After grinding hard in the music business for a decade, country-rock band Parmalee’s efforts paid big rewards this year.
Two of the North Carolina group’s songs went Top 10. “Carolina” became the band’s first No. 1 hit and “Close Your Eyes” recently became the group’s second Top 10 hit. Both songs are from Parmalee’s album debut, “Feels Like Carolina,” released last December.
Throughout 2014, the group watched its audiences and record sales grow.
“We did a thousand people in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Wednesday in the snow,” singer-guitarist Matt Thomas said last week. “A few years ago, nobody would have been there. And the summer was great. All the county fairs and festivals. We’re seeing crowds double and triple.”
Friday night Parmalee plays the Texas Club. The longtime Baton Rouge venue has been a stop for rising country acts for decades.
“You can gauge your success by what club you’re playing in,” Thomas said. “Because we all start at those little venues and move up. When you see posters of your peers on the walls, you know everybody else is out there hustling, too.”
Parmalee is a family band. Its membership consists of brothers Matt (vocals and guitar) and Scott Thomas (drums), their cousin, Barry Knox (bass and vocals) and, a nonrelated band member who’s thought of as a brother, Josh McSwain (guitar and keyboards).
The Thomas brothers grew up with their musician father, Jerry. The elder Thomas’ repertoire included music by the Allman Brothers, Delbert McClinton, Travis Tritt, blues and classic soul music. The Thomas boys just naturally got interested in their dad’s music.
“Yeah, we loved watching our dad play and figured we wanted to do it, too,” Thomas said. “We had some instruments all along, but we got serious when we were about 12, 13.”
Growing up in the small town of Roberson, the brothers also watched and heard MTV and CMT and they listened to their local pop, country and classic rock radio stations.
“We took it all in,” Thomas said. “But most of the stuff came from our dad. That was our first music.”
The brothers eventually joined their father in the Thomas Brothers Band.
“He taught us everything he could about music,” Thomas said. “He took us under his wing and we were on stage with him. We took that about as far as he wanted to take it. That’s when we started Parmalee.”
In pursuit of its music dreams, Parmalee traveled to various cities throughout the country.
“We did what everybody told us to do,” Thomas said. “They said, ‘You need to go work with this guy and you need go work with this guy.’ If an opportunity came up in a different town, we’d go there.”
Destination cities included New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and, on multiple occasions, Nashville.
“We always had our eyes on Nashville,” Thomas recalled. “We knew that was the spot, but we didn’t have any connections there.”
In September 2010, Parmalee had a Nashville showcase for a record label lined up when tragedy struck. A robber shot Scott Thomas after a gig in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Despite his very real brush with death, his 10 days in a coma and 35 days in a Charlotte hospital, Thomas performed the delayed showcase the following February.
“Yeah, that was the time anybody would say ‘quit,’ ” Matt Thomas said. “But we wouldn’t even stop. We said, ‘Put the pedal to the metal.’ And people raised money, friends came together for us. It was awesome to see that we’d been making fans and doing something correct.”