Twang of the 'Burbs

Jack Ingram isn't a real rebel, but he plays one on CD

Soon enough, though, he was piecing together renditions of old tunes by the likes of not just Kris Kristofferson, but also Walker and Nelson. Before long, he was coming up with his own country shuffles in the plain-spoken tradition of his idols. A Dallas dive called Adair's provided Ingram the perfect place for his trial by fire as a performer.

"I'd go there with my older brother," Ingram remembers. "They had this cover band there on Thursday nights that was really good, and they were playing all these old country songs. It was kind of a little hideaway."

Inspired by the laid-back atmosphere, Ingram finally got enough songs together to feel comfortable asking for a night of his own. "Those first shows were bad, man," he laughs. "There'd be like three people there, and one of them would always leave when I started, or some guy would be yelling, 'When are you takin' a break, dude?' "

Fairly quickly, though, word spread about the 20-year-old who seemed born to make his living on a stage. And before long, he had a lock on Tuesday nights at Adair's. As the crowds grew larger, Ingram became increasingly more comfortable being the center of attention. Sharing music, beer and idle conversation with fans night after night, he developed a remarkably candid rapport with his audience that continues to this day. College crowds were drawn to Ingram, and for an obvious reason: He was one of them. Right up there on-stage, in the flesh, was every frat rat's dream of following in the footsteps of Robert Earl Keen, not to mention every swooning coed's personification of straight-arrow Texas cool.

With word of his success at Adair's spilling out onto the streets, Ingram found himself a solid backup band and hit the regional college circuit. Between 1992 and 1995 he released a trio of self-funded CDs, the last being a rousing live effort that was recorded at his Adair's proving grounds. All that hard work made for a buzz too persistent to ignore, and by 1996 Ingram was sitting pretty on Universal Music Group's new Rising Tide label.

Nowadays, Ingram's life isn't what most would deem normal. When he's not on the road (where, of late, he is most of the time) he resides in Dallas, to which he pays tongue-in-cheek tribute on Livin' or Dyin' with a scratchy cover of Jimmie Dale Gilmore's "Dallas." He's married to his college sweetheart, a pharmaceutical sales rep whom he addresses most directly on the tender Dyin' original, "I Can't Leave You." As you might expect, with Ingram gone so much, theirs is not a typical marriage. Still, it seems to be working.

"And it provides great stuff for songs," he says.
Livin' or Dyin', Ingram's first release for Rising Tide, has been met with largely positive response; it's even garnered itself a few out-and-out raves. An edgier, more self-assured pronouncement of self than most folks expected from Ingram at this point, its quality bodes well for his future. And the fact that Earle and Kennedy were impressed enough with Ingram's Beat Up Ford Band -- which currently includes drummer Pete Coatney, bassist Gus Salmon and guitarist Allen Wooley -- to allow them free rein in the studio further cements their solid status as a live act to be reckoned with.

As for those frequent and, at times, unflattering comparisons to certain elder Texas singer/songwriters, don't expect them to end any time soon. Ingram certainly doesn't.

"Getting lumped into that whole Jerry Jeff/Robert Earl thing is fantastic, as far as I'm concerned" he says. "I'm exactly where I want to be."

Jack Ingram performs Friday, November 28, at Garden in the Heights, 3926 Feagan. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12. Trish Murphy opens. For info, call 523-7004.

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