published Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Carolina feel, Parmalee sound - Jan. 22

Country quartet an all-American success story, but nothing came easy

Parmalee plays the Chattanooga Billiard Club East on Wednesday, fresh off a pregame show at the Carolina Panthers playoff football game.
Parmalee plays the Chattanooga Billiard Club East on Wednesday, fresh off a pregame show at the Carolina Panthers playoff football game.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

* What: Parmalee in concert

* When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22

* Where: Chattanooga Billiard Club East, 110 Jordan Drive

* Admission: Sold out, but tickets may be won online at www.us101country.com (click the Contests link).

* Phone: 423-892-3333

Having a single take 36 weeks to climb country charts can be both a blessing and frustration. That was the case for Parmalee when "Carolina" took more than half of 2013 to reach No. 1.

"You never want it to go that long because it is so stressful. There were some hairy moments when we thought we were going to lose it. It took us longer than any group to get to the Top 10, but we're thankful we got there," says Scott Thomas, who with his brother Matt founded country band Parmalee.

On the flip side, obviously the song had fan support since radio stations kept playing it, and its gradual ascent gained Parmalee the distinction of "first multimember act since Florida Georgia Line to reach No. 1," according to Billboard magazine.

The drummer says one of those stations supporting the song was Chattanooga's WUSY-FM, and the quartet will say thanks Wednesday night, Jan. 22, when Parmalee plays US101's High Noon Saloon at Chattanooga Billiard Club East.

Scott says the show will feature music from the band's December-released album, "Feels Like Carolina." The smaller, intimate setting of the CBC will allow the musicians more interaction with their fans.

"We want everybody to feel like they are up close and personal," he says. "We'll hang out and sign photos as long as people want afterward."

Brothers Matt and Scott Thomas grew up watching their dad perform -- the late Jerry Thomas was frontman for a Southern rock band in Greenville, N.C. Matt learned guitar, Scott took up drums, and they'd jam with dad's band.

"We learned how to be an entertainer from watching our dad," says Scott. "Everybody loved Dad, so it was cool to watch people react when he was onstage. He was the rock star of our area. We learned from him from the time we were 10 years old how to do it."

The sons' big break came the night their dad's guitar player was a no-show. Since Matt knew all the songs, he sat in. Soon Scott had replaced the drummer, and then a cousin, Barry Knox, learned to play bass so he could join the family band. They renamed the group the Thomas Brothers Band and hit the club circuit. They were frequently on the same billing with Josh McSwain, a guitarist and keyboard player. They became friends, McSwain joined the band, and they played their first gig together near East Carolina University, where the guys went to school.

The band rehearsed each Tuesday and Thursday night in a barn in Parmele, N.C., which they nicknamed Studio B.

"We always had people coming out and hanging out with us. It was a small town that had nothing going on, and we were the only thing happening. We'd have a fire going in a barrel out front, and people just stopped by," says Scott.

He says they named themselves after that small town, adjusting the spelling to make it easier for people to pronounce.

"It's an ode to the town for putting up with our noise," jokes Scott.

"We moved out of the barn in 2005 and went out touring, doing everything we could to get a record deal. We never quit. We were determined, and we took every opportunity that might lead to something," he says.

After five years of traveling the country, band members moved to Nashville. They lived in an RV parked in a downtown lot on Demonbreun Street that became their home and studio.

"We lived out there in the RV for a month at a time," recalls Scott. "The parking lot isn't there anymore, but that was the spot where everybody came. Buses picked people up there. People would say, 'Meet across from the Tin Roof,' because everybody knew that lot."

The musicians were living in the RV during the Nashville flood of 2010, the same weekend they wrote their first single, "Musta Had a Good Time." When Benny Brown, chief executive officer of BBR Music Group, heard the single, he asked to see a showcase.

But before that showcase could happen, tragedy struck. While the Thomas brothers were loading the RV after a gig, two armed men tried to rob them. Shots were exchanged, and Scott was shot three times, one bullet hitting a femoral artery that caused him to nearly bleed to death. His heart stopped twice on the air flight to the hospital, where doctors gave him a 5 percent chance to live. Scott spent 35 days in the hospital, 10 of those in a coma.

But the band never considered quitting. Five months after the shooting, the band performed that showcase -- Scott still wearing a leg brace -- and the rest, as they say, is history.

In April, the musicians will join Jake Owen's Days of Gold tour between their own headlining performances. The quartet will also open some of Jason Aldean's Burn It Down tour stops. Scott says it's an opportunity to learn from the pros.

"You always learn from everybody. Those guys that get to that spot are great entertainers with great songs. It keeps you on your A-game. Jake is one of the nicest people we've met since we've been here. He was one of the first people we met, and now he's the first to throw us a bone. We'll never forget that."

Contact staff writer Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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