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Canadian country music singer Donny Parenteau continues to bring it on

Canadian country music singer and instrumentalist Donny Parenteau continues to move onward and upward.

An aboriginal of Metis descent, Parenteau left his hometown of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan to chase his dreams. He not only succeeded, he passed down his knowledge to the youth through his regular public speaking appearances and new music school. His album Bring it On was recently nominated for a Juno award, marking his third career nod. He’s toured with American country music fixture Neal McCoy for twelve years and performed with the cream of the music crop.Life is good for the married and proud father. He recently spoke with Kenai Andrews about his travels.


MMA Crossfire: Welcome Donny. You were recently nominated for best aboriginal album. You must be very proud.

Donny Parenteau: Yeah, I’m very proud, pumped up and excited. At the Saskatchewan Country Music Awards, we were nominated this year for ten and with the Junos, this is my third Juno nomination (Best Aboriginal album). We did a tally of how many times I was nominated. Not necessarily how many awards we win won, I was nominated and recognized in six different award shows in ten years across Canada 107 times.

MMA Crossfire: Yeah, when you get into the triple digits, you’re into the stratosphere. Does the feeling ever get old when you hear you’ve been nominated?

Donny Parenteau: No, it doesn’t. It’s really a pride thing, because what helps is I do motivational speaking to students around Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and I’m branching this tour that I’m doing for school talks across Canada. But what I do is try to stress to them and tell them, ‘Take me as an example. I didn’t stop at one dream. I keep building dreams.’ And I build them with this system that I use. The way that I do it, the work ethic that I put into something. The goal I set right in front of my face and visualize it and say, ‘This is going to happen.’ Not, ‘I hope it happens.’ I put in my head, ‘It’s going to happen.’ And when does, and I finally get the goal, I accomplish it and I move on to the next one.

MMA Crossfire: Your current album is Bring it On.

Donny Parenteau: Yes.

MMA Crossfire: Are you working something new or what’s the deal there?

Donny Parenteau: Not working on anything new right now. The thing I’m doing right now is I’ve open up my very own music school. I’m also teaching music and the motivational speaking. I’m going to be working on a new fiddle album because I’m an instrumentalist as well. I’m very excited. I’m in a good place right now.

MMA Crossfire: I read your story about how you took to the fiddle at 14. What specifically inspired you to play the fiddle?

Donny Parenteau: You know, I’ll tell you honestly. I was 14 years old and I was playing guitar at the time. I remember looking underneath my bed one day and I found this old fiddle case we used to play. We used to pretend we were Elvis when we were kids and we’d play it like a guitar – and broke it – and it was just broken, underneath the bed. And I took it out and I really liked the way it looked. Something just grabbed me about it. Something told me inside, ‘You’ve got to play this.’

So I remember going to my Dad, the youngest of four kids.  I just asked him, ‘Can we get this fiddle fixed?’ He said, ‘OK, we’ll go next week.’ And it was like 8 o’clock at night and I’ll never forget this. I looked at my Dad and said, ‘No, I want to go now.’ My Dad got up – he knew how bad I wanted this – and we went. We went right then. 8 o’clock.

When I got the fiddle, it was fixed and I was playing a fiddle tune that night. And I knew there was something natural about picking up that instrument. There was a reason why I was supposed to do this. But a lot of students in the younger generation, they start playing at a very young age. Five, six years of age they’re doing this. I didn’t start until I was fourteen. And I don’t know to read music. It just comes natural.

MMA Crossfire: That’s definitely natural. You must have had some influences that you looked up to at the time.

Donny Parenteau: Definitely there was. Very fortunate to grow up in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, here there was lots of great players. I had some very good mentors … My first road job I went on the road and played music professionally at the age of nineteen. Grant Carson, who we actually just lost this year, was another mentor. So I get when you ask the question backtracking a bit and asking where the drive come from. The drive comes from that. Because I remember how hard it was in the beginning. How hard it was to get to that point. How hard it was to get to that first goal.

My dream was to play on the Grand Ole Opry. And I accomplished that in ten years time. I walked on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry stage at the age of 24 with Neal McCoy. When that happened, I remember calling my Mom – my Dad passed away six months before that – and I asked her, ‘I had every one of my dreams come true. Now what do I do?’ she said, ‘Go make up new ones, and go get ‘em.’ I’ve been doing that ever since. So I think that where the drive comes from.

MMA Crossfire: Because when you were young, you lived on the reserve there or…

Donny Parenteau: No, we lived in the city. My culture is Metis. We’re not First Nations, we’re just Metis culture. We grew up in the poor part of the town in West Latter, Prince Albert. We made due with what we had. The way you have to look at it: We didn’t have everything, but we had everything we needed.

MMA Crossfire: Family was important then and now you have developed your own six simple steps to life that you instill in the youth now.

Donny Parenteau: That’s exactly what I do. I try to tell them if you follow these six simple steps and this pattern of really wanting to do something it starts with that No. 1 – The dream.  Then it goes to No. 2 – You have to believe it. No. 3 – You have to visualize it.  No. 4 is the hard one – You have to be willing to make the attempt. Because with attempt comes No. 5 – sacrifice. There’s another hard one. People don’t like to sacrifice.

They don’t like to give up that comfort of being home – that simple surrounding of being there with your family and friends. You have to be able to give up and walk away from all of that if you want something bad enough. And if you have that in you to do that, it doesn’t mean you can’t come back. I always knew that. I knew my friends would still be there. The majority of them – whoever left Prince Albert to do something, they were doing the same thing I was doing – chasing after their dreams. Prince Albert wasn’t going to go anywhere. I had to. And that’s what I did and I sacrificed and got my first goal and kept going from there.

MMA Crossfire: Fascinating. Let ask you this because you’re in a good position to share your thoughts on this. Remember back in the 90s when we had programs like North of 60. To me it was the coming of age. Aboriginal culture seemed to be at the forefront in Canada, there was a national interest and curiosity.  Was it really like that? What do you recall?

Donny Parenteau: Now during that time of North of 60 when that show was on was during the 90s, I don’t recall a lot of the show because I didn’t live here then. I was in the United States at the time. And twelve years there, all I can say is that the way I have heard about the show, yes, it’s a great thing. What I’d love to see happen today, in today’s world, is I want to see another show. About a show that shows how fast technology is moving and how people out there are losing their voice. Because that’s the one thing technology will never be able to duplicate. You only have one. You only have one mind, one voice, and one heart. All three of them combined operate your voice. So there’s only one way you can speak.

It’s so fast. And that’s the question I ask. Why is that the world of Facebook knows everything about the students today more than the parents do?

MMA Crossfire: That’s a good question.

Donny Parenteau: That’s what I’d like to see. I’d love to see a show on that. And it’s not pointing out what’s really wrong. I want to point out how can we fix it? Somebody asked me the question the other day: How can we fix bullying? It’s not a point of just saying bullying’s wrong.  Yes, of course. We’ve been taught that since we were kids. Bullying is wrong. What do you if somebody’s being bullied? Go get a parent. Go get a teacher. Here’s my thing: How do you change the source? Go right to the source. What do you do? If you’re a bully … And that’s what I tell them when I do my talks. If you’re a bully and you can hear my voice right now, here’s the thing. Here’s your problem. You can’t look in the mirror and say, ‘I respect what I see.’ Because if you like what you see, you wouldn’t treat people that way you’re doing. Until you learn how to respect yourself, you’re not going to respect anyone or anything around you.

MMA Crossfire: Are things getting better?

Donny Parenteau: You know what? Day by day, yes I think they are.  I think they are. If we keep doing what they’re doing. If we keep reaching out to the youth. They’re the ones who are going to change the world, not us. All we can do is tell them, get the wheel turning …

MMA Crossfire: Or in your case, show them by example.

Donny Parenteau: Yes, show them by example. And that’s what I do, because I’ll yell you the first time I ever did a talk to the students, I told about what I did. I didn’t show them, I told them. And I could stand up there and talk for two hours; they’re not going to believe me. Until you put it on a screen and you have video footage. Then they go, ‘Oh. Now I believe you.’ It’s strange, but that’s the world today.

MMA Crossfire: You were into technology at an early age. If you heard about something, you jumped on it and checked it out…

Donny Parenteau: Yes …

MMA Crossfire: I see you have a lot of stuff on your website on there. That’s not always the case.

Donny Parenteau: No. And the thing is you’re not going to stop technology. And that’s what I stress. You’re never going to stop it. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like twenty years from now. Forty years from now. What’s technology going to be like? How much faster is it going to be?

What I’m trying to do is look at people and say… It’s like anything. It’s like growing up in life. Slow down! When you sit back and you’re looking at students who are fifteen… ‘I can’t wait until I’m sixteen. I get to drive a car.’ You know what? When you drive that car, and ten years fly by, you’re going to wish to God you could go back and be fifteen again. Because you’re going to miss that. So stop rushing!

What I’m trying to tell people now when it comes to technology. It’s great that’s technology’s there. Use it to your advantage, but don’t abuse it.  And keep talking, keep communicating.

MMA Crossfire: You’ve been on the road at least twelve years with Neil McCoy. What are some fundamental truths of being in the music business and living the life?

Donny Parenteau: Well, I’ll tell you, there’s good and bad. The good side of things is, yes, you get to learn your craft and it’s a reward when you get an opportunity to perform with someone like that. And the shows come and they get bigger. The crowds get bigger – the biggest crowd I ever played in front of was 250,000 people. The Sisdalis Motor Speedway. Charlie Daniels went on before us. I remember the temperature was 112 degrees. It was so hot; I’ll never forget that day. But I remember when you get out there and you perform, you have the energy level … It feels like you’re getting hit by a truck. And when you get that energy, you feed off of it and it goes back out. But as you build up through the years to get to that point, there’s the highlight. First time walking out on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” getting to perform on there. Grand Ole Opry, so many different opportunities like that I’ve had. I’ve always embraced them.

Now, the bad side of things. With that, there’s a sacrifice. The sacrifice is you have to give up your family. You’re gone 300 days a year from home. And that’s what’s hard. Because what happens, you lose communication with the person you love at that time. You lose that … Do I have anything in common with you anymore? And then when you come home, the only thing that sparks interest is when they talk music, because that’s what you’re living 300 days a year.  That’s what I found. There’s the downside. So if you can find a happy balance..  Where I’m at today, I’ve found my happy balance.

Because to me, I have to love of my lifetime right now. She’s been with me ten years. We have a four-year-old daughter. I just opened up my music school in my hometown. Everything is a real fine balance in my life right now so I’m very happy.

MMA Crossfire: It sounds like she’s very supportive through thick and thin.

Donny Parenteau: Extremely supportive. And trust me, there’s been thin times, there’s been thick times, it’s finding that fine balance at home, that you have that support.

MMA Crossfire: What is the philosophy of your music school?

Donny Parenteau: All I want to do is I want to take the students and teach fiddle, mandolin and guitar. I say, ‘I’m going to teach you basically the proper technique and method the way I learned how to play.’ But then once you’re done and you leave here, it’s not just a matter of, ‘You’re done. Move on. Go.’ No. I try to explain to them and show what I’ve done.  You really want to pursue a new career; you’re talking to someone who’s still in it. This is your teacher. So I’ll introduce you to people, I’ll help you make your first album; I do this because I’m a producer too. So I do all of this. You get the whole package when you come. That’s what I really enjoy, so that’s what I try to instill in them when they come and take a lesson. The way that I look at it, when you come in and step foot in the music school, and you look around at the wall, you’re not going to see a diploma. But what you see is all the years of me playing, and all of the accolades I’ve accomplished in those years. That’s my diploma.

MMA Crossfire: That’s the real deal.

Donny Parenteau: Exactly. And the one question someone asked me was, ‘What would change if you won the Juno? You won. What would change? I said that what it does for me is I take that and encourage the students. That yes, this is the highest accolade I probably ever accomplished, if it happens. And I’m not going to stop from here. I keep going higher. I’ll find ways to keep going higher and I just use that as leverage and just keep going. So I would use it to go to the youth and talk to them.

MMA Crossfire: You’re in the middle of a tour right now?

Donny Parenteau: Just finished one. There were ten schools in Saskatchewan. They were on reserves. The feedback I’ve been getting from them. One of the schools sent me about 20-30 letters from the students themselves that said they appreciated me coming and talking to them. It’s much better than an award, because you’re giving back and changing lives.

MMA Crossfire: Are you a sports fan?

Donny Parenteau: No (Laughs). My brothers are. That’s the one thing I don’t know anything about. I’ll tell you a funny story about that. There was a time I was performing with Neil McCoy and we did this show. I remember calling my brother and he asked where I was and I said Arlington, Texas. We were doing this birthday party for this famous baseball player. He just got inducted in the Hall of Fame. He asked who it was, and I said I wasn’t sure but he gave me a signed baseball, so I went to look at the name. It said Nolan Ryan.  He said, ‘You don’t ever get rid of that baseball.’

MMA Crossfire: He’s right. You still have it I hope.

Donny Parenteau: Oh, I do.  But as far as sportspeople, we got to meet and hang out with people like Troy Aikman, Karl Malone. Neil was really good friends with The Mailman.

We watched Karl’s house in Salt Lake City, seen it at the beginning stages. This was when he signed that $65-million contract. He had us for the grand opening of his house. Man, I’ve never seen a house like that in my life. 28,000 square feet.

MMA Crossfire: Well, he is a big guy.

Donny Parenteau: Yeah. The funniest thing he told us was to get his bed, he had a 10-foot bed. 10 feet by 10 feet. In order to get it up into his bedroom, they had to break out a piece of the wall and lift it up by a crane (Laughs). Crazy, crazy stuff.

MMA Crossfire: Any boxers?

Donny Parenteau: As a matter of fact, my wife and I met Leon Spinks in Las Vegas back in January. He’s one of three people on this planet who knocked down Ali. So I asked him in that knockdown punch, because he autographed one of the pictures for me. I asked him what was going through his mind in the picture and he’s kind of punch-drunk and he says to me, ‘I’m gonna kill him!’

MMA Crossfire: It’s always amazing to hear the camaraderie between entertainers and athletes.

Donny Parenteau: Do you know what it is? And I’ll tell you this because I have a dear friend of mine who is a seventh-degree black belt in karate.

MMA Crossfire: Who is he?

Donny Parenteau: Marcel Lussier, from St. Louis, Saskatchewan. He won two world championships for 40-and-over in Japan.  The thing I told him is that I was always fascinated with Karate. And I finally told him I think I know what it is. He said what is it and I said timing. Karate is so much timing. He said, ‘Yeah, it’s all timing. What do you think music is? Timing. That’s why we’re attracted to each other when it comes to this. He loves music too. So that’s were it comes from. It’s all timing.

MMA Crossfire: You got it. Let’s play some word association.

Donny Parenteau: OK.

MMA Crossfire: Buffy Sainte-Marie.

Donny Parenteau: Elvis Presley. You know why I said that? She wrote a song for Elvis (Until It’s Time For You To Go).

MMA Crossfire: I did not know that. Interesting.

MMA Crossfire: Marshall BraveStarr.

Marshall BraveStarr.

Donny Parenteau: BraveStarr? Hmm, honour.

MMA Crossfire: Canada.

Donny Parenteau: Pride.

MMA Crossfire: Well Donny, we really appreciate your time with us here today. Anything you would like to tell the readers before we go?

Donny Parenteau: Dream big. If anybody wants any further information, check out my website.

MMA Crossfire: Thanks again.

Donny Parenteau: All the best to you Kenai.


Kenai is a former Postmedia Network online news and sports editor. He is the Editor-in-Chief for MMA Crossfire.

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