By Jeffrey B. Remz, September 1999
"I imagine not a lot of people heard it. I wanted the world a chance to hear something I had done that wasn't calculated. It wasn't thought out. It wasn't anything. It was just music, and it happened."
"You put the blindfold on, you play what's in your heart, you roll the tape." People work so hard to get things perfect - what they believe to be perfect. What's necessarily perfect for some people isn't necessarily people for others."
Parnell, who grew up on a ranch as a neighbor of the King of Western Swing, Bob Wills, says he was most surprised about the success of "Heart's Desire."
"I wrote that for fun," Parnell says. "I wrote it for my little girl because they were dancing to this little groove that I had going. Then, it turned out to be the biggest song we've ever had. Just goes to show...if they let you get in the game with something you do naturally and you do it from the heart, you're probably going to win. The problem is getting into game."
"To me, it sounded like a Memphis R&B classic," he says. "It didn't sound like 'Friends in Low Places.' It didn't sound that way. But guess what."
And what song most surprised Parnell in not becoming a hit.
"Back in My Arms Again," which Kenny Chesney cut too. "I felt like that was a hit. There's a song of mine that I think still could be a hit for somebody, 'Night After Night' (from "Love Without Mercy"). I think that's one of the finest pieces I've ever written."
Another surprise was the failure of "Lucky Me, Lucky You." "It really surprised me when it wasn't a hit, but it was in England." Parnell says he has attracted a good following in Europe despite having played a grand total of one show there. None of the songs is on the new album.
Acknowledging his difficulty in getting radio play nowadays, Parnell has turned his attention elsewhere - movies and the blues.
Parnell spent the day of the interview writing a song with Mike Reid for an upcoming Farrelly Brothers movie "Unconditional Love," starring Kathy Bates.
"I'm finding it to be satisfying," says Parnell of soundtrack work. "I don't find the constraints. In the last couple of years, country radio has not left room for guys with edge. If you got an edge, they kind of edged you out."
"I don't think anybody does," Parnell says. "Most of the big stations have been bought up by these consolidated whatever they are. They've got two or three consultants telling them what to play. I find it hard to believe that a guy in San Francisco is going to be able to tell someone in Boston to play (a song)."
'I think it's part of the homogeneousness of America that's going on," he says. "I hate to see that happening."
"With these soundtracks, it's okay if my guitar tracks are two minutes long," Parnell says. "It's okay if I write something that sounds like a Tony Bennett song, and I write something that sounds like a Rolling Stones song. It's okay."
A song Parnell recorded with blues artist Keb Mo' appears on the "Happy, Tex." soundtrack. Julia Roberts' "Undying Love" included "Oughta Be a Law," from his first album. "One Foot in Front of the Other" was on the "Varsity Blues" soundtrack.
Parnell got the bug for soundtrack work after a trip this past March to Havana as part of a cultural exchange to write songs with Cuban musicians. He met a woman who places music in movies and encouraged him to do so.
"I began submitting music to them, spending more time in Los Angeles and less time in Nashville," says Parnell.
"There's a trend going on - those of us being pro-active with our music see a need to stretch out beyond the city limits of Nashville, Tenn.," says Parnell. "Mike (Reid) goes to New York. I've gone to Los Angeles. I've been spending about half my time out there."
As for the blues, Parnell plans on that becoming a more active part of his music. He always has maintained a bluesy edge to his country, made all the more obvious given his fluid slide guitar playing, probably one of the most recognizable sounds in country.
"The next Lee Roy Parnell record I make will be more blues based," he says. "I don't know that I'm going to come right out and make a blues record, but that side of me will be much more prevalent of me in the future. Much more prevalent."
"I've always had the reigns on me to fit into country radio. Now they don't seem to want to play me, it doesn't seem to do any good to fit in their little format. It's a big world out there. To tell you the truth, I'm sort of glad that this has all come down the way it has because it's freed me up to let me do other things I've always wanted to do."