by: Thomas D. Mooney
December 31, 2006. The Horseman, Ft. Worth.
That was the last time Cooder Graw played together before a series of reunion dates that was kicked off at this year’s Larry Joe Taylor Festival.
It’s interesting how things work themselves out. How things change. How things stay the same.
For Cooder Graw, a band who for the better part the 2000s, worked endlessly, toured tirelessly, and recorded when they could–by all definitions of the word, strived to be a band who reached a certain magnitude of success. One who “made it.” Yet at the end of 2006, the “loud country” band, called it “quits” deciding to go back to their day jobs, maybe a little dejected, disappointed, and defeated by the world of music. At the time though, glad they were trading in their instruments for more time with their families.
Fastforward to 2012, and the band is heading out roughly one weekend a month to play sold out shows. They’re now the ones having to decline gigs. They’re the ones being asked if “they’re back for good.” When we might except new material. Etc. Etc. Etc.
It’s interesting to say the least, that they had quit being Cooder Graw for a number of years for them to potentially reach that peak of success they went searching for a decade before. Now I’m not saying Cooder Graw is back in full force by any means. Ask anyone in the band and they’ll tell you the same thing: We’re not going to be four gigs in one week, 200+ shows a year Cooder Graw.
They’re doing it on their terms–which really, benefits everyone.
In those five years, bands have come and gone. There’s plenty of bands who haven’t “made it” who we don’t even remember. We don’t wonder if they’re going to line up a string of reunion shows. The music landscape has changed. Cooder Graw has stayed the same.
Like guitarist Kelly Turner says, “other than a few grey hairs, nothing has really changed about us.”
We caught up with Turner earlier this week to discuss all things Cooder Graw.
The only reunion Cooder Graw show will be this Saturday, June 23 at Wild West.
New Slang: You guys, back in April, had your first of the reunion shows at the Larry Joe Taylor Festival. What was going through your mind when you were walking up on stage?
Kelly Turner: Trying to control my bodily functions [laughs]. It was scary, intimidating, exhilarating, fun. It was all that. The crowd was big for our first show together in five years. It was more than I could have imagined.
NS: How was it in comparison to a show five or six years ago, back before you guys stopped being Cooder Graw?
KT: I want to say it ranks up there with our best shows. You know, Larry Joe Taylor was always a big crowd. There not there just to see us, they’re there for that whole experience and all the bands. We played pretty early on the bill–and rightfully so–we needed to get our feet wet again. I think Larry Joe, the festival was always one of the highlights of the year. There’s a handful of them that come to mind, but that ranks right up there with them.
NS: Back when you guys were Cooder Graw, you guys were constantly on the road playing a couple hundred a year. You were always on the road or recording new material for a record–by all means, trying to make your impact on the music scene. With that, there had to be a good amount of pressure on everyone to perform and try and get the band notoriety and success. Flash-forward to today, you think you guys are playing a lot more loose since there’s not necessarily pressure of being a full-time band?
KT: Yeah. I’d say there’s zero pressure this time. Back then, we gave it a shot. Full-time for five years. Never got to the level we wanted. Never got to the level where we could afford to stay home a week. We had to be on the road two, three, four nights a week just to meet our expenses and have some kind of living. We really plateaued. When we were in the middle of all that, we were always trying to promote ourselves, get better, get better gigs, get larger crowds, raise money to record our next CD. There was just a lot of pressure professionally. And personally, there was a lot. We were gone from our families all the time. We were all married with kids. We’re kind of unique in Texas music in that we started out a lot later than most people do. That wore on us over five years. Now five years later, we all have careers and this is 100% fun. That’s why we’re doing it. I think we’ve played four shows now. I say there’s zero pressure, but we’ve not lost our will to put on a great, entertaining show every time we go on stage. We’re able to be more selective. We’ve turned down a lot of gigs [laughs]. We’re not going to go back full-time. Been there, done that. This time around, we can pick and choose where and when we play. And honestly, we’d do it for free–well, not really [laughs]. We have to still get gas in our cars. Buy guitar strings [laughs]. We’re doing it because its fun, we love playing with each other. We love Matt’s songs.
NS: You guys played your last show five years ago before these reunion dates. That can feel both like a very long time and feel very short. I’m sure you’ve felt both ways since then. I imagine there’s some diehard Cooder Graw fans out there who have thought these past five years went by way too slow.
KT: Yeah. For me, it’s felt like a very short amount of time. Other than a few grey hairs, nothing has really changed about us. I still live here in Lubbock, and I still hear our music on 105.3. Neely Yates, always a big fan and she kept playing us. Matt lives in Amarillo and all the other guys live in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. There’s a radio station over there called The Ranch where they’ve been playing us nearly everyday. Because of that, it seems like a very short time.
NS: Looking from 2006 to now, how do you think the music landscape has changed the most–both the Texas circuit of country and more specifically, Lubbock and Amarillo?
KT: When we first started doing this–you know, I was raised in Floydada, went to Tech–I’ve always been a huge supporter and really proud of Lubbock music. Joe Ely is still a big influence for me. Then Texas Country came along. You know, I really was hoping it would be bigger than it is. I mean, it’s really strong and big, but I was really hoping that Lubbock would become like what Seattle was for grunge or what Minneapolis was for alternative. Austin, it’s always going to be eclectic. Texas Country is such a wide category. I am really proud of what Lubbock music is though. Having said that, I don’t get out much to hear bands. I did go out and see The Flatlanders a couple of weeks ago at Cactus Theater. I’ll get out every now and then if my schedule allows, but I’m busy with work and family. If I did have more time, I definitely would get out and hear more live music. I know there’s a lot of good stuff out there. Like Estelline. I’ve heard really great things about them. Charlie Shafter, when he was here, he was doing great things. I’m aware there’s exciting things going on, but I’m kind of a recluse now. I’m really proud of Lubbock music. And–not just of the stars like Holly, Ely, The Flatlanders, all those guys. There’s so many who aren’t as known. Like Bobby Keys, legendary sax player. He still plays with the Rolling Stones. Played on a lot of their albums. I got to meet him in Nashville when the band was going full-time. We were up there at this studio recording. And one night, me and the steel guitar player, we were bored so we went out. There’s only one place to get a beer on music row, a tiny little restaurant/bar. We walk in and Bobby Keys is sitting at the bar. I knew he was from Slaton, so I said, “Hey Bobby, you remember them Slaton Tigers?” He whipped around and said, “Why do you ask?” I told him I was from Floydada and he said, “Floydada Whirlwinds [laughs]!” Anyways, there’s a lot of great musicians who come from Lubbock.
NS: Going back to those first four shows you’ve played this year, what are the crowds like? Can you tell if there’s a lot of people who are experiencing Cooder Graw for the first time or is it a lot of people who went to shows in the early 2000s?
KT: I want to say it’s about 50/50. Fortunately, there are still those radio stations who still play our music so there are people who have heard about us. I realize that we’re the old farts in terms of the Texas music scene so I know there’s more people who haven’t heard of us than who have. I think there’s a curiosity factor for young people who haven’t heard us. And we’ve always had a very loyal fanbase. There all five years older too. We always had a wide range of fans. Since we’re only have a certain amount of shows–I think we’re confirmed for 10 right now–and this is our only Lubbock show, it helps our crowd. Back when we were doing Cooder Graw, people would say “Oh Cooder Graw is in town…well, I can catch them in three months.” That fact of it being limited, it’s really helped bring the people out.
NS: Looking forward, what’s going to happen with Cooder Graw? Are you guys going to try and continue a show a month or so? Are you guys going to record some new material? What’s going to happen?
KT: We’re taking it one month at a time. I’ve committed–since I’m so busy–I told Matt, I could do one show a month through the fall. It’s averaged about two shows a month now [laughs]. But we’re taking it one month at a time. We’ll maybe end up recording a couple of songs. Nothing for a full-length. Logistically, that’s where we run into problems since we’re spread over the state. We’ll just see. My commitment, the band’s commitment, we’ll play these shows and see. Matt’s been writing songs these five years so maybe we’ll get into the studio in the fall, winter, or next year or something. Maybe [laughs].