The rocker bounced around groups early in his career, before latching on with prog-rock band Atomic Rooster in 1970. He stayed with the group until ‘74, playing on studio albums Made in England and Nice ‘n’ Greasy. During his stint, the group scored two hits in the U.K., “Tomorrow Night” (1970) and “Devil’s Answer” (1971), which peaked at No. 11 and 4 respectively.
Following his time with Atomic Rooster, Parnell played with the Italian rock band Tritons, pop-rock group Stars and jazz fusion outfit Nova. From there, he found success as a session drummer, playing on material from Michael Des Barres and Yes frontman Jon Anderson, as well as Toni Basil’s 1981 album Word of Mouth. That’s Parnell’s drum work you heard on Basil’s classic hit “Mickey.”
Parnell grabbed screen time as Mick Shrimpton, Spinal Tap’s drummer through the majority of the film. As noted in the movie, the band had seen a lot of turnover behind the kit, as their drummers continually died under strange circumstances. Still, Shrimpton looked to buck that trend.
“When I did join, you know, they did tell me – they kind of took me aside and said, ‘Well, Mick. It’s, you know, it’s like this…'” Parnell (as Shrimpton) recalled in one memorable scene. “And it did kind of freak me out a bit. But it can’t always happen to every one, can it?”
Despite believing in the “law of averages” being on his side, Shrimpton exploded on stage during Spinal Tap’s 1982 tour of Japan.
Watch Ric Parnell as Mick Shrimpton in ‘This is Spinal Tap‘
Parnell drummed on the film’s official soundtrack and would stay involved with the group as it went from fictitious to real. When Spinal Tap staged a reunion tour in 1992, Parnell was behind the kit, performing under the name Ric Shrimpton, twin brother to his character Mick, who had died in the film. Spinal Tap’s sophomore album, Break Like the Wind, was also released around this time, with Parnell once again delivering drums and percussion.
In his later years, Parnell moved to Missoula, Mont. where he hosted a weekly radio show. A GoFundMe has been set up to help cover the drummer’s funeral costs.
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