Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends
of West Texas Music
"Indeed, Oglesby's introduction of more
than two dozen musicians who called Lubbock home should be required
reading not only for music fans, but for Lubbock residents and
anyone thinking about moving here. On these pages, music becomes
a part of Lubbock's living history."
I don't think that I wished that I was a songwriter and tried
to get good at it or whatever; I think I just sort of started
writing songs because, as it turned out, I had something to say.
Because I didn't even mean to be a songwriter or know that I
was a songwriter.
I co-wrote some of my first songs with different people; with
Bobbie Earl and with Joe Gracey and with a girl named Kim Banks
wrote some songs with her. Just different people. Then I started
not wanting to do that anymore, and I just started writing by
myself. I think that's when I really started to express myself.
I guess I was about in my early 20s at that point, so I had already
had a pretty long life by then! [Laughs]
So I met Willie one day; They introduced me to Willie. We were trying to figger out how we were gonna make this first record, and I met Willie out on his golf course with them, and Willie asked me
Chris: Wait. Who's 'they'?
KR: Well, Bobbie Earl and Joe Gracey and I went out
there. They knew Lana Nelson - who's now really been a dear friend
of mine for years, but I guess that was probably the day I met
And Willie said, "Well, why don't you come out here and
make a record?"
Then the next record I released was called The Man in the
Moon. When I did that record
I had met Jimmy Day, who is a legendary steel guitar
player who lived here in Austin, had moved here from Nashville.
He used to play with Willie and lots of people. He was just this
incredible player and a very soulful guy, very true to Country
We had sort of gotten this dream thinking that we wanted to tour Europe, so we got on this label from London and started touring Europe. My friend Wes Magee, who is a London guy who had been coming to Texas a lot and makin' records in Austin; We'd worked with him, so we kinda merged with him and had this whole kinda Euro-Tex thing.
So I had two bands goin' at that point: I had a swing band in Austin. I had to play that music because there was some Western Swing and different things on there. That band had many incarnations; different people would come and go. Richard Bowden played with us some; Junior Brown even played with us some; John Reed y'know a variety of whoever....
Chris: What was the name of that band?
KR: Uh It didn't really have a name. I guess I had just started goin' by Kimmie Rhodes by then. And then I had the other band which Wes Magee put together that had kinda the best Country players in London, like B.J. Cole, this great steel player; he plays on all of Sting's records now. There're some great players over there, too.
I had a band over there that I would use over there; and then I had a band over here that I would use over here. Jimmy played in my band a lot. So a lot of that, I think, was really influenced by the time that I spent with Jimmy Day.
Then my next record was called Angels Get the Blues. I think that's really where I started to come into my own as a songwriter. I think some of my first best songs were on that record. One that ended up being a really good song for me was called "I Just Drove By" that Wynonna Judd recorded and Willie recorded. That was on a London label, also.
We toured Europe a lot because I was on European labels. I
ended up being on a Swiss label for awhile, and then I was on
a French label for awhile.
KR: West Texas Heaven was this whole concept that I started to have that ended up being part of this play I wrote. That song was in that play; It starts it out.
It was the concept that, if Heaven turned out to be just the best version of what you knew to imagine, and all you had ever known was West Texas, then Heaven would look like West Texas - this beautiful, beautiful West Texas. So that was what, in my mind where that whole West Texas Heaven thing came from.
Chris: So we're back in West Texas Heaven: I know you've done some stuff with Waylon; How did you end up meeting Waylon? Did you meet him through Willie?
KR: I did not meet Waylon through Willie, which you would've thought that would be how that happened But what happened was: I met a very dear friend of mine, Beth Nielson Chapman, because she wrote a song for Willie called "Nothing I Can Do About It Now"
Chris: Oh, I love that song!
KR: I was with Sharon
I had heard Willie's record
that they were working on, and I had heard the songs. He'd been
playing 'em for me in the studio and stuff. And I just fell in
love with this girl's writing! I hadn't met her but I wanted
to meet her because she was such a great writer!
But Sharon Ely and I were doing a photo shoot with British Vogue magazine, and this French photographer
Chris: When you say "photo shoot" what was it you were doing?
KR: We were at Willie's western town doin' a photo
shoot for this fashion magazine.
I had on this big cowboy hat and the whole thing Anyway, it was that day. We went up to the studio and Beth Nielson Chapman was wandering around out front waiting for Willie to get there because she was gonna do some background vocals on the record. I guess Sharon went off to photograph Willie's guitar, and I ended up somehow, like five minutes after I met her, I was at my house with Beth, and we were talking and became great friends after that, and have always stayed in touch. I just talked to her yesterday. We visit all the time.
We ended up playing songs for each other that day. For whatever
reason, we ended up spending the whole afternoon together playing
songs for each other. I had written a lot of the songs from West
Texas Heaven but I hadn't recorded them yet. I was playing
her demos and stuff. So she went back home, and she loved my
song "I Just Drove By." So she took that, and
Waylon had asked her for songs because he had just cut "Old
Church Hymns and Nursery Rhymes" which is a great song
that she wrote for Waylon that he recorded.
So I did. I sent him all ten of my songs at that time. [Laughs].
Chris: So were you already doing this theme of this West Texas album?
KR: Yea. I had already started the songs.
Chris: Did y'all make any connection about both being from Lubbock?
KR: I'm sure we had that conversation early on, y'know.
He didn't know anything about me when he called me. But we figured
that out, I guess, after we started talking. He kind of took
to calling me at ungodly hours, like 7 o'clock in the morning
or something. So we had decided we were gonna do something together,
but we didn't know what.
So I sent him a bunch of songs and I thought, "I'll just
slip this one on there and he'll barely even notice it, but it'll
be the way I'll find out if that really was a good song for Waylon
Chris: So there's two songs with Waylon on that album?
KR: Yea. And that happened totally independent of the Willie thing. I had just asked Willie. I had done a record with him - some of my songs on one of his records - and then I asked him if he'd do some songs with me on my record.
Chris: I saw the Austin City Limits episode where you
played with about my foour favorite songwriters of all times:
The one with Waylon, Billie Joe Shaver, Kris Kristofferson, and
wasn't Willie there?
KR: I was lucky that I was up there.
Chris: How did that happen? There was one woman up there, and it was you.
KR: Well, we were all on the same record label at that
point. I had previously done an Austin City Limits hosted by
Waylon in Nashville, with Lyle Lovett and Bobby Bare and Beth
and a lot of different people. It had a bunch of people that
day. And I also did an Austin City Limits with Willie, and it
had Rodney Crowell and Emmie Lou Harris, two of my very
So I guess it kinda started out Waylon and I were gonna do this Austin City Limits and then it just grew into all the people who were on that label. I don't know, somehow in the background it all came together. It was great fun.
Chris: Mac Davis is another fantastic songwriter from Lubbock. Do you have any opinion on why there are so many talented writers from West Texas? You seem to know a lot of 'em.
KR: No. I really don't know. But if you want a very realistic reason why, I think it's because the radio stations in that area were playing good music. I can't even tell you what the stations where or anything, but I remember when I was a kid that if you didn't like the song on the Country radio, you could turn it and hear Aretha Franklin, or you could turn to the Pop station and hear the Beatles or Bob Dylan, or go to the FM station There was just a lot of great music being played on the radio.
So, personally -I can't speak for anybody else but - I was totally influenced by that music. It kind of set the tone for the rest of my life What I compare it to.
Chris: Maybe that's most of what was consuming your life then.
KR: Yea. I loved music. I listened to it all of the time, all day long, everyday. I was either in my room listening to music, or in the car listening to music, or in a restaurant or bar listening to music always. Or even if we went to church, it was about the music. It was always about the music.
Chris: A lot of people say that about the good radio stations in Lubbock. I guess that was because it was just the biggest market for a huge area of the country, I guess? Maybe it was catering to people there locally rather than a mass market?
KR: Y'know, radio stations were different then than they are now. They were more "mom & pop," and deejays had to go figger out what to play. They played what they liked. Deejays don't even listen to the music anymore; They just play what they're told, a lot of 'em. I mean, it's not always that way. There's still plenty of what they call "Americana Radio." But for the most part, the record business was not this huge thing that it is now. I mean, it's all grown a lot in the last twenty years.
Deejays used to have to go figure out what was good; They had to know whether it was any good or not. For me, when I was a kid, there was a sense of pride in the fact that you were cultivating your taste in music and whether you knew what was any good or not. And now its pretty much just I don't know, maybe it's still that way on some level but there's a lot of music that people never get to hear because it's pretty much based on something else: Advertising is what it is.
Chris: For along time there, your records were just released in France, where they don't even speak English. A lot of these Lubbock people were big in Europe long before they were big in America. Why is that?
KR: The timing was slightly askew. Waylon and Willie
have their own version of how hard it was for them. If it hadn't
been for that whole "Outlaw" thing that they created,
that changed Country music
Y'know, something like that could
come along - and will come along and that will happen again -
But I kinda came slightly after that, so I kinda was on the tail
end of that.
But instead of bamming into doors that are closed, what you do is you learn to take the doors that are open and trust that.
So I've been really happy with the way my career went. Because I really have had amazing experiences in Europe, and I love Europe. I've gotten to travel all these places I'da never gotten to go. It really was never about "being famous" for me.
Chris: Yea. You've had more of a "real life" than a big star.
KR: Well, I don't think there's anything wrong with
being famous. But I just stumbled into it in the first place.
I've just stumbled through my whole life just following whatever
dream I had at the time. So I think it's been really miraculous
to watch this road just kinda unravel out into whatever I believed
my whole career would be.
Chris: I think that's a very common thing here; I think
of all these people from Lubbock that we're talking about all
seem to be people who knew what they wanted to do and stuck with
KR: I've had so many great wonderful fabulous nights
of being with really talented people who play steel-guitars,
and guitars, and basses, and drums, and tambourines and
I've gotten to have this really rich life, and these incredible
nights of playing music with real people. We
were together playing music because we loved each other, and
we loved the songs, and that's what we wanted to do.
Maybe I didn't get a huge amount of record sales. But we won't really get into record deals; It's not really about that. I feel like I've been really, really successful, and I've had this incredible life. To me, that's what success has come to mean. Having said that, there's only one thing that will never be able to happen that is kinda sad to me - Because I've written so many more songs than I will ever be able to put on a record - I heard Paul McCartney say one time, "Your songs are like your children and you want the best for them." I pretty much, in some way or another, love every song I've ever written, because they're kinda like a journal of that day, what was going on. And there's something like that that goes with every one of 'em. There's probably getting close to 300 of 'em. And you only get to put like 12 on a record. So I usually try to cram as many as I can on a record, just to get 'em recorded.
But I have so many songs that will never be on a record and
nobody will ever hear 'em. I even have songs that I'm
forgetting, that people will remind me about and I'll go, "Oh
yea! I forgot about that one!"
Chris: You've added another thing to your list accomplishments. I saw that you just recently wrote a book. So there's another writer/artist/actress/playwright from Lubbock. So tell me about the book. The book sounds like a classic Lubbock-type thing to me.
KR: It all pertains to writing. Writing is at the heart of it all, the common denominator. It's a weird thing because, it's just like the plays and just like everything. I did not mean to do it.
Chris: What's it called?
KR: It's called The Amazing After-Life of Zimmerman Fees.
Don't ask me where I even thought of that, because the answer
is, "I don't know where I got that name." It just came
to me. I was with my friend Beth. It was last year right before
Christmas. I always go up there right before Christmas and we
hang out at her house in Nashville. So we were cooking dinner
and we decided to go but twinkle lights. We turned off the soup,
and we were just gonna go get some twinkle lights and come back
and decorate the tree after we ate dinner. We got to this Target
parking lot, and we were the only people in the parking lot besides
these two shoppers. This car hit these two people! And knocked
'em down and their packages went flying! There was this whole
scene of these people getting hit by this car in this parking
Chris: I know the feeling.
KR: I was just like, "Go to somebody else! I'm
not gonna do it!" But it just kept haunting me. So finally
I got up from the arbor and I went to my computer, and I started
writing. The main character Zimmerman Fees gets hit in the Target
parking lot and killed in the second paragraph of the book.
What happens is he goes off into his after-life; It becomes this whole metaphysical thing. And then on the 7th page it turned into a cookbook all of a sudden! I was like, "Okay, we're just going with it! Fine! Now it's a cookbook! Whatever you say!"
It was like it had a life of its own, so I just kept writing.
I'd just sit down and write and let it go where ever it wanted
But it all kinda brought itself together and everything, and in the end it all makes sense on some level. It's just the same way that I wrote Small Town Girl. I just started and couldn't stop myself.
-end of interview-
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