In Memory Of Dave Parnell
10/27/41 – 11/15/01
In Memory Of David C. Parnell Tenor Saxophone & Vocals
Born 10/27/41 New Orleans, LA – Died 11/15/01 Vallejo, CA
Written by Forrest McDonald (804) 477-4488 www.forrestmcdonald.com
I first met Dave Parnell in mid-February 1999. I had flown to San Francisco, CA from Atlanta, and driven up to Vallejo to play some club dates and rehearse for my 4th CD with Chicago native Raymond Victor. Raymond told me that a great saxophone player had been jamming with him lately, and I may want to use him on our next recording. Raymond and I had been playing together for the past 26 years, and if he recommended someone, I knew he had to be really good. We had booked a date at a small club called the Golden Bubble in Vallejo, CA. It was a perfect venue to try out new material. We could discuss the changes before we started the songs and get some live feedback at the same time. Raymond had just plugged the sax mic up to channel 5 when Dave walked in. I liked Dave the moment Raymond introduced us. He had an infectious smile, boyish good looks and a warm, gentle demeanor. I could sense this was a true bluesman, inside and out, top to bottom. We were into the first number when Ray nodded his head for Dave to blow his first solo. Dave cut loose with a tremendous fury of blues notes that put a smile on everyone’s face in the club. He had a tone like a silver bell. He blue it high; he blew it low as the experiences of a lifetime flowed from his soul and out of that horn. I couldn’t get enough–it sounded so good. A magic musical chemistry was born that night. The hours seemed like minutes as the night flew by. Ever since I was born, I’ve loved the music of a horn. Dave sounds were true blue, dedicated and educated as he ran the scales of a man’s emotions like the changing tides of the oceans. He was a perfect fit for the new band. The new band line-up was Forrest McDonald on guitar, Raymond Victor on keyboards and lead vocals, Dynamite Dave Parnell Tenor on saxophone and vocals, Dianne Dutra on bass and vocals, and Chuck Cap DeVille on drums. I called the new rhythm section The 3D Blues Band. After a few rehearsals, we cut the entire Spirit of the Blues CD at Prairie Sun Studios on April 17, 1999. This recording was the start of three CD’s that Dave would appear on. His saxophone playing brought great blues authenticity to every track on the record. We hit the road in June to support Spirit of the Blues, which was released on Atlanta’s blues- based independent record label, World Talent Records. By the time we got to Atlanta, there was a lot of anticipation. We were in the top 25 on WRFG, the number 1 blues radio station in town, and the Atlanta Blues Society was on full alert for our Atlanta debut at Rooster’s, Douglasville’s House of Blues. The club was packed, and the band turned on hundreds of blues lovers to their new sound. It was New Orleans, Texas and Chicago blues all rolled into one tight package.
Dave made a lot of friends on that tour, and he immediately felt the blues fans in Atlanta were something special. Dave excelled on the stage and lived to perform. Once he walked on the bandstand, he was at his zenith. There was nothing else in the world during those moments but the music and the fans. Later that year, we were voted the Best Southern Blues Band by Real Blues Magazine. We also won the Just Plain Folks music award for Blues CD of the Year. Dave was very proud of his award.
Dave admired King Curtis and often remarked how much he liked the way King’s horn sounded. When Dave wasn’t playing the saxophone, he was singing beautiful harmonies.
Dave could play all of the saxes, flute, drums and guitar very well. He never stepped outside of his boundaries, and was always happy to contribute anything that was asked of him. As winter set in, we took a break to begin pre-production work for the next CD entitled What’s It Gonna’ Take? We regrouped in January 2000. In February, we were asked to headline the Gasparilla Festival in Tampa, FL. The night before the festival, we jammed with bluesman, Roy Gaines, at Skipper’s Smokehouse in Tampa. This lead to an appearance by Roy on the new CD. We were asked to play the second Annual Atlanta Blues Society Blues Festival on April 9, 2000. It was an inspired performance that had Dave on his feet playing to the enthusiastic crowd. Dave had been stricken with a degenerative spine disease in the early 80’s that left him in a great deal of pain. For that reason, he usually sat in a chair to perform, but this night, he was up on his feet, bopping and blowing as only Dave could. Two days later, we were back at Prairie Sun Studio in Cotati, CA, to record our second CD together. We spent 2 days recording the What’s It Gonna’ Take? CD. Listen to Dave on “Times Getting Tougher Than Tough,” “Skid Row Blues,” “Mean Old World,” or “Alligator.” His solos are breathtakingly beautiful and flawlessly executed. With the success of Spirit Of The Blues, the venues improved. We were now playing mostly festivals with nightclub supporting dates sandwiched in between. We had better promotion and were receiving airplay on 1250 stations and heard in 13 countries. Dave was heard by more than 7 million people in the year 2000.
We took a break for the holidays, and regrouped in May to kick off our spring festival tour. On May 4th we performed with Dave at Springfest for a crowd of 5,000 in Ocean City, MD. Two nights later we headlined the 38th Annual River Place festival in Greenville, SC for 200,000 fantastic fans. We also had the honor to perform at the Blues Music Association meeting in Memphis at BB King’s during W.C. Handy Week. Dave also performed at the Post Handy Jam session and sat in with Bob Margolin at the Black Diamond. Everyone who heard or met Dave liked and respected him.
The new CD was nearly finished, but I felt we needed one or two more songs. I called up the rhythm section and another guitar legend from Atlanta–Barry Richman–and headed down to Dogwood to cut two more songs. We recorded “Who’s Been Talkin’” and another instrumental. Dave said, “I know some words I can sing to this instrumental.” We said, “Great! Lay it down.” Dave did a fantastic job singing “Blues in the Basement” as he described some of his rougher days of living in a basement with nothing but rats. You can feel he lived every word he sang. This is currently the only released recording of Dave singing lead. However, he will appear on the Second Annual WRFG Back Porch Blues Festival recorded live with Forrest McDonald at Darwin’s, which is due out in the winter of 2001.
Dave was very excited in the spring of 2001. He left his home in Vallejo and Moved to Atlanta. Finger Lickin’ Blues, our 3rd CD together, was released in June, and we were having a ball performing it for all of the fans. We were booked north, south, east and west, and having the time of our lives. When we were off the road, Dave and I spent many an afternoon playing on my porch, working on new songs. He even bought a guitar and was learning rhythm parts for our live shows. We started hosting the blues jam at Darwin’s in Marietta, GA every Tuesday night. This was one of Dave’s and my favorite clubs. Kay Rowedder, the owner, is a great supporter of the blues in Atlanta, and we loved to play at her club. Dave really stretched out on these nights. He would sing everything from “I Got My Mojo Working” to “Mustang Sally.” One night, we had 3 horn players playing Grover Washington’s “Mr. Magic,” a song that Dave loved to play. We had the horns trading 8 bar solos. It sounded so good! Dave would always take time with any player showing them anything they wanted to know. He was very generous with his talent and shared his knowledge unselfishly with all.
He also loved to sit in with the other Atlanta Musicians like Sweet Betty, Donna Hopkins or Liz Melendez. With his kind and gentle manner, it’s not surprising he made so many friends. Dave had previously played with the Coasters, David T. Walker, Jimmy McCracklin, and even the great Freddie King. One night, coming home from a show, he recalled arriving in Dallas in the 60’s while touring with Jimmy McCracklin. He was playing at the Shadow Club with Freddie King. Freddy’s bass player had missed the bus and was not going to make the show. Jimmy told Freddie that Dave could play the bass and Dave played the whole set with the King. Playing all of the great hits from “Hideaway” to “Remington Ride,” Dave was right at home. After playing the bass, he picked up his horn and played his show with Jimmy McCracklin.
Whenever I picked Dave up for a gig, he was out in front of his house–sax in hand–with a big smile on his face, ready to go. One morning in late July, I got a call from Dave’s roommate, telling me Dave had complained of chest pains and had been taken to the hospital. He had suffered a heart attack. Dave was full of fight and just one week later, I picked him up and we went and played a show at Chip’s Roadhouse in Winder, GA. We continued to play the next few weeks in the Georgia area. On the morning of August 24th, I picked Dave up, and we headed for the airport. We were playing the Vallejo Blues, Jazz and Wine Festival in CA, and he was excited about playing for his old friends and family. He hadn’t slept well the night before, and was tired when we pulled into the airport. While we were flying at 30,000 feet over Denver, CO, Dave went to the restroom. On his was back to his seat he collapsed in the aisle of the plane. His heart had stopped cold, and he was not breathing. By a stroke of luck, there were two doctors on the plane and one of them was a heart specialist. The plane had a shock machine and oxygen, and within 90 seconds, they had his heart beating and he drew breath once again. We made an emergency landing in Denver. Within 8 minutes of him losing consciousness, the paramedics had him on a stretcher and were taking him off the plane. His eyes opened he looked up at me and asked, “What happened?” I told him he had another heart attack and to try to relax. He stayed in the hospital for a week and I arranged for him to get back to CA where he could rest and be around his family. Over the next two months, we spoke on the phone several times. He was trying to get better and was looking to return to Atlanta next year. I told him to take as much time as he needed to get back in good health, and that all of his friends wished him well. He was in Sacramento living with his wife, resting and trying to get stronger. After his 60th birthday, he took a bus down to Vallejo. He was missing the stage. A week after arriving back in Vallejo, he returned to the bandstand, playing two sets with Raymond Victor and the 3D Blues Band. He called all the songs for two sets and was back in the element he knew and loved so well.
Dave’s doctor had recently told him that his days were numbered. Dave always told me that he wanted to go out playing. One week later, he was having breathing problems and he checked back into the hospital. Within hours, his body completely shut down. He was placed on life support with no chance of recovery. We all waited and prayed for days that seemed like years. After three days in ICU, his mother gave the word to shut off the life support system. He was gone 30 minutes later.
Dave touched so many lives with his music and warm spirit. He truly had the spirit of the blues, as anyone who heard him play will attest to. He had so many rich experiences from playing with Jimmy McCracklin in the 60’s, touring Canada with his group, The Perfect Circle in the 70’s, playing sessions in the 80’s and 90’s and with Forrest McDonald and the 3D Blues Band the last three years.
When I get into my car, I look over to the passenger side, and can see him still sitting there smiling, talking, and mumbling away. As Raymond set up the PA system last week, he instinctively plugged the horn mic into channel 5 and the tears came down.
You may be gone, Dave, but you will never be forgotten. It was an honor to be your friend and I speak for many people whose lives you made better by your presence and your music. Thank you for all the joy you brought to so many. God bless you.
Forrest McDonald–November 16th 2001