by: Thomas D. Mooney
Both Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers have been downplaying the importance of their first collaboration album, Hold My Beer, Vol. 1. Both have time and again, talked about how it was something they just wanted to do. Something that had been on the back burner for both for years. It was more important for Hold My Beer, Vol. 1 to be a fun, easygoing project for the two Texas Country titans than for them to make any proclamation or declaration.
Still, they did just that.
It’s not a Texas Country record. It’s not in the outlaw vein. Nor is it a throwback to Countrypolitan days. But, there’s definite nods to all three in one way or another.
They somehow made an album that was both an homage to the music they grew up on while never sounding like a parody or poor caricature. It’s a generational bridge album. It’s like an album you’d find in your father or grandfather’s cassette tape collection. It fits within the world where pedal steel and fiddle are king.
As much as it’s a genuine country throwback album, it’s still a Wade Bowen and/or Randy Rogers album at the core. They’re songs that, could have found their way onto either’s next solo album–granted, they’d have a different sound and texture. But deep down, they’re Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers songs.
In saying that, Hold My Beer, as a collection of 10 songs, two singer-songwriters, one legendary music producer (Lloyd Maines), and a smorgasbord of musicians and collaborators, it means more than any of the individual parts. Bowen and Rogers delivered something that country music has been missing for years.
When the top layer of country music looks something like a portal to Country Bubble-gum Teenpop Hell, Bowen and Rogers have held on to some form of standards. It’s a reminder that yes, country music is still obtainable–and not just for the diehards, but country that sounds country and has mass appeal.
It’s been a win for country music.
We caught up Wade Bowen earlier this week to talk about the making of Hold My Beer, Vol. 1. Wade Bowen, Randy Rogers, Eli Young Band, Kyle Parks, and Hunter Hutchinson will be playing SpringFest tonight (Friday, May 1) at Lubbock’s Lonestar Amphitheater. For more information on SpringFest, click here.
Watch/Listen to “Standards” by Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers below.
New Slang: Hold My Beer, Vol. 1 was produced by Lloyd Maines. Did you guys already kind of know you wanted this album to sound like a classic country album or did he kind of push you more into that sound?
Wade Bowen: We knew that we wanted a country record and wanted this kind of classic sound to it, but it’s one of those things where we don’t know how to get that across without Lloyd. We called up Lloyd and told him what we were wanting and he said, “OK. I know what to do.” He’s just that good. I’d never worked with him before, but he completely made us feel at ease and comfortable. He’s great to work with. He’s funny and relaxing. I think with every record, once you get into it, whether you have a goal of what you’re wanting it to sound like or not, the record and the songs, they take a life of their own. They become this living and breathing thing. Lloyd is really great at feeling that out. I look forward to hopefully working with him again.
NS: Yeah. On this record, you guys do “Had My Hopes Up High” by Joe Ely. Lloyd was on that original cut back on Ely’s 1977 debut. This is probably just the music nerd in me, but I find that pretty cool seeing Lloyd on both versions about 40 years apart.
WB: That was actually Lloyd’s idea. Lloyd sent us a couple of songs that he thought would be cool for this project and that one just stuck out. I sent it over to Randy and said, “I don’t know if you’ve listened to the songs yet, but this one here, it is badass.” Randy listened to it and thought it was awesome. The solo section there, it’s the standout part to me. You’ve got three guitar players doing a three guitar part on the first part. Then the second section is Lloyd trying to recreate the solo he did from ’77. I strongly encourage everyone to go back and listen to that original solo because we gave him hell about if he was going to be able to top it or not [laughs]. I don’t know if he topped it, but both are beyond incredible. I don’t know if I could pick a favorite between the two.
NS: Seeing him play pedal steel in the studio and working out exactly what he wants, is that just like watching Michael Jordan play basketball? Watch Michelangelo paint? That kind of thing.
WB: There was a lot of us sitting around going “Wow Lloyd.” He was sitting in there from the get-go. He was there from the first strum of a chord, Lloyd was playing something of some sort. He had a great way of talking with all the musicians. He can hear with somebody’s D-string is out of tune when six people playing at one time. It’s crazy to see his music ear at work.
NS: With a project like this, you and Randy could have gone in so many different directions. It could have been acoustic or all covers. There’s a good mix of covers and original tunes that you and/or Randy wrote. Those songs you wrote together, how quickly did they come together?
WB: Very quick. “In the Next Life” and “Good Luck with That” were written right after we went in to give people a feel of why we wanted to make this record. Some of them were songs we had written years and years ago and didn’t fit the record at the time. This record, it’s always been in there somewhere. Randy had always wanted to make a country record. I always did. We just didn’t know it. When we started talking about making this album, it came out that we both wanted to make a real country country record. Once that was finalized, we started writing songs for it. You know, it’s a little different when you’re writing songs for two male singers singing a duet. It changes the way you write a song. The topics of conversation have to make sense. It was a good challenge. We didn’t want it to be a covers record. We wanted it to be our record. We wanted them to be songs that we had written for the most part. And if they were covers, we wanted them to be ones that fans of ours could see us writing songs like them. “Reasons to Quit,” “Great Afternoon,” and “Had My Hopes Up High,” those are all songs that people could hear us writing. There’s a purpose to every song. Each has their own little story.
NS: Yeah. Those three, they really do fit the album well. I think that there is this great mix of songs on the album, but they all fit within this specific world you guys made for Hold My Beer. Now, a song like “Standards,” it’s essentially talking about not selling out or compromising your sound. Obviously right now, there’s a little bit of a riff in country on what country music is and whether or not you’re a real artist if you’re on the radio or whatever. “Standards,” it’s obviously very tongue-in-cheek and has a sense of humor to it, but still, there’s something being said. It feels like a relevant song for the times. Was this song written with what’s going on today or was this song around for a while before?
WB: Well, this has been on my mind for a while now. This song was actually written by Randy and Brian Keane probably five or six years ago. It’s been on their minds. Course, I had “Songs About Trucks” that I released so it’s been on my mind. I think it’s something a lot of people are thinking about now. But it’s not about some specific example. Randy and I have both in our careers been pitched songs that they say is a hit and you have to say, “I’m sorry. I agree that it’s a hit, but there’s no way anybody is going to believe me singing that.” I can name a few that Randy played for me asking for my advice. They didn’t sound like him. Then turning around and they’re number one hits for other artists. It’s happened to both of us. I don’t lose sleep over it though. First of all, it probably wouldn’t have been a number one hit for me [laughs]. That poor songwriter. We’re really making fun of ourselves. Somehow we make this damn thing work and have a fine time doing it. None of it is really a bold statement that hasn’t been made before. Zac Brown and other artists have been way more critical and outspoken about songs and country music overall than we have. That’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re not outlaws or crazy SOBs trying to save the universe or anything [laughs].
NS: [Laughs]. Yeah. I hear what you’re saying. But there is some importance in that. Doing this collaboration album, obviously you’re having to split up songs and verses and lines. What’s that process like? How are you deciding what each of you is singing?
WB: Well, you just sit down and fumble through it. We didn’t really argue this whole record. Everything came out real easy and natural. It was a really easy process. As far as splitting up lyrics, it was really just two buddies working together and wasn’t really hard to figure out. Once you’ve figured it out, the hardest part is actually going back and learning them [laughs]. That’s been the hardest part. Doing it live and remembering when who is supposed to sing.