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.