Ric Parnell, real drummer of a famous fake band, dies at 70

Ric Parnell, a real-life drummer best known for playing in a fake band, the one chronicled in Rob Reiner’s legendary 1984 mockumentary “...


Ric Parnell, a real-life drummer best known for playing in a fake band, the one chronicled in Rob Reiner’s legendary 1984 mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap,” died May 1 in Missoula, Montana, where he had lived for about two decades. . He was 70 years old.

His partner, McKenzie Sweeney, confirmed the death. She said a blood clot in her lungs led to organ failure.

Mr Parnell had been in several bands, including British progressive rock band Atomic Rooster, when he auditioned for ‘This Is Spinal Tap’, a deadpan send-off of rock cliches, and landed the role of drummer, Mick Shrimpton . The core members of the group, however, were not primarily musicians, although they had musical abilities; they were comic actors – Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer. Mr. Reiner starred as Marty DiBergi, a documentarian recording what turns out to be a disastrous tour of Spinal Tap, a heavy metal band that is past its prime and poorly run.

Mr McKean said Mr Parnell fit in perfectly.

“He looked perfect, all hair and cheekbones, but he also got the joke and knew how to play the real thing without comment,” he said over email. “And he was a great drummer in the tradition of his hero, John Bonham” – drummer for Led Zeppelin.

“On stage,” Mr. McKean added, “he was the best kind of freak; behind the scenes, a very nice and very funny guy.

Mr Parnell only had a few lines in the film, but he was at the heart of one of his funniest gags: the band’s drummers used to die in weird, nasty ways. In one scene, he is lounging in a bathtub while Marty DiBergi asks him if he is bothered by this story.

“It scared me a little, but it can’t still happen,” Mick says, and Marty agrees, telling him, “The law of averages says you’ll survive.

The law of averages, alas, was wrong – towards the end of the film, Mick spontaneously bursts into flames on stage. When the film developed such a cult following after the fake band went on tour in the early 1990s, playing real shows, it required a character change from Mr Parnell – he was now Rick Shrimpton, the twin brother of the deceased Mick.

Life almost imitated art in mid-1992, when Mr Parnell fell down some stairs in a hurry to do a sound check while the band were rehearsing in Los Angeles. He injured his ankle.

“Despite the odds of meeting death staying with Spinal Tap,” said a publicist for the band at the time, “he looks forward to continuing the tour.”

This ‘Return of Spinal Tap’ tour eventually took the band to London’s Royal Albert Hall, a pinch moment for British-born Mr Parnell as he waited to continue alongside Mr Shearer.

“I remember during ‘The Return of Spinal Tap’ standing backstage with Harry and hearing the Albert Hall crowd just chant ‘Tap!’ ‘Faucet!’ ‘Faucet!’ ‘Tap!’, Mr Parnell told The Missoula Independent in 2006. “I turned to Harry and said, ‘Come on, now. We are a joke! Don’t they know it? It was just amazing how big it all got.

About two decades ago, Mr. Parnell settled into a much quieter life in Missoula, where for a time he had a radio show called “Spontaneous Combustion” on KDTR-FM, on which he told stories and indulged his eclectic musical tastes. For one show, he only played former artists from Antelope Valley High School in California, including Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart.

“I can play whatever I want, do whatever I want – as long as I don’t swear,” he told The Independent. “That’s the only hard part.”

Richard John Parnell was born on August 13, 1951 in London to Jack and Monique (Bonneau) Parnell. His father was a composer, bandleader and drummer, and he said drumming came naturally from an early age.

“I got it from my dad,” he told The Missoulian in 2007. “I could sit down on drums and play a beat right away.”

Classes, he said, weren’t his thing; he learned by playing in a group.

“Over the years, I’ve developed a technique,” he told the newspaper. “I get drummers saying, ‘How did you do that?’ I say, ‘I have no idea. I just knock. I wouldn’t distinguish a paradiddle from a flam-doodlehead.

Her father, who worked as a musical director or in other capacities on numerous television shows, sometimes supplemented her education by taking her to the set. He remembers being seated at the feet of Jimi Hendrix when he performed on singer Dusty Springfield’s British TV series in 1968.

Mr. Parnell’s own career was beginning around the same time. He remembers touring with Engelbert Humperdinck as a teenager. He joined Atomic Rooster in 1970, then spent time with an Italian group, Ibis. In 1977 he moved to the United States with a band called Nova, which settled in Boulder, Colorado.

He has played numerous studio sessions over the years and can be heard on records by Beck, Toni Basil and others. For a time he toured with the R&B saxophonist Joe Houston. They stopped every year for a few shows in Missoula before heading to Canada to tour. But, as Mr. Parnell often recounted, one year the group did not have the correct paperwork to cross the border and had to extend their stay in Missoula.

“I basically got stuck here and didn’t want to leave,” he told The Independent. “I’ve always loved this place – it’s like Boulder in the 1970s when I first came to the United States. I became a Missoulian instantly.

Mr. Parnell has been married and divorced four times. In addition to Mrs Sweeney, he is survived by two brothers, Will and Marc, and two half-sisters, Emma Parnell and Sarah Currie.

Over the past two decades, he has often played with one band or another at local Missoula spots. In 2004, a writer for The Missoulian asked if he, as an accomplished musician, had ever grown tired of being recognized solely for his band of jokes.

“No, not really,” he said. “Really, it’s kind of nice to be a part of such a legendary thing.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Ric Parnell, real drummer of a famous fake band, dies at 70
Ric Parnell, real drummer of a famous fake band, dies at 70
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