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Influencers

Over the years, we have documented at great length the contributions of the singers, songwriters, producers and musicians connected to the Texas/Red Dirt scene.  However, a recent conversation led me to try and discern the folks who have created the greatest impacts without playing an instrument.  Thus, this feature was born.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and the same can be said for a music career or scene.  One person can start it, but it takes many, many people to sustain it.  What we know as Texas/Red Dirt has roots in the music of Willie Nelson, Rusty Wier, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Tom Skinner, Bob Childers, Mike McClure, Jerry Jeff Walker and so on.  By the time the Pat Green era arrived, a teeming infrastructure grew around the renaissance to create an entire independent music industry.  Some folks took that independence national and others stayed close to home.  Both routes were vital in the growth of this music and both routes remain vital in its sustainability.  

Without further adieu, here are (in no particular order) the men and women who jumped to mind when thinking about the non-musical folks who have had the greatest influence and impact on our music.

Mattson Rainer – The Godfather of Americana Radio.  Rainer took the tiny outpost of KNBT in New Braunfels and turned it into the worldwide leader of Americana Music.  Starting around 1998, Rainer was able to provide the first consistent radio outlet for music of this kind.  He offered a warm voice and a warm welcome to any artist traveling down 35 to pop in and get some airtime.  His vision, passion and ear for good music is undeterred over two decades later. From giving Ray Wylie Hubbard a weekly radio show, to hosting the likes of Walt Wilkins and Jack Ingram in studio on a regular basis, Rainer set the bar for what independent radio supporting independent music could do.

Greg Henry – the engine behind the train of the early Pat Green salad days was Greg Henry.  Together with Pat, they utilized the internet to create a marketplace and marketing strategy that people still copy today.  They barnstormed the highways and the internet superhighway.  Booking shows, creating festivals, and selling merch at a record pace.  Henry went on to found Austin Universal Entertainment and provide the first regional booking agency that grabbed a foothold nationwide.  To get a spot on the AUE roster was a big deal and for good reason.  It was the precursor to Red 11. Henry went on to diversify into an event production/venue owner career that still sees him making a massive difference across this music scene.

Shannon Canada – Canada went from running the Wormy Dog to running one of the scene’s most vital management companies.  Sure, she fiercely guided the career of her husband’s band (Cross Canadian Ragweed), but her support and guidance of other acts ranging from Jason Boland & the Stragglers, Stoney LaRue, Randy Rogers Band and Wade Bowen set the bar for what management can and should be about in this scene.  An us against the world mentality that despite its ethos never failed to raise young bands up by the boot straps and bring them along for the ride.  And, she’s still doing it alongside powerful women like Robin Schoepf by continuing to manage Cody’s affairs and direct the emergence of School of Rock New Braunfels. 

Chad Kudelka – Wade Bowen’s high school best friend has gone on to an accomplished career as a booking agent.  First with AUE and now with Red 11, Kudelka has brought a sharp business acumen to the notion of booking bands in Texas. He started by helping Bowen’s career get off the ground before tackling bands and projects that continue to this day. Alongside cohorts such as Jeb Hurt and Jon Folk, Kudelka keeps a wide range of bands and venues busy.

Chad Raney – Raney was an entrepreneur in the late 90’s who loved music.  He was based in the nexus of San Marcos and New Braunfels when the idea struck him to launch an online retailer that sold the music he loved.  LoneStarMusic.com was born. For a time he had an online competitor titled Texas Music Express, but LSM won the war.  Raney launched the venture and employed some interns named Sunny Sweeney and Randy Rogers as it got off the ground.  CDs, t-shirts, stickers, koozies and more. After a few years, the venture was sold to Michael Devers who ushered LSM into a storefront in Gruene and a glossy magazine helmed by Richard Skanse. Zach Jennings purchased LSM and held on to it for its last iterations, but none of it would have been possible without Raney’s idea.  

Justin Frazell – A former college baseball player with a penchant for Copenhagen and an accent as thick as the Piney Woods doesn’t normally make for a good radio career.  But, Justin Frazell is special.  Nobody is kinder and more supportive of the music and musicians in this scene.  Frazell went from flying his fake helicopter on 99.5 The Wolf to hosing a Sunday night show called The Front Porch.  He played what he wanted, had guests in studio and generally sounded like your best buddy next to you on the back patio…all while putting acts nobody had heard of at the time on the air in one of the largest media markets in the country each Sunday night. It was a big deal and for good reason.  When Frazell was let go from The Wolf, he emerged at The Ranch after some trying times and launched his Texas Red Dirt Roads project which is still going strong. He hosts the morning show for the flagship station of this type of music and created one of the strongest charity events around in Pickin’ For Preemies.  Through it all, Frazell remains the guy with a big dip and smile that welcomes everyone to his party.

Joni Beard – At the onset of this century, the fandom of this music was centered around loud bars and rowdy festivals.  A kind Forth Worth woman with hippie roots decided to take the music back to its most basic principles.  The founder of the Clubhouse Concerts series, Miss Joni provided songwriters with a soft spot to land and a welcoming audience of diehard fans that would become core members of a movement.  She became a surrogate mother to many of the bands that needed a hot shower, cold beer and a place to recharge.  It just also happened that she provided a small stage backed by a banner that said “Sit Down. Shut Up. Listen.”  Joni was quick with the Kent Finlay trigger of removing folks that didn’t pay proper respect to the music.  Her listening room vibes still reverberate today in the best rooms in this state. 

Jon Paul “Hogleg” Long – By 1998, the internet was a wild West with little to no law or structure.  The same could be said for the career of Pat Green.  Green was exploding from tiny bars to venues like Gruene Hall and Billy Bob’s.  A rabid fanbase was growing around both he and Cory Morrow.  People were seeking a spot to share their passions online and Hogleg gave it to them.  First in the form of ToreUpFromtheFloorUp.com, which eventually morphed into this very website and its infamous forums.  It was a precursor to this modern social media-driven landscape.  It was the ultimate connection and promotion tool.  At one time, our forums were generating thousands of hits/views per day.  Artists had burner accounts to promote themselves, fans made plans to meet up at the show and a community was born that still exists today. In 2004, Long and his partner Ryan “Tank” Hargrave brought me aboard to help run it all and in the immortal words of Pat Green…”I’m still here!” *ed note – In the conversation that led to this piece a few folks were insistent that I was one of the top 3 most influential people for a list like this and I demurred. I love music and I was just in the right place at the right time.

Dave Lytle – Lytle created a website called GrueneWithEnvy.com.  It featured reviews and posts about shows and records.  He was able to transform that start into a career as Morrow’s road manager at a time when Morrow was the biggest act not named Green.  That in turn led him to a management career where he’s guided the likes of William Clark Green and a festival career that brought us Lone Star Jam. 

Robert Gallagher – the grand Poobah of Billy Bob’s.  Gallagher’s seen more than anyone and has the stories to back it up.  His welcoming and affable nature is only rivaled by that of his knack for supporting artists when they need it most.  Rick Smith and crew launched the Live at Billy Bob’s record empire, but Gallagher is the face of it.  There hasn’t been anything cool that happened in the world’s largest honkytonk that Gallagher didn’t have a front seat for or hand in. #monkeys

Zack Taylor – The son of Larry Joe Taylor was drumming in his father’s band when he helped turn his dad’s annual April get together of songwriters into the largest festival of its kind and landmark event in Texas.  LJT is now synonymous with 50,000 rowdy revelers in Stephenville, but without the tremendous influence and vision of Zack Taylor it would likely still be a tiny songwriter retreat on the banks of the Bosque River in Meridian. 

John Dickson – The visionary of MusicFest in Steamboat.  Dickson wields a great deal of power but does it judiciously and wisely.  He personally curates each year’s lineup and works hard year round to make sure that his event lives up to the lofty standards he helped to create.  Making it on the Steamboat lineup has always been a big deal and it always will be thanks to the world created by Dickson.

Judy Hubbard – Ray’s wife was the prototype for what Shannon Canada would later become.  Fearless, smart and driven, she helped Ray’s career reach its greatest heights by being a steadying influence and formulating the best contracts around.  She’s watched out for Ray and become a management role model to everyone else in that role.

Shayne Hollinger – Perhaps no one person has done as much to distill the sound of what the best music of this scene should sound like.  Hollinger followed his father’s steps into radio and has remained stalwart in his mission to put everything he digs on air, labels be damned.  From all the stops along the way, crescendoing with his turn running Mandatory FM in Stephenville before becoming music director at The Ranch, Hollinger is as vital the sound of Texas as anyone.

Rita Ballou – Our answer to Perez Hilton was a quiet concert photographer named Crissy when I first met her.  The true story of how Rita Ballou came to be is hers to tell one day if she wants to, but the more important thing is that it loosened up a scene that took itself too seriously. She brought fun and danger back into the mix.  The fact that she was able to parlay her wit and writing into a successful radio career is one of the coolest things imaginable. 

Todd Purifoy – Nobody is as essential to the visual aspect of Texas Music as Todd Purifoy. If there’s a cool promo shot or album cover, chances are Purifoy had a hand in it. Dozens of photographers have come in his wake, but Todd remains the gold standard. Always willing to lend his eye to the craft and his knowledge to his peers.

{Brad's Corner} October 2019: Costumes

{Brad�s Corner}

Perspective.  It’s what just about everything is based on in this life.  What’s new. What’s good. What’s old. What’s bad. It’s all a matter of opinion…and perspective.  Sometimes things can shade our perspective and we can be tricked. In Sociology, they talk about the different selves that human beings showcase depending on the circumstances surrounding them at that time.  This is especially true in the music business where it has not been uncommon over the years for people to do whatever it took to become famous, disregarding their more pure artistic desires. There’s a trade off that only the person in the middle of it can judge the worth of.  Is making it worth throwing out your personal creed. Within this concession, there is also a spectrum to acknowledge.   

Milli Vanilli being one end, Midland in the middle and Kevin Fowler on the other side.  For you kids out there, Milli Vanilli was a group that shot to fame in the late 80’s on the strength of some R&B jams.  Turns out the guys in the videos and making the radio appearances were essentially actors playing a Monkees type role where they weren’t actually the ones singing.  They got caught when they were playing a gig and their backing track started skipping. They were complete frauds musically, but innocent in that they’d just signed on play a part.  They’re real, but the music isn’t. Midland is a collection of actors with a phony backstory about slaving away in the Texas honkytonks for years before making it who just happen to put on a damn fine live show and are recording some of the finest country music around.  Their music is real, they aren’t. Then you have the gregarious lad Rita Ballou once proclaimed the Redneck Messiah, Kevin Fowler. A former heavy metal guitar slinger who realized he was sitting on a goldmine when he became the musical equivalent of Larry the Cable Guy.  The rednecker the better. There are traces of the real Amarillo-born Fowler within “Kevin Fowler”, but it’s an act to be certain. And a peerless one at that. A captivating entertainer who has probably made more money than anyone in the Texas scene. A smart redneck indeed, his latest Dos Borrachos experiment possibly excluded.  

Every musician and artist puts on an air or costume to a degree.  Our scene definitely tends to, for the most part, enjoy those artists we feel are most authentic and true to themselves.  We don’t want a faux experience, we want the real thing. Aaron Watson really is that nice. The Randy Rogers Band guys really do like each other that much.  Wade Bowen really does care that much. Josh Abbott truly is that passionate. Drew Kennedy is that smart. Cody Johnson really rodeo’d. Koe Wetzel does party that hard. Jamie Lin Wilson really does outwork everyone.  Courtney Patton is sincerely that funny. And so on.

Everyone, including you,  wears a costume, it just depends on the degree of layering.  You may give zero effs most 97% of the time, but you do give them around your mama.  You may hate your job, but you keep showing up. The examples are endless. Which brings us to the point of all this costumed October talk.  Two acts recently hit the top of the charts after years of grinding away in Texas, Whiskey Myers and Cody Jinks. What do these two acts have in common aside from rabid fanbases and appealing songwriting?  They figured out what made them tick artisitcally and pursued it and refined it relentless through nonstop touring and woodshedding. The first time I heard Whiskey Myers, I knew they had something but I and many others heard a young band coloring within the blueprints of Lynyrd Skynyrd.  They were wearing a southern rock costume. Now, all these years later, they own that sucker. They’ve made it their own. And people all the way from Tyler and Stephanie out in Longview all the way to Mick and Keith from the UK have taken notice. Same thing with Jinks. I first met Jinks when he would serve me Lone Stars and Jaeger Bombs at the White Elephant.  We shot the breeze a few times and had some metal talk. He was always very raw, but knew where he wanted to take it. He wanted to take that heavy metal aesthetic and apply it to Texas songwriting. He figured it out about 5 years ago and hasn’t looked back. By being true to himself, he found an audience that hasn’t stopped growing.  

The same can be said for the guys on the larger scene that are dominating at the moment.  Isbell, Childers, Sturgill. Isbell’s sober, clear eyed slant on life has allowed him to discren and describe a songwriting canon that nobody can match over the past 6 years.  He writes from experience and he writes from the heart. He swore off that stuff and every line in every song has hit harder ever since. Childers writes about things he’s lived and seen in Kentucky and doesn’t stray far from it.  He’s speaking his truth and turning more unique phrases than any writer in quite some time. All while never changing who he is. Sturgill is the wild card. Some get him, some don’t. I recently compared him to Lou Reed and Tom Waits.  He’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s what makes him tick. He’s got a lot going on in that brain of his and pretty much does whatever the damn hell he wants at the moment. He’s not going to be beloved by everyone as he continues his journey, but we all know what he’s doing is his truth.  He’s not beholden to anyone’s ideas except his own muse.  

Putting on a costume to market your music is fine.  It’s happened for 150 years and it will happen as long as it is a medium.  But time and again, the artists that have longevity, coupled with critical acclaim and loyal fanbases are the one’s that do it their own way.  It was true when Willie did it 50 years ago, and it’s truer now. Maybe moreso now due to the crowded, plastic, electric, fast way of life now.  What you decide to dress up in or believe is up to you. Choose wisely.

MINOR CHORDS:

-Heading back to Floore’s for the first time in a minute this weekend to see the big RRB/Rodney Crowell show.  It’s sure to be a barn burner as it were.

-Super stoked about Mile 0, it’s almost time.  So glad to have the Topo Chico Cowboys in tow this year.

-Preliminary plans are in motion for Galleywinter River Jam 2020!

-Being a Cowboys fan remains a bigger rollercoaster than the RRB record.

-Koe haning out with DDP at the Cowboys game.  Let’s get Koe a run-in at a Raw or Smackdown taping.

-I’m a Rangers fan through and through….but (gritting teeth) congrats to the ‘Stros.

-It’s almost time to start rounding up our year end favorites.  It’s been a great year for new music.  
How about Parker McCollum getting namedropped in Lefsetz a while back?  That’s huge, 2020 is going to be huge for PM. He may blow past that Whiskey/Jinks/CoJo level and go straight to the top of all of it.

-Scattershooting while wondering whatever happened to Todd Fritsch? That dude was on the crest of that dancehall traditional country sound that CoJo, Ward, King have surged with.

This month’s recommended album: Kelsey Waldon -White Nose/White Lines.  At a time when women are breaking through in ways and numbers we have rarely seen.  Waldon is from the same fertile Applachian grounds as Childers and Sturgill and puts her own unique phrasing and spin to good use.  This is a deeply personal piece of art with hooks and lyrics that make you press the back button to hear them again even before the songs is over.

”Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” – Mark Twain

Premiere: Chance Anderson – “Stillwater”

Premiere: Chance Anderson – “Stillwater”

Chance Anderson releases his newest single “Stillwater” today, fittingly the Friday before OSU’s homecoming.  Chance’s musical roots run deep in the red dirt of Oklahoma, so there really isn’t a better way to pay tribute than to record a Red Dirt Rangers song in homage to what has inspired his steady and long standing career […]

{Brad's Corner} September 2019: Leaning on the Music Through the Grief

{Brad�s Corner}

Grief.  It’s a part of life.  It’s the part that reminds us how good the living part truly is.   I first encountered grief on a major scale when the Cruella DeVille that lived in the biggest house on our block left antifreeze out in dishes scattered throughout her yard to poison any stray cats or […]

Favorites from Kylie Rae

Favorites from Kylie Rae

In the wake of tragically losing an artist in the prime of their career, it is a normal thing to introspectively turn inward and analyze their work through the new lens of grief and loss.  It’s a bittersweet exercise, that I’ve found can also be comforting.  Hearing their voice reminds us that they’re never gone […]