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Friends hold fundraiser for longtime Whidbey Island musician
LANGLEY — The lad of 1960s London was a big music fan and has the autographs to prove it.
But, although the signatures of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals and a personalized poem from Bob Dylan, among other formidable memorabilia, provide fond memories of one Brit’s life spent devoted to music, it’s the community at his island home that gives a dying man comfort.
Diagnosed with terminal esophageal cancer, the much-loved Derek Parrott will be feted by his friends on Thursday,
March 17 at Mukilteo Coffee Roasters in a benefit to celebrate the singer’s life. The evening is titled “Permanent Grin,” and will be hosted by Jim Freeman.
After a lifetime of songwriting, singing and making his mark in places he has lived, such as his recent home of Kauai, Hawaii, Parrott has returned to Whidbey, where he lived for more than 20 years, to the welcoming embrace of his friends.
“Looking back, it all works out as it’s meant to,” Parrott said on one recent morning at his home in Langley.
Looking slightly disheveled but contented after his first good sleep in a while, Parrott’s spirits were astoundingly upbeat for someone who has been told he may have six months left on Earth, and that the cancer will only get worse.
“There’s absolutely nothing they can do for me. It’s untreatable,” he said, “but then,
I don’t have to endure all that chemotherapy and radiation, do I?”
Silver linings are in the front of Parrott’s mind, along with all the memories of a life filled with songs.
After years of defining himself as a serious fan of many bands and musicians, Parrott took the plunge and began making music himself in 1970.
His album “Open Up” was recorded at Morgan Studios, London in 1977 and originally mastered at Abbey Road, but was never released in its time, for one reason or another. The musicians who appear with Parrott on the record include Madeline Bell, who backed Joe Cocker on “With a Little Help from my Friends;” Tony “Gad” Robinson of the English reggae band Aswad; Robbie McIntosh, a guitarist for the Pretenders and Paul McCartney; and Huey Lewis on harmonica.
“Open Up” has since been remastered and digitally edited by Steve Trembley of 7th Fret Music, and will be available at the benefit.
One of the event organizers and performers, Timothy Hull, has been a friend since he was just a teenager.
“We talked a lot about music and our mutual love for the British bands and folk acts of the ’60s and ’70s,” Hull said.
They started playing gigs together in Langley, and Hull was influenced by Parrott as a musician.
“I was taken then, and still am, by the sheer depth and emotion in Derek’s voice,” Hull said.
“His singing has always carried in it such an impossible dual thread of happiness and a sadness, too; a combination that is only born of experience and of an honest well of emotion that sits quietly inside of him.”
That deep musical honesty, which Parrott is able to express with his guitar and voice, was what the music promoters in London latched onto back in 1970s London.
“Well, we came close,” Parrott said of the original plan for “Open Up,” which would have given him the break in the music industry he needed at the time.
“I went through all the drudgery of trying to get music made,” he said. “But for me it was always more about the philosophy behind it.”
Parrott mentioned Edgar Cayce as having been a particular influence in his life and on the music he created. Cayce was a 20th century psychic whose work consisted of hundreds of lectures.
He spoke mainly about holistic health, philosophy and reincarnation, dreams and interpretation, psychic phenomena and spiritual growth, meditation and prayer.
“There are two ways it can go: Either there is nothing, no meaning, no creator, or there’s something,” Parrott said, voicing his thoughts about the crossroads at which he now stands.
He referred to the theory of French philosopher, mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal that suggests even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should wager as though God exists, because living life accordingly has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.
It’s ‘Pascal’s Wager’ on which Parrott hangs his hat, noting that if he and Pascal are wrong, he has nothing to lose.
“I don’t have a bucket list,” Parrott said, “but all I’ve ever wanted to do is spread a little love and peace around.”
All signs point to him having done just that, and as having succeeded in avoiding the trap of a conventional life.
“I never wanted to work for a corporation, and I’ve managed to avoid that,” Parrott said.
“Writing songs was my way out.”
Parrott performed frequently when he lived on the island from 1986. He recalled shows he played up and down the island and in Langley at the Raven (now the Braeburn), the Dog House Tavern, and at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts.
“I’ve played and played and played,” he said. And then it was laid down for posterity.
Another of Parrott’s albums, “My Back Yard,” was recorded in Freeland in 1993 by Robbie Cribbs of Sound Trap Studio. It features contributions by musicians such as cellist Jami Sieber, vocalist Janie Cribbs and guitarist Tom Hoeflich, with pianist David Lanz improvising a theme written by Parrott titled “Beyond the Shadow.”
Hoeflich will play for Parrott again at the Permanent Grin benefit along with other musical and special performances by Janie and Joe, Jim Page, Hull, Stephen Connella & Friends, Ro Purser, David Ossman, Barton Cole and others.
Parrott is grateful for all of it, and said the gathering of forces for his benefit means everything to him.
“Cancer is taboo, and everybody’s scared of it. But, you know, the opposite of love is fear. As I say, there’s either something, or there is nothing, and I think I’m backing a winner,” he said.
Showtime is from 7 to 9 p.m. Dinner will be served from 6 p.m. at the Muk’s Ca’buni Café with a special St. Patty’s Day menu.
Admission is by donation, all of which will go to support Parrott.
Mukilteo Coffee Roasters is off Crawford Road at 3228 Lake Leo Way in Langley.