3 years old. That’s when it all started for me, That’s my earliest memory of when I started singing. Born into a musical family, mostly on my mom’s side, I remember watching her teach piano lessons in our house while I was growing up, as her mother had done before her. I did take lessons when I was a kid, but it didn’t stick to me as much back then - something, today, I still wish I’d stuck with. So when the day came to choose a middle school band instrument, for some reason the French horn was what was settled on, and I would go on to play that all the way through high school and lettering in it. I would do well in competitions, and though I enjoyed marching band and had some great memories of playing that kind of music over those years, something was missing for me, musically.
I was a pretty much a wallflower in school. Being a band geek, I had a small group of close friends, but since I wasn’t what you’d consider the world's greatest student back then, it was hard for me to feel like I fit in. I had become friends with a guy named Chad and since I couldn’t afford a vehicle of my own, I’d hitch a ride in with him. He was one of those good old boys who drove a pickup truck, wore a cowboy hat and listened to KASE 101 every day on the way into school. I can still remember it like it was yesterday when I heard a brand new guy by the name of Garth Brooks playing on Chad’s radio one day and it hit me like a lightning bolt. The songs that I began to hear were like a revelation to me because that was the kind of music I could finally relate to.
The music that was coming out of Nashville during the 90’s was and still is some of the greatest and most successful music to ever come out in country music. Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt, George Strait, Mark Chesnutt, and so many others were putting out killer songs that are still just as good today as they were back then. And then I finally started paying attention to the older traditional country songs that my dad had been listening to all of those years, and noticing the stories the lyrics were telling. Legends like Willie, Merle, Bob Wills, Ray Price, Marty Robbins, Asleep at The Wheel all began to spark a lot of thoughts of things I could either relate to and I absolutely fell in love with the rich history of the whole genre. Every one of those artists were finally speaking to me with songs I could connect with, and I picked up my notebooks and started writing country songs. I had only written a few poems, song fragments or lyrics over the by that time, but from that moment on, I knew country music was going to be a part of my life forever.
Then some of the magic started happening. It started happening so coincidentally that, after a while I began keeping a log of it that I still have, which I called ‘Coincidence or Fate?’ There was a local contest in the Austin area that was offering people the chance to compete in a talent competition that featured a live band as the backup, so I learned a few of the songs on the list, and while I didn’t win, I did go on to the finals. I can still remember the night, the songs and the electricity going through me as I was up on that stage with a band behind me, as I felt the return energy of the crowd for the first time. But that was only the beginning, because another event in 1995 would, again, influence me beyond my comprehension and show me a world I wanted to be in forever.
It was a radio contest for KVET in Austin, and you had to identify 10 songs in a row, by song title and artist and you had to get them in order. There was only a second or 2 of each, so one night I recorded it on my little microcassette recorder, and played it over and over until I was sure I had them all. I wrote them down on a half sheet of paper and recorded the call also - both of which I still have packed away somewhere in my many boxes of musical memories. The odd thing about this contest was that, the night before I called in to try and win, I told my good friend Brook that I thought I was going to win it and would he like to come with me if I did. The prize was an all expenses paid trip to the CMA Awards at the original Grand Ole Opry, including airfare, hotels and tickets to the VIP post show party at the Opryland Hotel. I know, right? Crazy that I had that feeling that I was going to win it the night before.
When I called in the very next day, as I had predicted would happen, I remember reading out the songs to them, heart pounding out of my chest, but trying to remain calm. There was only one song I wasn’t entirely sure of, which was Alan Jackson’s “I Don’t Even Know Your Name’. Once I had guessed that one correctly and heard the DJ say ‘Oooh, I’m getting excited’ I knew I had won. And, as you can imagine, it turned out to be the trip of a lifetime. The awards that year were the ones Allison Krauss swept the ceremony with her tribute album to Keith Whitley, along with the Horizon Award. It was also the year that Roger Miller was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, with performances by Willie, Merle, Dolly, Dwight Yoakum and Marty Stuart. Our seats were incredible, too, as were the performances by all of the people who were there that I couldn’t wait to be part of one day. I reveled in the behind the scenes actions of the stars walking up the rows next to us for the TV cameras, as well as the funny antics of host Vince Gill during the commercial breaks. When we got to the after party, we were able to meet Allison, who had stopped by, as well as radio legend Ralph Emery, and the late Daryle Singletary who autographed the ticket stub. I still have it, the awards show program, the airplane tickets, and a letter from the promotions director congratulating me for the win. The memories, events of that trip are still fresh in my mind now as they were for those 2 days.
Fate would, again, intervene only a short 3 years later in 1999, when I’d win another trip to Nashville from an Austin radio station, B93. This time it was a trip to see Tim McGraw, The Dixie Chicks and The Wilkinsons on New Year’s Eve and the strange coincidence on this trip was that I didn’t even know about it until the day I’d won. A friend of mine told me about it as we were driving to see my mom at work and you just had to be the 93rd caller. I was the 93rd caller, and by the time we pulled into the parking lot, I had just finished securing my 2nd free radio station trip to Nashville. While there for this trip, we were able to see the legendary Ryman Auditorium, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and the Wildhorse Saloon before returning back to Austin the next day. I still own the shirt I bought from Tootsie’s that night.
In 2002, a KVET radio contest event happened and something else that would end up on my ‘Coincidence or Fate’ sheet. This time it was tickets to see the taping of a CMT special in Austin called ‘Stars Over Texas’ and hosted by Ray Benson featuring artists like Bruce Robison, Vince Gill, and even Dolly Parton.
Through various singing competitions over the years, while navigating bad personal relationships, and trying to find my voice as an artist and songwriter, it would still take me a few more years before I could put things together to try and make my dreams a reality. I had to get full time jobs to make ends meet until music was put away, for the most part. So, it would not be until the end of 2003 until I was able to get out of that self-induced rut, and the troubles that finally gave me the freedom and the decision to get involved with the Austin Songwriters Group and become a member of the board of directors.
Music once again had a place back in my life, and from 2003 until the end of 2006, I was finally able to hone my craft and, again, be around the like minded people I had been missing for so long. I was able to become a friend, a mentor but more importantly a regular host for the monthly meetings that were held at the Threadgill’s location in downtown Austin. I had to learn to be able to speak in front of people without a guitar, and was able to come out of my shell and gain the skills I would unknowingly need and use as a performer in the years to come. My return to the stage fronting a band would become a reality nearly 11 years after the talent show that night so long ago when we hosted our annual tribute to Merle Haggard, using most of his current or former band members at the time. And although I only performed 2 songs that night, my family, friends, peers, and some of the people who wrote those songs were in the audience, once again cheering me on and seeing what kind of performer I always was.
During my time with the Austin Songwriters Group, I was able to cultivate many good friendships and relationships with plenty of well-known local musicians, to the point where I felt like I was ready to record my first full length album. I was still working at Dell Computers at the time, and was able to finance 3/4ths of the costs on my own. I sought the help of my friend Stephen Doster, who was an ASG mentor, and over the course of 14 months, we were able to put together an album that I’m still extremely proud of and very blessed to have been able to have the kind of caliber of musicians I only dreamed of having on it. Their collective credits would include George Strait, Asleep at The Wheel, Buck Owens, Doug Sahm, Robert Earl Keen, Van Morrison, Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings...the kind of musicians and players I grew up listening to, and were now all playing on my album. I was even able to get one of my other musical heroes and influences, Dale Watson, to come and sing harmonies on a tune of his that I covered, ‘Hair of The Dog’. He was also kind enough to come out to the CD release party we had out at Hill’s Cafe to sing with me on that song. Many of the other musicians who played on that album were in the audience as well, and it would be another memorable night in my musical career. But I still had a long way to go.
From that night and seemingly every night for 4 years, we toured through Texas and Louisiana constantly, playing almost every single place we could. Laredo, Dallas, San Antonio, Eagle Pass, Houston, Palestine, Bossier City, Waco - you name it, we played it. Willie said long ago 2 things which I still quote to this day - ‘Be from Texas; play everywhere else’ and ‘If you want to make a living playing music in Texas, just drive around in circles’. During those years, we were averaging over 220 shows a year and while we were making progress, selling albums and merch and kept getting closer to breaking out to that next level, something was still missing which I still wish I had seen coming even now. Admittedly, I had rose colored glasses on back then, and was still pretty naive when it came to the touring side of the music business. After all, I had legendary Grammy winning musicians on my album, so it shouldn’t be all that hard to be successful with all that talent on the album and us touring constantly to support it.
Unfortunately, I wouldn’t find out until after it was all over that I had trusted the wrong person to manage the financial part of keeping us out on the road. And no matter how tight I tried to hold on with everything I had, it would all come to an end and I wound up having to go back to work full time at whatever job I could get. Ironically, the first job I could find would be back at Dell working 8-5 making a much smaller sum of money per hour than I did only a few years prior, but I still remember the night when I knew it was over, musically. I had a residency gig at Shiner’s Saloon in downtown Austin, and since I didn’t have time to go home, I loaded all of the PA gear in the van, and went to work that morning. When I got off, I headed straight downtown, parked, loaded in and out, by myself, into the 2nd story venue, played the show and waited until nearly 4am to get paid. When I finally made it out of there, I headed straight back to the parking lot at Dell, left the van running with the heat on, climbed over all of the PA gear, turned on the DVD player, and tried to catch an hour or 2 of sleep before walking back in the door and pulling another 8 hour shift at work. That was one of the hardest nights I had, and I cancelled the rest of the residency at Shiner’s the next day.
After that night, I spent a lot of time soul searching. I stayed very resentful and bitter at the person who had destroyed everything I had worked for, for over 20 years. Self destructive and having to go back to work full time, I was saddled with all of the debts that came along with self-financing everything on my own, since it was all in my name. But I still hung on somehow to the dream with the help of an unpredictable facebook friendship that had grown over the years, with my friend Stacy Keys, who resided in the United Kingdom. She had worked in the music industry there and was interested in bringing me over as a support act for Dale Watson at one time. And although that never materialized, our online friendship grew while I was sitting behind a desk in Austin, and she 6 hours ahead, trying to help me plan to get over there and play in the UK somehow. I had been able to scrape my way back somehow, financially, and had enough of the daily office life to the point to where I was willing to take a chance on music again.
With all of my strength, desire but very little thought to the eventual consequences, I packed up 2 of my biggest suitcases, my guitar, sold my Tahoe and in the spring of 2015, I was on my way to my new life of living in the UK with her in a small community known as Tewkesbury. It was during this time I believe I had the greatest amount of self-discovery, both as a musician and as someone who was being introduced to a new culture, people, trends, ideals and a way of living that I never knew existed. While there, I made life-long friends, memories, and even discovered a great deal of my family’s heritage while spending part of that time in Scotland - a place that I had dreamed of being able to visit long before I made the decision to move there. I also found out what it felt like to be an outsider in a country that I was not born in, which made finding gigs harder, and the ability to make ends meet in order to stay over there longer than the short amount of time my work visa would allow. So, unfortunately, I wound up having to return back to Texas, licking my wounds from a dream that, while not ideally very well thought out on my part, would backfire drastically on me for the next couple of years, as the gap in my employment grew larger and larger upon my return.
It would take just over 2 and a half years of living off my credit cards, finding part time work here and there and playing some solo acoustic gigs before finally landing the full time job that would last me another 2 and a half years in the form of a field service technician for an energy company. During those years, I made some more great memories, as the job allowed me to travel and see places that were on my bucket list, but also gave me the vacation time in 2018 to return to Scotland to see some of my best friends again, and also the chance to see my friend Greg, who sponsored my work visa in 2015, get married. I was also given the chance to visit Boston, see a Red Sox game, have some quality seafood and above all, visit one of my best friends James and his wife Gail in Vermont, as the site we were working at was only a few miles away from their house. I saw Devil’s Tower, Mount Rushmore, Mt. St. Helens and so many other places during the nearly 140,000 miles I travelled for them during my time there.
But again, something was still missing. I had mentally put music away again, from the financial perspective, because I didn’t need it anymore - or so I had convinced myself. I was making great money, had a stable job, my own place, and nothing was going to interfere with that. And even though my guitars were all laid out in front of me, they still collected dust, I’d still write down a song idea every now and then. But still, again, I convinced myself it was no longer possible, and I had already given up so much of myself, my money, my chance at a family, and even to eventually become a father for this crazy dream I’d been chasing over half of my life with very little to show for it. It didn’t occur to me that, for all of the times I was out there talking to people about my former musical life, my entire energy would change. From the tone of my voice, to my overall demeanor and just the happiness that would beam out of me, I had to be reminded of that from some of my closer friends of just what kind of person I would become just by thinking about everything I’d done as a musician.
When the job came to an end in the early months of 2020, although it devastated me as my entire world came crashing down yet again, an unlikely but always close ally and friend of mine, Roy Granados, came to my rescue. Roy and I have known each other since my early touring days when he ran a club down in Laredo, Texas so when I told him that I was coming back and was willing to give music one more shot, he jumped at the chance by telling me that he was just waiting for me to be ready again. He and his wife were so ready and willing to help that they even drove up to Fort Collins to help me get my moving back to Texas situated and moving forward so that we could start the work of getting me back out on the road again. I had plenty of time to think many thoughts during the 1000 mile drive back to Austin, as I kept singing along with the radio in a car that was literally bursting at the seams with my belongings. Travis Tritt’s “I’m Gonna Be Somebody” came on as I made the last turn on to 183 on the final leg of my trip, and with tears in my eyes as I was singing the song, I began to believe it again that I was coming back for a musical purpose. I told myself that I don’t think that whatever benevolent force is out there guiding me through life would kick me out of a job so heartbreaking and painfully only to send me back to Texas to fail at the one true thing I’ve loved my entire life.
So finally, at long last, doing what I love and what’s clearly my path and destination in life, no matter how many times I’ve dismissed it, denied it, avoided it or even thought I had screwed it up so badly that my days of doing it were over. Clearly they are not.
I don’t know what lies ahead of me, but I know and feel that it’s much bigger and brighter than what lies behind me. I believe we all have a purpose in life. Music is and always will be mine.