BY RUSSELL HUFFMAN
From his own repertoire of hits to the classics of country, blues, soul and rock and roll, Stephenville’s Lee Roy Parnell has always avoided being stuck in one genre of music – except one—AWESOME.
It’s been four decades since Parnell played his very first public concert at the Stephenville Recreation Hall, and during that time he has established himself as a singer, song writer and a master of slide guitar play.
You would think with a world of experience behind him coming home would have some nervous anticipation, but no more than performing with Willie Nelson.
Parnell laughs before answering the question.
“I am very nervous. This is the place that it all started. Of course we were playing rock and roll back then because that’s what we were into at the time,” Parnell said. “I don’t want to look and see nobody there. We want to make this a yearly event and I know sometimes you have to start out small.”
Parnell and many locals would like to see a big crowd, because the singer’s homecoming is long overdue. The concert also comes on the heels of a day’s worth of activities with By Gone Days at the Stephenville Historical Museum and Sundown on the Square.
When Parnell heard about all the activities in place he worked to try and arrange a schedule that would give everyone a chance to enjoy their day. So Parnell told the concert’s planner they needed to work toward a later start for his concert – a 9 p.m. show that will be preceded by his brother, Rob Parnell at 8:30 p.m.
It promises to be a “Barn Burning Night!” as Stephenville Mayor Pro Tem Russ McDanel puts it as he has pitched in to help bring Parnell back home.
Folks attending Saturday’s concert can expect to see a staple of the more than 20 songs Parnell has charted over the years to include “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am”; “ “Tender Moment”; “On The Road” and “I’m Holding My Own”.
“We are going to mix it up some with country, rock and roll and some soul,” Parnell said. “Folks can expect to hear some standards, but you always have to mix things up a little.”
Many folks are familiar with the slide of a steel guitar, but Parnell’s slide is different and played along the neck of a Gibson guitar. It’s the stuff of legend that was sparked by a southern rock legend.
“We were driving around listening to the radio and I was 13-14 years old and I heard this song on the radio and I couldn’t get over it,” Parnell said. “I had no idea at the time what was causing the guitar Dwayne Allman was playing to sound that way, but I knew I had to find out.”
As Parnell explains, this wasn’t the day of MTV and on demand Internet video. For Parnell to learn how the Allman Brothers were incorporating a slide on the neck of a guitar was no easy task.
“You had to sit there with that guitar on your lap and spin that record and work that slide and record player needle at the same time,” Parnell said. “I’d tell a friend to play that part again over and over and over. I’m so glad I have all my vinyl from this time because they are great to listen to even now.” Anyone using vinyl may want to view site here to learn how you can improve the sound quality using a phono preamplifier.
Parnell’s sliding has produced a famous twang, and all that “over and over work” has made him a legend in his own right.
When it comes to being legendary in the music business it’s hard to rival Gibson Guitars, and they hand-selected Parnell to perform clinics on his art for others to learn. Parnell has been decked out in everything from a Gibson tour bus to experimenting with new Gibson models. The guitar company has so much respect for Parnell they even approached him about adding his own personal touch to their signature line.
Parnell’s love of a Gibson started at the age of 15 when he purchased a 1956 Goldtop model. For more than 15 years it was his mainstay, and while has seen experimented with other models and guitars he has always come back to Gibson.
Parnell is so deep-rooted in Gibson he helped the company develop the Lee Roy Parnell Signature ’57 Les Paul Goldtop. Development of the guitar was painstaking and took nearly a year but Parnell has learned about hard work from people like Willie Nelson, who has given him some off the cuff advice over the years.
“Willie and I were playing a show in Baltimore and he told me there was only two things a person needed to go from being a ‘has been’ to becoming a ‘living legend’ and I of course asked him what those were.” Parnell said. “Now he told me the first one was to keep on playing the music I was writing and enjoy myself. Then he took off into the crowd before I could get the second part.”
Parnell laughs at the memory of finally catching up with Nelson and getting part two of his advice.
“He told me to keep doing what I was doing and number two was to outlive everybody else,” Parnell said. “And I have been working at doing that ever since.”
Parnell fans may get to hear a sampling of some tunes they haven’t heard before as rumor has it he is returning to the studio for a new album. It would be the first time Parnell has produced all of his own material and you might say there are some mixed feelings about it.
“Doing your own production is a bit of a double-edged sword,” Parnell said. “There’s so much that goes into producing a record.”
Parnell will be carrying a “sword” with multiple edges Saturday night and he hopes to see you there. Tickets for the concert are on sale for $25 at the Stephenville Recreation Hall. The concert is being sponsored by TexStar Ford Lincoln Mercury, Stephenville Mini Storage and First Financial Bank.