BY MATT MUNOZ, Contributing columnist
The last time we checked in with singer Rudy Parris, the Visalia artist with close Bakersfield ties was basking in the afterglow of his appearance on season three of NBC's "The Voice," as a member of Blake Shelton's team.
Since then, he's been striking while the irons of fame are hot, including touring with his stage show, "Rudy Parris of The Voice." Now the friendly long-haired ax man with the rootsy and rocking voice has inked his first record deal, with Los Angeles-based Warrior Records.
"I still get recognized most places I go," said Parris during a phone interview. "My name is alive and well. When I was on 'The Voice,' they told us that most long-haired contestants get recognized, and that I have such a distinct look that I will get recognized, so I should always be nice to people."
Even for a talent like Parris, the signing didn't happen quickly. But Parris made a fortuitous connection last year at the Nation Association of Music Merchants convention in Anaheim.
"I was testing out some amps from a company called Bad Cat. The rep I met with didn't even see me on 'The Voice,' but other people at his booth did. I played a couple of his amps, they gave me an endorsement, and he called me again to tell me he had a good feeling about me, along with an idea he had to introduce me to his friend Jim Ervin from Warrior Records."
The label boasts an eclectic artist roster that includes British reggae legends Steel Pulse, '70s glam rockers The Sweet, alternative funk rockers 100 Monkeys, singer Eddie Money and more. Parris' February signing makes him the label's newest country music act.
"Jim (Ervin) heard a song of mine called 'Cowboy Cry' on YouTube. I'd debuted it at the Crystal Palace. He thought it was a cover and asked if he could pitch it to George Strait for consideration. He did, but that was along with another 1,000 songs. If George did hear it, he should have kept it, because it's a classic."
While country music runs in Parris' musical blood, the singer-songwriter, who has since written close to 30 new songs for the recording project, said he's only just begun to feel reconnected to the genre after delving into blues and rock for years.
"You've heard the saying 'the day the music died'? Well, for me when Buck (Owens) died in 2006 and I wasn't playing much at the Palace anymore after years, I got really turned off by country music. I started dissociating myself from it. There was also a time when there was no hope for making a record. I hadn't been writing country music for a while and feeling I was at the lowest point of my life. This was just before 'The Voice.' I started getting into the John Mayer, Stevie Wonder sound. It's funny that country music is what got me the record deal."
If you do some sleuthing, you can still find copies of Parris' original 1994 full-length country CD, titled "Modern Day Cowboy," on the Web. Parris would rather you wait for the new music.
"Those songs served their purpose, but my writing has changed a lot."
According to Parris, what makes this deal even sweeter is having the opportunity to record at the legendary Capitol Records Studios in Los Angeles, where his idols Buck Owens and Merle Haggard made their musical mark.
"Jim (Ervin) offered to send me to Nashville and send me to producers, but I didn't want to. I wanted to go to where my heroes go, Capitol Records. When Merle and Buck went over the hill from Bakersfield to Hollywood, they got to do what they wanted. They put us on the map. T.G. Sheppard is from Farmersville right near where I'm from. He recorded there too."
Parris plans to enter the studio for his session in early April. Joining him will be his brother Abel Parris, Fresno violinist Patrick Contreras, plus other musicians from the Central Valley area on steel guitar and more.
"We have this whole rich musical background. Country music is in a weird spot; a lot of people are complaining about the sound. Here I am, back in that situation and with an opportunity to shake things up, the same way Merle Haggard and (producer) Ken Nelson did. It's going to be Rudy Parris and Jim Ervin. People are going to trip on this album. It's going to be different than anyone thinks."
Though there's no projected release date, Parris would like to see it hit stores and digital outlets this year. Warrior has a distribution deal with Universal Music Group. We'll keep you updated on Parris' progress and upcoming release date.
"God is in control of everything. Here we go. Let's see what happens."
For more information Rudy Parris and Warrior Records, visit warriorrecords.com.
Guitar Masters Series
Tickets are on sale for the next Guitar Masters Series concert featuring fretboard wizard Richard Smith, appearing March 27 at American Sound Recording Studios.
Born in Beckenham, Kent, in England, Smith started playing on a six-string at the age of 5 after hearing his father picking the classic "Down South Blues" by guitarists Chet Atkins and Merle Travis. When the young musician asked his father, "Dad, how do you do that," his father obliged his curiosity, and the aspiring musician never looked back, absorbing Atkins' body of work and style to become a popular musician in his area.
Smith recalls being invited to the stage with Atkins at the age of 11. Now, more than 31 years later, he still can't believe it actually happened.
"I look back on it now and realize just how amazing it was," said Smith during an interview from his current home in Nashville. "Of course it was wonderful at the time, but I was really nervous, and you don't realize the whole magnitude of it all when you're 11 years old.
Atkins' mentoring of Smith continued into adulthood, when the two had a chance to sit down for a jam and a chat.
"We'd see each other from time to time when he was in the UK and when I was in the USA. He was so helpful to me in getting me hooked in to the Chet festival and introducing me to some folks around town. He told me to play with a metronome, and to listen to George Benson and Earl Klugh. Back in those days, my time wasn't as solid. I'm constantly working on it, and I also wasn't improvising. He figures George and Earl would be great influences for that. If I was him giving me advice back then, I'd have said exactly the same thing, and maybe listen to some bluegrass players too."
Smith's style has earned him the respect and admiration from some of fingerpicking's biggest legends, including Tommy Emmanuel, Doyle Dykes, Muriel Anderson and others.
"I usually practice when I'm learning a new tune. Other than that, I'm playing so much of the time."
Smith will be joined onstage in Bakersfield by his wife, acclaimed cellist Julie Adams, who can be seen in video clips at Smith's official website, richardsmithmusic.com.
"I'm really looking forward to it. It'll be my first time performing in Bakersfield, and I really want to start to get a good crowd there. It's a great town, hopefully in which I'll make some new fans."
Pre-sale tickets for the March 27 show are available now for $30 by calling promoter Rick Kreiser 204-7685 or by email at email@example.com. Studio doors open 6:30 p.m., and the show begins at 7:30 p.m. American Sound Recording Studios is located at 2231 R St. More information at asrstudios.com.
Green Jelly at Jerry's Pizza, 6:30 p.m., Saturday, $10-$15, all ages, 633-1000. There's not much to say that hasn't been said already about the antics of shock comedy rockers Green Jelly. After becoming '90s MTV stars with their song and accompanying Claymation video "Three Little Pigs," originally as Green Jello, the group was sued by Kraft Foods for trademark infringement and forced to alter their name. In the spirit of fellow costumed rockers Gwar, Green Jelly remains a theatrical mess of hard- rocking noise, puppetry and twisted sing-a-longs. Also appearing are 2 Hours Later, Down Finger, State of War, Blind Disciple, Affirmative Reaction, Vile Assault. If your eardrums can survive all that racket, promoters also mention a free "Green Jelly After Party," at the official Facebook invite. Don't ask, just go. You've been warned.