It was my granddad’s record collection that introduced me to Hank Williams. The car radio of my youth instilled a joy and passion for modern country music. A burnout in my 9th grade homeroom taught me about Pantera. A childhood friend’s older brother blasted my head with hair metal and AC/DC. Life and several musician friends made me really dig into the blues.
And, a busted old cassette tape made me fall in love with Texas Music.
Texas Music is unique in the broad spectrum of musical genres for a number of reasons. But, one of the strongest has to be the manner with which people turn each other onto new bands. That’s one of the reasons this website even exists! It’s a community of like-minded individuals who decided to find a place (pre-Facebook/Twitter etc) to get together and enjoy music. There is a continual domino effect among Texas Music fans. They discover a new band that they really dig and they pass it on to their friends and it continues down the line until a whole wave of people are aware of some new band ripping things up.
One thing that each new band discovery has for fans is that at some point they entered this chain of information via a gateway band. At some point in time they became acutely aware that there was more to the musical world than just what they saw on CMT or heard on their local Top 40 Country station.
For me personally, that moment came when I was a freshman in high school. It was the mid 90’s, and my world was dominated by AC/DC, Pantera and Metallica for cruising and Gary Stewart, Hank Williams Jr. and Lynyrd Skynyrd for the backroads.
In the midst of this musical landscape, my sister moved off to college at Texas A&M. That Christmas, she came home and had a mixed cassette tape (yes, kids…music used to come on plastic tapes!) that someone had made her of “ this guy that sings really weird but has the coolest songs!” The first words I ever heard Robert Earl Keen sing were “Mom got drunk and dad got drunk at our Christmas party…”. I immediately knew this wasn’t my grandpa’s country music, but I was extremely intrigued.
I couldn’t get enough.
Quickly, I had hijacked the mix tape and scurried to my room and set about making my own copy of it. I would listen incessantly as I played Madden on my Sega Genesis. I wore that tape out.
Soon, I was at Hastings with just enough cash in my pocket to purchase one cd. I knew exactly what it had to be. I was no 5 pound bass, but this Robert Earl Keen guy had me hook, line and sinker. Around this time, he just so happened to have recently released a new live album called No 2. Live Dinner. My beloved Hastings had one copy left…heck, maybe they had only ordered one copy.
At any rate, I was soon back behind the wheel of my silver 1985 Chevy stepside pick-up with the humming 6×9 speakers stuffed behind the seat powered by the busted amp under the driver seat blasting the first notes to “I’m Going to Town” . I was in fact going to town and it was in fact Saturday night. This called for a trip to the coin-operated car wash and maybe a rendezvous type fiesta at the Moontower.
As the machinations of another small-town Saturday night spilled in front of me, I was enraptured by the nasally, off-kilter vocals of Mr. Keen as he sang his tales. I knew these people…or at least thought I did. I had definitely passed Sonny and Sherry at the 4-way stop in my one-light town…and I think Mariano poured concrete for my buddy Justin’s dad.
As the guitar tone of Rich Brotherton exploded into my eardrums, I was sold for life. I wasn’t giving up on my metal completely, but it had definitely taken a backseat.
Naturally, I began to find people who dug Keen as much as I did. One of my friends said there was some local dude playing at a dive bar down the road that “has songs like Robert Earl’s, but he sings better!”.
Again, I was intrigued.
We bluffed our way past the oblivious door guy at a place called Cadillac Jack’s in a downtrodden part of town that had yet to be rebuilt after a tornado’s wrath some forty years earlier. This part of town was not anywhere we needed to be…but the music was our beacon.
This was my first experience with having huge X’s marked on my hands. Sharpies weren’t that prevalent yet, so the old man with the grease-stained wife beater t-shirt had marked us up with a thick Marks-A-Lot marker. It stunk so bad, its pungent odor was easily identifiable above the thick layers of second-hand smoke dripping off the ends of Basic Lights found throughout the joint.
Just as we were game-planning how to explain the black X’s we were sure would be permanent to our football coach, a burly and lanky dude that looked like Troy Aikman’s chubbier young brother strode in through a side door.
This guy sings songs like Keen?
It wasn’t long until he kicked into gear and sang about “here I go again, singing in this dive…”. Another guy singing about my life and not hypnotizing the moon? Could it be true? And so it was born, a passion for Pat Green was spawned from Robert Earl Keen.
The path that I hopped on some fifteen years ago due to my sister’s Robert Earl Keen tape is still going strong. It has led me to so many things for which I’m thankful for in my life. Keen was a gateway to a life I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. I’m not sure such personal relationships exist in other scenes of music…yet another reason to be thankful and proud of our music.
Maybe there’s a fifteen year old kid reading this somewhere who’s never heard of Robert Earl Keen or only knows Pat Green from “Wave on Wave” and this allows them to jump into the same rabbit hole I entered all those years ago. Who knows? The only thing I do know about life and this music is something I learned from that beat up old tape all those years ago. The road goes on forever and the party never ends.
Now, there are kids latching onto this scene and music through folks like Josh Abbott, Bart Crow and Johnny Cooper. They are turning new ears onto a new sound. A sound they may not have been familiar with otherwise. Each of those artists and more were drawn to the raw, free sounds of Texas Music by someone or something…and the cycle continues.
What was your gateway to this music?
Oh, and kids…rubbing alcohol gets rid of those X’s in a snap.
-Red Rocks lived up to the hype and then some.
-Greenfest prep is about to hit the stretch drive. Get your tickets if you haven’t yet, I have a feeling this will sell out early!
-About to fire up a whole slew of new 20 Questions interviews.
-We might even be firing up some Twitter interviews…should be crazy.
-The Rangers just need to be put into a bubble and put in the infirmary until next season.
-It hasn’t gotten hot yet…that’s awesome.
-We’ve extended an invite to Johnny Football to come float on a swan at Greenfest.
-Drew Kennedy needs a podcast where he talks to people like Jason Isbell and Rick Perry.
-SuperpagesSmirnoffGexaEnergy Palace can call itself whatever it wants to…we will all still refer to it as Starplex.
-I’m really hoping someone puts together a legitimate Rusty Wier tribute. Too many good songs. Too important of an artist to just languish to the footnotes of Texas Music history. More people need to discover his magic.
-Related to that, there are plans coming together for a proper Allan Goodman tribute and I’m still working on how to best honor AG at Greenfest.
–This month’s recommended album (s): Late to the party, but Kylie Rae Harris’ record Taking It Back is amazing. I’d cursorily listened a few times when it came out a few months back, but had only dug in intently recently. It’s full of wise songwriting that belies her age, powerful vocals that echo of Sheryl Crow and smart instrumentation. Excited for people to discover this record and come hear her play these songs at Greenfest.
-“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.”-Mark Twain