Ric Parnell, Spinal Tap Drummer, Dead at 70

"No one ever rocked harder," said Harry Shearer

Spinal Tap, 1984
Spinal Tap performs on "Saturday Night Live" on May 5, 1984.
Al Singer/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

There’s a running gag in the 1984 film This Is Spinal Tap about the fictional heavy metal band at its center going through an alarming number of drummers. In reality, the film in question was not a documentary, its three leads were not really heavy-metal lifers, and the drumming was actually the work of one Ric Parnell, whose long career in music covers plenty of stylistic ground.

Pitchfork reports that Parnell has died at the age of 70. His onetime bandmate Harry Shearer paid tribute to his skills, saying, “No one ever rocked harder.” As news of Parnell’s death spread, it’s prompted many to bring up other elements of his career as a session drummer — including playing drums on Toni Basil’s absurdly catchy single “Mickey.”

In the early 1970s, Parnell played on the first two albums from progressive rock band Atomic Rooster. He continued working in that genre for much of his life, including a stint in the band Nova and an album recorded with Jon Anderson of Yes. It’s entirely possible that Parnell was the sole musician to collaborate with members of both Yes and the Australian garage-rock band Radio Birdman.

He recorded two albums with Spinal Tap: the soundtrack for This Is Spinal Tap and its 1992 followup, Break Like the Wind, which featured appearances from the likes of Cher, Jeff Beck and Slash.

Parnell was the consummate professional; a musician whose name you might not know offhand, but whose work is instantly recognizable, and who had his hand in a host of music that’s stood the test of time.

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