arata, best known for penning "The Dance")."

"As you get older, different things are revealed to you about what you want to accomplish - and you start to realize: songs are forever. Songs are your legacy...those are the things that will stand long after you're gone."

"In all of that, it's pretty simple: if it touches me and is real - I'm a pretty common fella - then it's a pretty good shot, it'll touch somebody else, too. In the end, we're all pretty much the same, you know...and the way we feel is pretty much the same, too."

"So if I can touch you, tell the truth about what I'm feeling... and you've felt it, too, then we're connecting. That's the thing, really...connecting. So, what if you cry? Maybe that's just what you need to do - and if we can do that together, then we've done something."

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