My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Spotlight Artist: Lee Roy Parnell

lee-roy-parnell_2011_13049617483975.pngHe made a name for himself with vocal stylings similar in tone to Ronnie Dunn. But it was the brief mainstream acceptance of his bluesy Texas country sound that cements the legacy of Lee Roy Parnell.

Parnell was born December 21, 1956 in Abilene, Texas but raised on his family’s ranch in Stephenville. His father toured as part of teenage Bob Willis’ traveling medicine shows. Parnell would have his first public performance on Wills’ radio show at six-years-old, and play both drums and guitar in a local band as a young adult. He joined the Austin music scene in 1974, while he was also a member of Kinky Freedman’s Texas Jewboys.

Parnell would work the Austin music scene for more than a decade, playing clubs, sharpening his skills on the slide guitar, and holding down a radio show. He relocated to Nashville in 1987 where he scored a publishing deal, regular gig at the Bluebird Café, and a record contract with Arista Nashville within a two-year span.

His eponymous album came in 1990, along with three singles that failed to crack the top 40. A fourth single, “The Rock,” that led his sophomore set Love Without Mercy, did slightly better peaking at #50. His breakthrough would finally come when upbeat rocker “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am” peaked at #2 in 1992. His string of hits continued for the next four years, where he would peak at #2 twice more (with “Tender Moment” in 1993 and “A Little Bit of You” in 1995) and see four more singles hit the top 10.

In addition to his own hit singles, Parnell would come to be known for notable contributions as both a songwriter and musician. He wrote Pirates of the Mississippi’s 1992 top 40 hit “Too Much” as well as Collin Raye’s 1993 top 10 “That’s My Story.”

In 1994, Parnell played slide guitar and appeared in the music video for Mary Chapin Carpenter’s sole chart-topper “Shut Up And Kiss Me.” That same year he formed Jedd Zeppelin, a supergroup consisting of himself, Steve Wariner, and Diamond Rio. They collaborated on a cover of “Working Man Blues” for the multi-artist Mama’s Hungry Eyes tribute album to Merle Haggard.

He scored his final top 15 hit “Givin’ Water to a Drowning Man” in 1996, while recording for Arista imprint Career Records. A nomination for the Best Country Instrumental Grammy came in 1997, and his final Arista album, a greatest hits collection entitled Hits & Highways Ahead was released in 1999.

Two more albums would follow after the turn of the century – Tell The Truth on the Vanguard label in 2001 and Back To The Well on Universal South in 2006. Neither would produce any hit singles. He was also credited for contributing slide guitar to David Lee Murphy’s low charting single “Inspiration” in 2004.

While Parnell has since retired from the music industry, his legacy of hits live on thanks to the fans who remember his contributions to the country music landscape more than twenty years ago. Please enjoy our retrospective as we revisit his discography for the month of September.

6 responses to “Spotlight Artist: Lee Roy Parnell

  1. Ken September 1, 2014 at 11:56 am

    A talented guy to be sure though he was never embraced as a core artist to the country music genre. Have to give him his due for staying relatively true to his roots and not “selling out” to become just another cookie-cutter “New Country” act of the early 1990’s. Blessed to be on the hottest record label of that era the crack Arista promotion staff secured enough airplay for his radio-friendly singles to generate a string of top-ten hits. Unfortunately substantial radio play never translated to actual sales and Le Roy never scored a best-selling album. His best effort was “We All Get Lucky Sometimes” [Career/Arista 18790] that peaked at an anemic #26 in early 1996. Fans ultimately vote with their wallets so Lee Roy achieved only marginal success in that regard. Twenty years later he is an all-but-forgotten bit player in the last great surge of mass popularity for country music before the genre completely morphed onto the pop/southern rock (and sometimes rap) hybrid that it is today.

  2. luckyoldsun September 1, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    Parnell was more in the Delbert McClinton blues vein than in the Ronnie Dunn country vein, though his voice was smooth and somewhat like Ronnie’s, rather than Delbert’s rasp. Obviously, Lee Roy never sold albums like mainstream country artists did, but his performance at radio was certainly respectable–Heck, I don’t think Delbert has ever even had a hit, other than maybe a duet with Tanya Tucker.
    Unless he’s suddenly gotten sick or something, I don’t believe Lee Roy has retired from the music business. His website shows a concert this month (admittedly, only one) and there’s mention of some fairly recent recording projects (though I don’t know if anything’s being issued).

  3. Paul W Dennis September 4, 2014 at 12:11 am

    I was never a big Leroy Parnell fan although I think he was better as a live performer than he was as a recording artist. He appeared on many TV shows on the old Nashville Network and his love performances seemed better than his recorded output

  4. Paul W Dennis September 4, 2014 at 12:12 am

    the word s/b “live” not “love”

  5. Pingback: CCMA Award Winners Announced; Robert Earl Keen Goes Bluegrass; New Music Videos - Engine 145

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