Ric Parnell, who appeared as a drummer in This Is Spinal Tap, has died. His Spinal Tap bandmate Harry Shearer shared the news online, saying, “No one ever rocked harder.”
The group — fronted by actor-musicians Michael McKean (as David St. Hubbins), Christopher Guest (as Nigel Tufnel) and Shearer (as Derek Smalls) — crossed the line between fiction and reality from their inception: the band took their show on the road shortly after making the film, opening shows for psychedelic sludge-rockers Iron Butterfly, and no one in the audience was aware of the gag.
Of course, Spinal Tap’s drummers are a running punchline in the film — all of the group’s previous drummers had died, one from spontaneous combustion — and although Parnell appears throughout the film, he too spontaneously combusts at the end. He performed on the soundtrack album that accompanied the film as well as a follow-up album.
Like the other members of Spinal Tap, Parnell was a genuine musician. Born Richard J. Parnell in London to jazz drummer and bandleader Jack Parnell, he played in such bands as Atomic Rooster and Horse during the early 1970s. He then played in three Italian groups, as was reported to have turned down offers to join the ‘80s rock titans Journey and Whitesnake.
He also played on Toni Basil’s 1982 smash “Mickey” and with Michael Des Barres, Yes singer Jon Anderson, Ravi Shankar, and Wayne Kramer of MC5 Radio Birdman’s Denik Tek.
Tek took to social media Sunday to post a heartfelt tribute to Parnell, saying, “From day one, meeting him, I found him to be engaging, warm, and delightfully funny. We hit it off as pals immediately. He had a cheerful spirit that made you feel good, just being around him. … Ric was one of a kind. He lives on in his music, and in our hearts.”
More recently, Parnell lived in Missoula, Montana, where he co-hosted a weekly radio show titled “Spontaneous Combustion.” A GoFundMe has been established to help cover his funeral costs.