Award winning songwriter and singer Robert Parish hails from “The Live Music Capital Of The World”, Austin, Texas. Created with Texas grit & a little bit of Louisiana gumbo stirred in, his debut album “Navigator” is a foot tapping, country infused journey – songs of life, love, laughter & longing that transport you to places of the heart & soul along the way.
Born in a small town in south Louisiana to French-speaking Cajuns, it only took a few years before Robert developed a strong desire to be an artist. At the age of 5, his grandpa – the main father figure in his life – asked what he wanted to be when he grew up; “’I’ll never forget; we were in the living room. Papaw was sitting in his big chair and I was climbing up the side of it. ‘I want to sing,’ I told him. He told me ‘No, son, you can’t make a living doing that. Pick something else’. So I told him that I wanted to be an actor; he let out a great, big sigh after I said that, ha ha!’”
Robert spent the rest of his life growing up along the banks of Bayou Teche – right in the middle of Cajun country or “Acadiana” – seeking out every artistic opportunity he could – singing, drawing, painting, acting, and writing. His grandparents were people who had lived through the Great Depression so they naturally pushed him towards a stable career in medicine instead of the arts. “They didn’t exactly discourage me from any of that”, Robert says with a distant look in his eyes, “but they didn’t exactly encourage me either. I don’t blame them, though, for that. They only wanted me to be successful. They only wanted the best for me.” Meanwhile, Robert’s musical education was expanding – with the help of his stepmother, Bonnie; a musician with an unbelievable voice, she introduced him to music by Aretha Franklin, Ike & Tina Turner, Etta James, Otis Redding, James Brown, Janis Joplin, & B.B. King. Already having been a fan of all of the Country music he could get his hands on since he could remember, he found himself loving a new world of Soul & Blues. For years afterward, it was there in an old, rusty tool shed behind his mother’s house that Robert could be found belting out Country music and old school Soul Tunes for hours on end – singing along with small portable record and cassette players and never dreaming that he would get the chance to actually sing for an audience. During his freshman year in college, he joined a theater group at Louisiana State University at Eunice and knew the acting bug had bitten him as well after being involved in a number of local productions. Sadly, it was during this time period that Robert watched both of his grandparents battle with cancer and experienced the sudden, untimely death of his mother. Not long after that, he decided to force change in his life, and found himself behind the wheel of a loaded up pick-up truck moving to Austin, Texas. It was a dream come true, a place where a naive farm boy from a village of 500 people became exposed to a diverse city brimming with artists and creativity. He was involved in some stage work shortly after moving there, but Robert also decided to focus on his education “so I could get a good job and afford to do the artistic things that I really loved”.
He received a degree as a Registered Nurse, and a few years later Robert was fortunate to meet his friend and personal hero University of Texas coach Beverly Kearney (check out her incredible story sometime!). Robert says that she changed his life forever. During an intimate conversation, Beverly finally convinced Robert to pursue his dreams of writing, singing, and acting despite his immediate family’s views on the subject. “My life is divided into two parts – the time before Beverly and the time after. That day was a definite turning point for me, ” he says emotionally. “She doesn’t need and probably doesn’t even want thanks or recognition for that, but I’ll never stop telling her what an impact she had on my me and where I’m going in my life.” That very night, Robert wrote his first song in over 10 years – a birthday gift to Beverly titled “Crossing Milestones” – and he hasn’t stopped since. He soon joined the Austin Songwriter’s Group and was immensely surprised when two of his songs placed in the annual song-writers awards; “Fat-Bottom Sally” took second place in the Blues category, while “Louisiana Moon” placed in the Lyrics category. Robert even found himself performing at the legendary Threadgill’s (the eternal home of Janis Joplin) and The Saxon Pub surrounded by decades of musical history.
Along with a new passion for song-writing, Robert still pursued his love of acting. A small part in the film “The Life Of David Gale” and some theater roles kept pushing him in the right direction. In 2006, Robert had the good fortune of meeting Jeffrey Reiner, Jason Katims, and Nan Bernstein – who were scouting locations for the new NBC television series “Friday Night Lights”. After being hired as a technical assistant for the medical scenes, Robert was soon asked by Jason to audition for the role of “Phil”. “I couldn’t believe that I had gotten the part! There I was on national television! Even after all this time, people still occasionally recognize me – and the part was so small. It’s crazy! Everyone involved in that project is incredible; they were constantly friendly, supportive, and nurturing. I’m very proud to say that I was able to be a part of that show. Jeffrey, Nan, Jason, the entire cast and crew made me feel like I was a big part of that family”. Since then, Robert has been involved in a number of independent films and is looking forward to new projects. 2007 also brought Robert new songwriter’s awards; “If You Called Me Today” landed a win in the ASG Singer/Songwriter category and was also nominated in the Country category.
2008 seemed to be going just as well. Robert met Anna Wilson and Monty Powell – phenomenal, nationally-recognized musicians from Nashville – on the Texas Songwriter’s Cruise (he played me some of their stuff – really incredible). Robert had the great fortune of traveling to Nashville to write with Anna. “She’s a whirlwind of talent and it’s a miracle to have had the opportunity of getting to know her as a person, much less writing with her.”
And he kept on writing – most notably with talented writers Dallas Seely and Celia Dufresne. He also met his friend and mentor Mady Kaye; singing Jazz like no other, she took him under her wing and taught him much about the music biz. She also led him to the door of Merel Bregante, chief engineer and owner of Digital Cribworks Audio. “I remember walking into his control booth and seeing all these gold records on the wall” (Merel was formerly the well-known drummer for Loggins & Messina and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, along with others). “Not only that, Merel is married to the wonderfully talented singer/songwriter Sarah Pierce whom I had heard of forever! I played Merel some of my music and I couldn’t believe it when he said that he wanted to produce my record!” They soon embarked on a years-long journey crafting thirteen tunes with Merel teaching Robert his vast knowledge about the music industry. “It truly blows my mind how much that man knows, and how often and willing he is to share it. The business is so convoluted – I don’t think I’ll truly ever understand all of it. Truly. But all I gotta do is call up Merel. There’s a lot of love in that.”
And thus was born Robert’s debut album “Navigator”. It’s fantastic, wonderfully and carefully crafted, and full of feeling. At times light-hearted and at times full of sadness, it all flows together as the title says, navigating through different emotions and places. And I count myself a huge fan of all of it and find myself humming some of the songs to myself all of the time, not even thinking about it.
“I am extremely fortunate and blessed to have an opportunity to do what I love and to have the wonderful family and friends that surround me in my life”, Robert says to me. “This can only be the beginning…”
John S. Halsell
(John S. Halsell is a Texas poet, nurturer of souls, wonderful father, and an all-around good guy. Thanks, John! – R. P.)