Robert Earl Keen Talks Willie Nelson, Tyler Childers & The Texas Music Scene

Robert Earl Keen Talks Willie Nelson, Tyler Childers & The Texas Music Scene

You can’t be a real fan of the Texas music scene if you aren’t familiar with Robert Earl Keen. A member of the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame, Keen’s musical influences span many genres and include talented musicians, making his style both interesting and hard wrap in a neat package at the same time. Today, Robert Earl Keen talks to us about his musical influences, the Texas Music Scene and his badass sister, the foosball queen.

Robert Earl Keen Talks Willie Nelson, Tyler Childers & The Texas Music Scene

EPR: You were inducted into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame. Tell us a little bit about what makes the Texas music scene so much different than that in the rest of the country.

Robert Earl Keen: I’m proud to be a Texan and honored to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Getting to stand on a stage and join such a great group of Texas songwriters and musicians is a real privilege. Texas has many different landscapes with ever-changing topography. From the coastal plains to the high plains in Lubbock and Amarillo, from the piney woods in East Texas to the Guadalupe Mountains in west Texas … Texas is ever evolving. The Texas “sensibility” is basically comprised of working hard, being courageous, and not being afraid to take a chance. I think that is reflected in the artists that come from there.

EPR: You self-financed and produced your own debut album. That is pretty unheard of. Tell us about that experience and what gave you the courage to do it.

Robert Earl Keen: After I graduated school I moved to Austin with the plan that I wanted to play music. I wanted to work on my songwriting. I started a job at the railroad commission with an 8:00 to 5:00, and then I would jet out somewhere, set up my PA system, and play. This NPR affiliated radio show, “Folkways” on KUT, would play all of these artists for like 4 hours. I would listen to it and then see the people from the show play their record in town.

So I decided, you know, I gotta make a record so I can play it like these guys. I told Lyle Lovette about that, and one day Lyle rolls up and hands me this book, “How to Make and Sell Your Own Record.” I read it and I started. I got guys together to play on it, and a guy to produce. I have this letter still on my wall. It said something like, “If you will please give me $100 I promise to pay you back within 24 months and here is my plan for this record.” and I sent it out to 20 people, some friends, some people I didn’t really know. And ALL 20 people sent me the money and I suddenly had $2,000 to make a record.

Robert Earl Keen talks with Eat Play Rock about what he finds inspirational, including Willie Nelson, Tyler Childers & the Texas Music Scene.

EPR: Do you consider your music to be most inspired by the folk scene, Americana, bluegrass, country or classic rock? Who are some artists that inspired you?

Robert Earl Keen: That would be Willie Nelson, Marty Robbins, Loudon Wainright—he must write a song every day or something—Richard Thompson, and I’d have to say Lucinda Williams too. There are a jillion other peripheral influences. I listen to Jimmy Buffett. I’m a fan of Norman Blake.

Way back then I knew Willie Nelson wrote his own songs, and I thought that was cool, but I didn’t realize in the beginning that there was a whole world of songwriting. I’ve written poetry since I was a young kid but adding the music didn’t come until college. When I learned some chords on the guitar and realized I could play music and make some rhymes to it I thought, there might be something there. So my thought process, in the beginning, was that I could make up these songs with these chords. Just little poems and chords strung together.

EPR: Your father was a geologist and your mother was an attorney. Were they also musically inclined? If not, what really got you interested in the music scene?

Robert Earl Keen: The way I kind of got close to music is my sister, who is a couple of years younger than me, about 15. She was the foosball champion of Montrose. Just a badass. 15 years old, a shot of tequila on one side, a Benson & Hedges hanging out of her mouth, and just knocking them down one at a time. No one could beat her. I would go and check it up on her because I would get kind of worried about her getting into a lot of trouble. And she was capable of getting into a lot of trouble. Most of these clubs, all in old houses, would have a foosball table/pool table room and a smaller room with a corner stage and some people you’ve never heard of playing acoustic songs. So I would make sure my sister was okay and then go watch them play the guitar. It was riveting for me. This was before I ever thought about playing music. That’s how my personal connection with music started.

EPR: Do you feel that you write most of your songs based on personal experiences?

Robert Earl Keen: I’m very visual in my thinking when I write a song. So I start with some sort of setting that I remember or had some impact, anywhere from sitting by a pond fishing or walking down a road, or what I am looking at at that time. I feel like the way to construct a song with some sort of narrative value is creating the setting. I am very visually oriented. I think the setting is just as important as anything else.

Robert Earl Keen talks with Eat Play Rock about what he finds inspirational, including Willie Nelson, Tyler Childers & the Texas Music Scene.

EPR: How many tour dates are you doing this year?

Robert Earl Keen: I’m touring most of April, and we’ll be announcing more dates soon. I perform over 100 shows a year.

EPR: Is there anyone that you would like to tour with that you have not yet been able to?

Robert Earl Keen: In the works! I am going to be doing some shows with Tyler Childers this year.

EPR: A lot of people talk about how so much of the newer released music is highly produced or formulaic. Are there any new musicians that inspire you?

Robert Earl Keen: There are tons of them. I like Tyler Childers. I like him. I think Nashville has been waiting for the reincarnation of Hank Williams, since he died in 1953, and finally there is actually somebody with that sort of talent and ability to sing. But not just the singing, but writing as well. I am really impressed with. I like his music, and I like him as a person.

Catch Robert Earl Keen locally 4/10 at The Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh, 4/11 at the Neighborhood Theatre in Charlotte, 4/12 at the Ramkat in Winston-Salem and 4/15 at the Orange Peel in Asheville. Check out the rest of his tour dates here.

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About Dawn McAlexander

Dawn has been a music lover her entire life. She went to college in Boone, NC, an area that is rich in music and culture. She also worked as a radio deejay for 8 years and grew up in Southeastern, Va, a melting pot of different musical styles and traditions. She has been to more concerts than she can count in every genre you can imagine. She resides in North Carolina with her furbabies and her massive collection of Disney memorabilia.

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