Sunday, August 10, 2008

Rob Roy Parnell & The Navasota Bluesfest

I met Rob Roy Parnell one night over in Bryan, Texas at the Third Floor Cantina (same place that I met Sam Myers & Eddie C. Campbell--wish someone over there booked up the blues like they did back in the day). I mentioned in an earlier post about also meeting Johnny Moeller, who was playing guitar with him that night. They played a crackling set that night and we chatted between sets and after the gig we swapped phone numbers when my intentions to write an article about his exploits became clear. When I called him on his cell, he insisted on calling me back on his "dime" as they were pulling out of Corpus Christi the morning after a gig. We covered quite of bit of territory while they were covering quite a bit of territory between Corpus and San Antonio.

When I wrapped up writing the article, Rob Roy suggested sending it into the Allman Brothers' unofficial official magazine called Hittin' The Note. I told him that I would try Blues Access magazine first, since they published my Sam Myers story. They agreed to publish the article, so I submitted it and sat back and waited for word on which issue to expect it to appear in print. The magazine fell into the same type of schedule as the other two major blues magazines and was published on a bi-monthly basis. I remained fairly patient, until so much time passed that I decided that contact was needed, plus they had hired a new managing editor that maybe needed a reminder that my article was in the magazine's hands. So, I contacted the new guy (who'll remain nameless) and was assured that Rob Roy's article would see print in the next issue. Good! The issue came in without a whiff of my stuff and I re-connected with the managing editor, who assured me that it just had to be bumped for good reason. Can't remember now what that was, but long story short is that my story still hadn't seen the light of day a year after submission.

Rob Roy suggested Hittin' The Note again and I agreed. I contacted the managing editor by e-mail and explained that it was not quite fair to keep delaying the debut of the article and that after a year, it definitely needed updating and that I had other placement options, so I would just like to have it back. I think I came off as being quite irritated and the reply suggested that I not to tell him how to do his job and that the article was not really up to snuff by their standards anyway, so they had no use for it. So, Hitting' The Note, issue 32, Fall 2001 ran the article on Rob Roy Parnell as a companion piece to an article on his brother Lee Roy Parnell. Sweet!

So, whenever Rob Roy is booked to play the Navasota Bluesfest (honoring Mance Lipscomb's memory), which is 30 miles from my house, I try to make it over to say hello and touch base and did so yesterday (July 9th). I talked my fifteen year old son John into going with me and he was less than enthused, but agreeable to checking it out with me and since he is beginning to show an interest in picking the guitar, I felt he should. I also decided not to subject him to more than a couple of the preceding acts that I felt were representative of good, solid blues musicians.

We arrived at the tail end of Sweet Mama Cotton's solo piano set and she was sounding pretty good wrapping up with some salacious ain't the meat, but the motion and such. As we were standing in line for barbeque, I recognized Bernie Pearl, long time West Coast blues musician, standing in front of us and I introduced myself and my son. He knew that I knew a thing or two about what he does when I mentioned his deceased partner of years past, Harmonica Fats. He had brought his son and daughter-in-law along with him and promised to do his best on some of Mance's material.

After we found a seat, we were treated to some substantially authentic piano blues and singing from Nat Dove, who ran through quite a few standards such as Everyday I Have The Blues. He sang in a wonderful baritone that swung up into the high falsetto range for emphasis at times. He got a rolling, rollicking, boogie woogie shake down going on a few tunes. Pretty sure that he said that he was originally from Bryan, but like a lot of Texas musicians of his era, he migrated to the West Coast and made his living there. Think that he and Bernie had been in some of the same bands, but at different times.

Bernie Pearl had a connection with Mance Lipscomb that went back to when Mance made his first foray out to California after recording his first record for the Arhoolie label back in the '60s. Bernie even made his way to Navasota to meet up with Mance on his home turf. At the festival, he came out nailing Mance's finger picking style on tunes such as Freddie, Baby Please Don't Go, Going Down Slow, Tom Moore's Blues and many others. He proved to be a solid blues singer and let her rip on tunes that were not associated with Mance, but with Muddy Waters, Elmore James and Mississippi Fred McDowell when he produced his National Steel guitar and applied the bottleneck sliding. Mojo Hand and Shake 'Em On Down got him rockin' way back. Good set of solid acoustic blues.

I introduced my son to Rob Roy while he was sitting in his van listening to his latest recording, Let's Start Something. He claimed that he was trying to remember the words to a song from the CD that was going to be featured prominently in his set list that afternoon. The new one is a long overdue follow-up to his well received Jacksboro Highway released at the end of the millennium and ten of the twelve cuts were written or co-written by him. I quit packing pen and paper to gigs a long time ago and if I write a review of such, then I need a lot more total recall than I can summon nowadays. So, I can't tell you what the band began with and everything they played, but can tell you that I'm pretty sure that they wrapped it up with a rocking rendition of Jacksboro Highway with Hector Watt's Strat leading the way and Rob Roy's harp jacking up the ante and leaving the crowd wanting for more.

I do believe that they kicked off with I Know Better that has a '50s T-Bone vibe, jumping the boogie and provided the crowd with the first example of just what the harp can sound like in the hands of Rob Roy, played through his '63 Fender Princeton and Fender Bassman Reissue by way of an old Shure Green Bullet mic. He glissandos up, down and around the notes. Rob Roy carries no horns on the road, but the tune is filled out and driven by the sax of Don Wise and Scott Ducaj's trumpet with James Pennebaker guitar plucking T-Bone riffs throughout on the CD. On stage Rob Roy and Hector Watt were carrying the load, along with Chris Wallis' drumming and Pat Whitefield's bass. They got Parnell's roadhouse rumble cranking in the right direction, right off the bat.

Rob Roy can sing the proverbial phone book and writes tunes that are steeped in tradition in their tonal flavors. He moved from singing his and Will Indian's If Mama Ain't Happy that reminded me of a '50s Jerry Lee Lewis rocker to the ballad Rose Petals with a Louisiana swamp groove, like Matilda, that would impress a Conway Twitty fan with his vocals. He applied his substantial chromatic harp skills on the former and gets melodic riffs from his diatonic harp on the latter. A great deal of Rob Roy's harp licks worked the melodies of his tunes much more than simply blasting generic Chicago blues harp riffs. He proved that he could do that also, though, especially when he lit into That's What The Blues Is All About, co-written with Sarah Brown, when he offers up some Little Walterish stuff played acoustically at the vocal mic and hit the high end Jimmy Reed lick or two. Matter of fact, he evokes Reed's name within the lyrics of the song. The band gave it a Chuck Berry bounce with an infectious groove.

He also got down with it on Roy Brown's Lollipop Mama, most memorably performed my the late, great William Clarke, and he worked the harp hard, emphasizing the middle octave notes that wailed and hitting the low end to make it nice and fat. He turned Hector loose with the Strat and he absolutely smoked it. Before the song, Rob Roy introduced the tune as one recorded by William Clarke and the house was relatively silent when he asked if anyone was familiar with the deceased harp ace. Shame on them.

The band kept the crowd engaged during their hour and a half set. The folks were ready for a full band sound and were up dancing and prancing. They played good time music and the crowd had a good time moving to the grooving and they played most of what can be found on Let's Start Something that can be found on the Blue Rocket Record label. He ventured to Nashville to record the CD and he employed a slew of veterans such as guitarists Dave Milsap, Pennebaker, and Stephen Bruton; drummer Lynn Williams, keyboardist Kevin McKendree, bassist Steve Mackey and others that have graced stages with stars such as Delbert McClinton and brother Lee Roy (who spices the hell out one tune with his slide work). These tunes just flat harken back to the good old days that few folks are recording anymore. He hasn't been just Lee Roy Parnell's little bro anymore for awhile--Rob Roy's his own man making his own racket and I like it. Anyway--


Rob Roy getting his '63 Fender Princeton & Fender Bassman Reissue lined up to crank up in the top photo. He got the reissue the first year that they came out, so it's been around the block a time or two. Then, there's the Bushdog with RR taken by son John, who admitted that he had a good time. BY THE WAY--all you good Aggies need to get out and get this CD from an A&M grad of '84.


Brad Knapp said...

Shame I didn't make it this year. I've been working on some slide blues--some fun stuff to play. Hope all is well.

Ricky Bush said...

All is well, Brad. See if you can find some Mississippi Fred McDowell for Delta country blues slide and Elmore James for electrified stuff. By the way--pretty sure that Megan has a signed copy of Rob Roy's first cd. See if she stuck it away somewhere. Anyway--

See ya--