A native of southern California, David Parmley was a founding member of the Bluegrass Cardinals, along with his father Don on banjo and Randy Graham on mandolin. From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, the Bluegrass Cardinals were among the top bluegrass bands on the festival circuit. Known for their intricate harmonies, they recorded 15 projects, appeared on the Grand Ole Opry and performed at the White House for President Jimmy Carter.
In 1991, the Parmleys won an International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) award for recorded event of the year for Families of Tradition, Parmley and McCoury, an album recorded with Del, Ronnie and Rob McCoury.
David Parmley and Randy Graham teamed with banjo player Scott Vestal to form Continental Divide in 1994. The band won the IBMA's emerging artist award in 1995. In 2005, they released the album Long Time Coming on CMH Records. At that time, the band included Parmley, Graham, Steve Day on fiddle, Dale Perry on banjo and Barry Berrier on bass.