Hey folks, it’s been a while. Like most of you, I’ve spent the last several months hunkered down, protecting family, busting my tail to stay gainfully employed in these uncertain times. 2020 went plaid months ago and without live music, those COVID Blues snuck in. It’s been hard to get energized about much of anything, except maybe scoring a 24-pack of toilet paper or buying hand sanitizer from a local distillery.
Like many, when sanity started to wane I retreated to nostalgia. As a GenXer I spent my tween years glued to MTV, and in the last few months I’ve gone down the YouTube rabbit hole of 80’s videos plenty of times. I also reflected about my college years at Texas A&M, and how the music that surrounded the turn of the century really indoctrinated me into this scene. (Yeah “turn of the century” sounds old.)
While we love individual songs for all sorts of reasons, our true favorites are always personal. They are tied to a moment, a person, a place, or a period in your life that shape who you are. I thought about those “Texas Country” songs that roped me in. As I assembled this list, I tried to keep things in chronological order but songs organically got slotted into the “stuff I discovered in college” group or “stuff I found after college” groups. People love lists, and there are no earth shattering surprises on this one, just good memories.
So here we go.
The Front Porch Song – Robert Earl Keen/Lyle Lovett. Any Aggie that spent time on Northgate in the 90’s learned the words and stories immortalized on the legendary 1988 recording from the Sons of Hermann Hall. The imagery evoked by Keen as he told about his days living in a rent house off Boyett & Church were just as powerful and poetic as the song itself. While that house had been leveled by the time I got to College Station, old fixer uppers still lined the streets in the neighborhood behind Northgate. It seemed to have the same mystique from Keen and Lovett’s days, and the thought of walking by seeing two dudes in their underwear with a banjo among 400-500 beer cans didn’t seem all that strange to this Aggie.
All of that is gone today, having succumbed to demands for high-end student housing, and for years, there has been talk of a monument to honor my Aggie brethren. I guess we’ll see…
The Fightin’ Texas Aggie Song – Highway 6. This ultimate Aggie novelty song hit the Brazos Valley airwaves in the latter years of my time at A&M. While no songwriting masterpiece, Dub Miller managed to perfectly bullet point the college experience of many Ags from that era. Battles against PTTS (a.k.a. the parking police), sunrise lines to get football tickets, 2am Taco Cabana runs, ring dunking… it was all part of the “other education” touted by Texas A&M recruiters. I remember this CD getting passed from dorm to dorm, all of us feeling that we were living out a song in real time.
Dub has been getting some pub as of late with all the history being rehashed in this scene’s podcasts. I also heard that fiddle player did all right for himself.
Don’t It Make You Want to Dance – Rusty Wier. Learning to country-western dance was practically core curriculum in Aggieland. We didn’t have a big city like that other university, so you hit the dancehalls to meet girls. Fortunately, the Aggie Wranglers, proverbial Jedi Masters of Texas two-step and jitterbug, were there to help this kid acquire some skills.
In the 90’s, the Jerry Jeff Walker rendition of “Don’t It Make You Want To Dance” was part of the Wranglers’ exhibition “set list” and for more years that I’m willing to admit, I thought the Rusty Wier classic originated with JJW (we all make mistakes folks). I tossed, flipped, and twirled many a girls to this boot stomper.
Song’s About Texas – Walt Wilkins/Pat Green. While Texans have always been a proud bunch, we all know of the zeitgeist that hit in the late 90’s when a young buck named Pat Green delivered our dancehall dreams and college road trips wrapped in all things Texana. Like many of my peers, I got sucked in, and nothing tugged at my Texan heartstrings more than this Walt Wilkins love song to the Lone Star State. Wilkins perfected the musings of dusty plains and hill country rains while Pat Green delivered the poetry with unrivaled authenticity. It was years later I “discovered” Wilkins’ wink to Guy Clark, which made this song even more special.
That Texana train might seem rote today, but that’s because folks like Wilkins, REK and PG laid the tracks, and it’s tough to beat the masters.
“Post College” (a.k.a. real life)
Charlie Robison – My Hometown. I graduated in 2000 and it was then I began to extend beyond Pat, Cory and Jack Ingram. The large CD collection I had amassed in college (thank you BMG music service) found a new rival. Napster ushered me into the digital music world and it blew my mind that I could carry dozens of songs on a handheld MP3 player. I stole the Charlie Robison classic off the interwebs. The MP3 was misnamed “Hometown – Cross Canadian Ragweed” so I once again spent a few months deluded in a state of blissful ignorance until I heard Charlie “cover” the song on “Unleashed Live.”
George’s Bar – Pat Green. The green “Live” album was the first “Texas Country” CD I ever bought with my newly employed, post-college money. I don’t remember where I bought it but I do remember hearing the first 20 seconds of Brendon Anthony bringing the magic of “George’s Bar” to life. I had reached Texas Music nirvana. While Songs About Texas stoked the fire, George’s Bar cemented me into a movement.
It was about this time I started perusing the Galleywinter forums. Those times are gone, but I’m still here.
Beat of Your Heart – Cory Morrow. While Pat lit the match, Cory Morrow threw gas on the bonfire. Every time I hear the intro to “Beat of Your Heart” I feel headlights pounding pavement on a Texas highway. Sweeping a heartbroken girl off of her feet and onto the dance floor… convincing her to live in the moment and take a risk…it evokes the hero in any man with a romantic bone in his body.
“Take it while it comes ’cause it don’t last long
Hesitate and the moment’s gone
Run in the rain and howl at the moon
Fall in love way too soon
Take my hand as the music starts
And we’ll dance to the beat of your heart”
Like It Used to Be – Randy Rogers Band. I heard this song for the first time just after becoming a father. Parenthood flips life on it’s head. You are no longer the focus and get overloaded in all things baby while being sleep deprived. The crazies calling into Art Bell at 3 am start making sense. While fatherhood is exhilarating, the exhaustion can have you reminiscing about days when you were painting the town red with your significant other. While the wife and I never did a ton of burning it down, the sentiment of having a date night without a care in the world still resonated.
Down In Flames – Brandon Jenkins/Stoney LaRue. Another point of music education for me was realizing that without Brandon Jenkins there would be no Stoney Larue. This was the ultimate song about jumping off the cliff in pursuit of your dreams. You’re either going to fly, or crash and burn. “If you’ve got the fire, I’ve got the gasoline” is still one of my all time favorite lines. Stoney gave it the unparalleled soul it deserved.
17 – Cross Canadian Ragweed. There are many songs that don’t hit you until months or years after hearing them for the first time. This Ragweed all-timer fell in that category for me, but when it did, it had the deepest impact on my life. It was definitely personal. I had recently changed careers and felt lost, not realizing how much of my own identity had been wrapped up in my job. For the sake of myself and my family, I needed to escape the anxiety and emotional funk and get on with it. In hindsight it makes sense that a song about escaping your past and moving on to bigger and better things grabbed me the way that it did. I realized I didn’t have to be so emotionally wrapped up in my career, that I needed to re-prioritize around family and friends. It made me want to pick up a guitar and learn to play, to get involved with the people in this scene, to write about those people and their music. It brought me here.