Band: Lee Roy Parnell
Date: Thursday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m.
Venue: Grand Magnolia Ballroom & Suites, 3604 Magnolia St. (Pascagoula, Miss.), grandmagnolia.com
Tickets: $40 – $52.50, available through Freshtix
Before the days of SXSW and keeping the city weird, Austin was home to a collective of up-and-coming artists creating music for music’s sake. Lee Roy Parnell was there in the days when Willie Nelson made his exodus from Nashville to Austin. In addition to his own music, this Austin legend spent many nights sharing the stage with iconic Texas artists ranging from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Delbert McClinton.
When he arrives in Pascagoula, Miss., Parnell will entertain the crowd with cuts from his latest album, “Midnight Believer.” This self-reflective release is a pure embodiment of that Austin mix of country, blues and rock for which the city is known. Parnell was gracious enough to give Lagniappe’s Steve Centanni a rare look into the glory days of Austin, the Austin sound and his next album.
Steve Centanni: I don’t get to talk to many people who were around back in the day when Austin started booming. What was it like when you first got there in the ’70s?
Lee Roy Parnell: It was Heaven on Earth! First of all, have you been there?
Centanni: I have yet to go to Austin. Honestly, I’m not a fan of Texas, because I’ve always had to drive the widest and busiest parts of it. Everyone tells me that Austin and San Antonio would change my mind.
Parnell: Well, you do. It will change your mind. It’s a completely different scene than Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston, and even San Antonio. It’s cool, but Austin has always been a mecca for writers and politics, because the capital is there. There’s also The University of Texas, which has 100,000 students alone, and that’s just one of them. It’s always been a place of learning and liberal arts. In the mid-’60s, Janis Joplin moved from Port Arthur to Austin and worked at a place called Threadgill’s before she went to San Francisco. That sort of kicked that thing into gear.
Then, when Willie [Nelson] left Nashville and came on down, it was already really rockin’. I was asking Willie about when he left Nashville and went back to Austin, because his sister, Bobbie, was living there. It’s a beautiful town. The Colorado River runs through there and it’s beautiful and clean and clear. It’s just a lovely place. It’s also just about as expensive as San Francisco now, because it’s such a tech hub. When I moved there, there was 250,000 people there and I think Austin is bumping over 2 million in the metropolitan area [now].
What happens with cool places happened with Austin. It’s still a very cool place but with the music, oh my God! The whole “Cosmic Cowboy” thing was happening big time. You had Jerry Jeff Walker and The Lost Gonzo Band. You had Rusty Wier and you had Michael Martin Murphey. You had Stevie and Jimmie Vaughan. Hell, I was doing Monday nights at The Rome Inn with Stevie Vaughan forever. Things just changed for him when [David] Bowie asked him to do the “Let’s Dance” track. The Rolling Stones were hip to him and turned Bowie on to him.
It was nirvana. Rent was cheap. You could be a cowboy and be a hippie at the same time. Willie made all that happen. Otherwise, it would have been just hippie. It’s hard to quantify, and I’m sorry you missed it. If you go down there now, people say to go to Sixth Street. It’s like going to Broadway in Nashville or going to Bourbon Street in New Orleans. It’s insane. I just can’t do that anymore.
The scenes of creativity were planted everywhere you looked back then. It was wonderful, and it really allowed for people like myself, who didn’t fit into any particular genre. We in Texas never really ever felt like we had to. It’s like Delbert McClinton. I always said Delbert gave me the license to be myself. He might mix country, blues and rock ’n’ roll, and it’s all the same to him. It’s all the same to me, too. There’s two types of music: good and bad. If you’re in one of the music centers like New York or Los Angeles, you were going to sell your music, but it wasn’t a creative center. Austin gave you time to figure out who you were and play a lot of shows and find out what you’re really good at. I say to young artists that it’s just as important to figure out who you ain’t as well as who you is.
Centanni: Your latest album is “Midnight Believer” and it maintains that country fried, edgy rock sound that Austin is known for. It’s still fresh. What do you think it is about that sound that makes it so timeless?
Parnell: Really, if you go back in the annals of time, this stuff has been around forever. It’s an individual putting his own original spin on it. What makes it timeless is that we really weren’t watching the clock. [Laughs] Great music like country and blues are very close first cousins, if not brother and sister. I can play you “Milk Cow Blues” by a hundred different artists that were from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s and all the way up to today. I think Aerosmith even did it, but Jimmie Rodgers did it too. I’m a big Jimmie Rodgers fan.
Centanni: One thing that I read is that this album is a musical representation of who you are today — who you is and who you ain’t, like you said. So, after making this album, who is Lee Roy Parnell?
Parnell: He’s just one album down from the one that he’s getting ready to do now. If you’re a true artist, then you want to get to your authentic self, as an artist. You learn all this music because you like it. I love the Allman Brothers, but I don’t want to be the Allman Brothers. In high school I did. Once you start making records on your on and you’re creating your own identity, it’s more like pulling away the layers of an onion, instead of letting it grow. There was a time for that. After it’s gotten to be an onion that’s matured, then you start pulling those layers away to find out what’s in the center that makes you unique. You, me and everybody has something about them to say. Hopefully, before the good Lord calls us all home, we’ll get that done. I think that I get a little closer with each album.
Centanni: It’s been two years since that album, so it’s about time for another. What are you working on?
Parnell: I’ve got a bunch of things going on right now. First thing I do is I write a lot of songs. Oftentimes that is something that helps decide what the record is going to be. A good writer throws the rule book out the door. If you ever get to a situation where you’re like, “aw, that’s stupid,” don’t do that. It’s not your job to judge it. It’s your job to do it. I don’t judge anything that I do. Inspiration hits me every day. I used to carry around a little tape recorder and before that a cassette recorder. I don’t know how many spiral notebooks full of songs [I have]. You just keep writing. For instance, on this last album there was a whole bunch of songs to choose from that we wrote. That set of 10 songs fit together like an album. We live in such a single-oriented society now. The kind of music that I make is meant to be enjoyed with other songs, so it all fits together.
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