Ric Parnell, the British rock drummer who played the unfortunate Mick Shrimpton in This Is Spinal Tap, and later toured with the band, as well played drums on hits such as Toni Basil’s “Mickey,” has died. He was 70.
Actor and comedian Harry Shearer, who played Spinal Tap bass player Derek Smalls, announced the news on Sunday, tweeting: “Ric Parnell, our drummer in This Is Spinal Tap, passed away today. No one ever rocked harder.”
No cause of death or further details were given.
Parnell, along with Shearer, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and David Kaff were part of the fictional Brit rock supergroup Spinal Tap, subject of the 1984 Rob Reiner mockumentary which charted the band’s decline and attempts to relaunch themselves in America. Outside his work with the Tap, Parnell was a respected session drummer and was a member of British prog-rock band Atomic Rooster and Italian rock band the Tritons.
Born in London in 1951, Parnell was the son of English jazz drummer and musical director Jack Parnell, who was the bandleader on The Muppet Show throughout its entire five season television run from 1976 to 1981. Parnell, like his father and two brothers, played the drums and made a career in music. In the early 1970s, he played for various bands to mixed success including Horse, Atomic Rooster, Nova and Stars.
Parnell joined the English progressive band Atomic Rooster in 1970, replacing Carl Palmer who had left to join Emerson, Lake and Parlmer. He played on the records Made in England (1972) and Nice ‘n’ Greasy (1973). He left Atomic Rooster in 1974, and then played in various bands including the Anglo-Italian rock groups Tritons and Nova.
For much of the late ’70s and early ’80s, Parnell was a session drummer and played on Michael Des Barres’ 1980 album I’m Only Human and Toni Basil’s 1981 album Word of Mouth. Parnell notably the drums on Basil’s new wave hit single “Mickey,” that reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for one week and number two in the U.K. singles chart.
On Twitter, Des Barres wrote that Parnell was “a flawless drummer in any genre.” “Some musicians are playing a role,” Des Barres said. “Others are rock‘n’roll. Ric Parnell was the latter. The real thing. Lost and found in a rhythm that was both jarring and beautiful. His heart still beats.”
In 1984, Parnell scored his first film role in This Is Spinal Tap, playing Mick Shrimpton, the doomed drummer in a fictional rock band Spinal Tap, that featured McKean as singer David St. Hubbins, Guest as lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel, Shearer as bass player Derek Smalls and Kaff as keyboard player Viv Savage.
In the film, Shrimpton is the latest in a long line of Spinal Tap drummers who had all met with grisly or bizarre deaths and accidents, a fate which would befall Shrimpton who spontaneously combusts onstage while performing in Japan.
After This Is Spinal Tap, the band would go on to conduct a real world tour with Parnell on drums. His appearance was explained away by the fact he was Mick’s twin brother Ric Shrimpton who had joined the band after the former’s demise. Parnell featured on the 1984 Spinal Tap album that coincided with the mockumentary and later played on their 1992 album Break Like the Wind.
Later in life, Parnell lived in Montana, where he hosted a radio show titled Spontaneous Combustion.