Kevin Fowler$15 in advance, $20 day of show for 18+ (plus applicable fees) Doors: 8 pm
Reflection is the catalyst to coming full circle.
Texas country singer-songwriter Kevin Fowler took a couple of years to take stock of his artistic career, launch his own record label, then write and record How Country Are Ya? the old-fashioned way.
How Country Are Ya? – Fowler’s seventh studio album and his first for Kevin Fowler Records in a joint venture with Nashville’s Thirty Tigers – is the good-timing, tradition-steeped and honky-tonk-stomping Amarillo native’s return to basics effort. A year in the making, the album features 15 fresh tunes (he wrote all of them except for the raucous instrumental “Mousturdonus“) and was produced by Ken Tondre, Fowler’s drummer, at Tondre’s The Compound Recording Studio in Austin.
One of the most potent songs on How Country Are Ya? is “Panhandle Poorboy,” a completely autobiographical piece that’s clearly the centerpiece of Fowler’s mindset during the creation of the disc. Simply put, he wanted to come back home.
“The last couple of records have been on Nashville record labels,” Fowler said, referring to 2007’s Bring It On, released on Equity Music Group, and 2011’s Chippin’ Away, released on Average Joe’s Entertainment.
“But this one is on my own label with my buddies like we used to make records. I wanted to feel right at home, go back to the well, and not get into any outside influences. I really felt like I wanted to make music closer to all my anthems that people scream along to at shows.”
Plus, How Country Are Ya? is chock full of Texas-centric collaborations. Earl Dibbles Jr., the alter-ego of Dallas-bred Granger Smith, provides the disc’s no-nonsense intro. Amy Rankin, one half of Austin’s The Rankin Twins, croons with Fowler on the emotionally evocative number “Before Somebody Gets Hurt.” San Antonio’s Grammy winners Los Texmaniacs crank up the South-of-the-border ambiance of “Borracho Grande.” Kingwood, Texas’ rebel-rouser Davin James lends his big personality to the hilarious “Chicken Wing.” And Huntsville, Texas newcomer Cody Johnson stirs straight-up country action on “Guitars and Guns.”
See? Told ya Fowler threw a studio party with his good friends and turned it into a record. But of course the first single, “How Country Are Ya?,” is quintessential Fowler. The song crackles with all the beer joint energy that characterizes every creative fiber in Kevin Fowler’s body.
The point behind each lyric, each guitar lick, and each twanging-rocking melody is the live show. Fowler has earned his reputation as one of the most amped-up concert performers to emerge from the modern day Texas country movement. For those that have experienced Fowler onstage, then you know he brings unbridled musical muscle to the platform. Backed by his trusty band he’s a dynamo – cracking jokes, hitting high notes, strumming his guitar and putting each of his fans in two-stepping mode.
“From day one I realized I couldn’t control what radio played and what video channels played, but the one thing I could control every night was the live show,” Fowler said. “The musicians want to be there, the fans want to be there and I want to be there. People can listen to the CDs at home. But if they come to the shows they are ready to have a good time for an hour-and-a-half, forget about their problems and forget about work on Monday.”
Pretty much any city in Texas belongs to Fowler, but he will immediately point out that he is quickly growing in Oklahoma a
And anyone who’s ever been to a Kevin Fowler show knows he does far more than just talk the talk—the man delivers one of the most entertaining, high-energy performances you’re likely to see in country or any other genre, with a hard-ticket base that rivals many gold-selling artists. A blend of in-your-face rockin’ intensity, tongue-in-cheek humor and captivating country storytelling, Kevin’s music has his standing-room-only audiences hanging on every word . . . and singing right along with him. Whether it’s “Beer, Bait and Ammo,” “Cheaper to Keep Her,” “The Best Mistake I Ever Made,” “Don’t Touch My Willie” or any of the other unforgettable tunes that have seen him regularly perched atop the Texas music charts, Kevin’s music is the product of years spent perfecting his craft.
And he’s not the only beneficiary. Other artists, like Montgomery Gentry (“Long Line of Losers”), Mark Chesnutt (“The Lord Loves a Drinkin’ Man”) and George Jones (dueting with Kevin on “Me and the Boys”), are among those who have recorded classic versions of Fowler songs.
With his career track record, it would be easy to assume Kevin must’ve always known music would be his life’s passion. After all, how can you be this good at something and not have worked at it for a lifetime? But he admits coming to his career path later in the game than most.
“There was a day in life that changed me,” Kevin recalls of the transformative epiphany he experienced at the Texas Jam in the Cotton Bowl back when he was about 20 years old. “I had been dabblin’ in music and played everything a little, but nothing well. Aerosmith was there. White Snake. All these bands were playing at a day-long festival. They were hosing down the crowd with big fire hoses. And it was just mayhem. I had never seen 100,000 people in one place. I remember that day going, ‘Well, that’s what I’m supposed to be doin’.’”
While Amarillo boy Kevin may not have had a clear vision of his life’s path prior to that momentous day, he shouldn’t have been surprised when he finally realized he was put on this earth to write songs and entertain people. After all, he’d been entertaining in one way or another since his attention-seeking days as a self-described “band geek,” playing drums in junior high and high school.
But Kevin’s musical training had begun earlier when his mom, Shirley, insisted he take piano lessons, in spite of his hatred of it and his desire to play football instead. Looking back, he thinks his folks made the right call. “They were probably thinkin’ to themselves, ‘We’ve seen you play football—that’s no good!’” he laughs.
While Kevin recalls knee-knocking piano recitals as his first experience with live performing, his first taste of country music came through the records his dad played—Johnny Horton, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and Roy Clark. Kevin, of course, rebelled and gravitated more toward rockers AC/DC, Kiss, The Cars, Metallica, and other decidedly non-country bands. “It wasn’t ‘til later on in life that I thought, ‘that (country) stuff was really cool.’”
Kevin recalls Amarillo as a good place to grow up, but entertainment options were, let’s say, limited. That meant 16-year-old Kevin and some buddies might sneak a 6-pack of beer on a Friday night, head down the road a few miles to tiny Vega—a town of under 1,000 people—find an old dirt road and “hide out.” Let the good times roll!
So, was there a little culture shock when Kevin moved to California a few years later? “It was like fallin’ right off the turnip wagon,” he laughs. “I was in shock.”
The move to L.A. came after Kevin, then a junior at West Texas A&M in Canyon, saw that life-changing show at the Cotton Bowl. With 100 credits toward a business degree, he quit school and went to the coast to study at the G.I.T guitar institute. While there, he learned how incredibly competitive the music world really is. So, was he intimidated?
“No. It was just an eye opener. My mama always persisted in telling me, ‘Whatever you’re gonna do, don’t be a quitter.’ That’s why she never would let me quit piano music. Somebody told me one time, ‘You’ve gotta stay in the game long enough to get lucky.’”
After finishing school in L.A., Kevin—a road warrior at heart—realized that paying gigs were few and far between in Los Angeles. “That’s the only reason I got into music . . . to play live,” says Kevin, who’ll do about 150 shows this year . . . slightly fewer than usual because of time spent writing and recording. So he left L.A. and tested the waters elsewhere. “A friend lived in Austin. I was gonna go there, then I was gonna check out Nashville and figure out where I needed to be. When I got to Austin, that 5-day visit turned into a permanent stay. Been there ever since.”
Not long after his move to Austin, Kevin joined a band that became Rumble Train, but soon discovered he was the only with any motivation. Then he fell in with long-haired rockers Dangerous Toys (yep, short-haired, cowboy hat-wearing Kevin was in a hard rock band—there’s a rumor photos exist!). And, not surprisingly, they had a problem with Kevin’s tunes. “‘Man, these are redneck songs! We can’t play any of these.’” So, in a move that was more necessity than intention, Kevin began singing them himself.
And Kevin, the rocker who also wore out two cassettes of George Strait’s Right or Wrong album, found a way to combine the best of both worlds. “I’ve always liked rock, for the attitude and the energy. But I’ve always liked the country lyric. It just tells a story. And I try to combine those elements . . . make it rockin’ and fun with a good lyric in there, a good turn of a phrase.”
That ability has given Kevin more than a decade of success in his Texas stomping grounds where he is embraced with a vengeance by audiences who love him and his music. But he wants more.
Ultimately, Kevin knows he only has control over one thing in his career. “What you do onstage . . . nobody can make you sound crappy but you. That’s Kevin Fowler Music 101 in a nutshell. Make it about the fans, the live show and the music. And hopefully everything else will come from there.”