Concerts

George Ducas Has Roots in Houston, But His Head is in Bakersfield

Former Houstonian George Ducas will perform on Tuesday, June 25, at the Mucky Duck in support of his new album Long Way from Home.  Country aficionados will note the Gilley's satin tour jacket.
Former Houstonian George Ducas will perform on Tuesday, June 25, at the Mucky Duck in support of his new album Long Way from Home. Country aficionados will note the Gilley's satin tour jacket. Photo by Nathan Chapman
Lest anyone doubt that George Ducas is something of a traditionalist, consider that, on the cover of his new album, Long Way from Home, he is pictured in a phone booth with a rotary dial telephone.

George Ducas says of his new record, “I wanted the songs I wrote for this album to be what would happen if '67 Merle Haggard met up maybe with the '74 Eagles in L.A., and they hit it off and decide to play a show at Gilley's in Pasadena in 1981."

The quote makes a lot of sense when you consider that Ducas was born in Galveston, lived in California for a while, returned to Houston, where he attended Lamar High School, and, after college at Vanderbilt and a brief period working a straight job, decided to try his luck as a musician and songwriter in Nashville.

Things worked out well, with Ducas being signed to a recording contract by legendary record producer Jimmy Bowen (Frank Sinatra, Glen Campbell, George Strait). He has built a career both as a performer (“Lipstick Promises,” “Every Time She Passes By”) and as a songwriter whose compositions have been recorded by Garth Brooks, The Chicks and Trisha Yearwood.

Album cover
With a new album out, Ducas is on the road these days, with an appearance – actually a homecoming of sorts – coming up on Tuesday, June 25, at the Mucky Duck. While Ducas usually fronts a full band, the show at the Duck will feature just the artist and his guitar, giving the audience an opportunity to revel in his songwriting skills.

Ducas is a devotee of the Bakersfield sound, which grew out of a dissatisfaction with the “Countrypolitan” trend, a horribly misguided effort by Chet Atkins and others in the late ‘50s to take all the rough edges off of country music so as to make it more appealing to a general audience. The California musicians around Bakersfield – including Buck Owens and the previously mentioned Merle Haggard – rebelled, doubling down on fiddles and pedal steels, running Telecasters through cranked-up Fender Twin amps and pushing drums to the forefront. This was honky-tonk music, designed for drinking and dancing.

Ducas flies the Bakersfield flag on Long Way from Home, aided by ace producer and guitarist Pete Anderson, who deserves a great deal of credit for the success of neo-Bakerfield artist Dwight Yoakum. “We met during the darkest days of the pandemic,” Ducas says from his home in Nashville. When the guitar player in his road band suggested that he work with Anderson, Ducas was immediately enthusiastic.  “I’ve admired his records since I was a teenager. I’ve always loved the sound of them, and back when I was 18, when I first heard his records, the thought crossed into my mind that, if I ever got to go make a record, that’s what I would want it to sound like.”
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Ace guitarist Pete Anderson (left) produced George Ducas' latest album Long Way from Home.
Photo by Nathan Chapman
Soon after, Ducas contacted Anderson’s office and subsequently received a phone call from Anderson himself. “We talked for two hours, and I was in stitches,” Ducas says. “Not just about music, but everything. Taco trucks, Mexican food, everything under the sun. Sports, basketball, football. And music. It was just a great talk. We just hit it off. He felt like something between a long-lost uncle and a father figure to me.”

Another important influence in Ducas’ career was Mr. Bakersfield, Buck Owens. “We were doing one of those godawful all-across-the-country radio visits when I was with Capitol Records [also Owens’ label at the time]. He was kind and gracious,” Ducas recalls. “He took me into his office, behind closed doors, and left the record company guys out in the hall twiddling their thumbs.”

Success in the record business has much to do with how excited (or not) an artist’s record label might be regarding the artist’s latest release and how much promotional muscle the label decides to put behind it. In Ducas’ case, Owens was in his corner and willing to help. “He talked about how proud he was of the records that I had made, and he said, ‘I’m gonna call [Capitol president Jimmy] Bowen. He’s got to make this a priority!’”

“My big inspiration was the Willie Nelson New Year’s Eve shows that were at the Summit... I was 10 or 11 or something, and I remember being so inspired by those shows. I was in the cheap seats, but there was so much energy, and I loved every minute of it. I’ll never forget it.”

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Some songwriters compose by themselves, and others prefer to collaborate with another writer. Ducas has done plenty of both. His preference? “I probably don’t spend enough time writing – or even sitting down and trying to write – a tune on my own,” Ducas says. “I enjoy that self-discovery, but it’s a hard look in the mirror sometimes. Also, I think of myself as a pretty tough editor, and sometimes I fall into that over-self-editing thing, which can kind of freeze you up.

“But with the cowriting thing, I’ll say something that I don’t necessarily think is all that great, and if it’s a trusted cowriter, he’ll find something great in it. Maybe. And if he does, he’ll make that known. He’ll be like, ‘No, man, that’s actually really cool.’ And so it opens me back up and gets me out of ‘editor’ mode.”

When the conversation returns to Ducas’ roots in Houston, he singles out one artist as the key to his musical future. “My big inspiration was the Willie Nelson New Year’s Eve shows that were at the Summit,” Ducas says. “There were a couple of those, and I was 10 or 11 or something, and I remember being so inspired by those shows. I was in the cheap seats, but there was so much energy, and I loved every minute of it. I’ll never forget it.”
In fact, the Nelson influence soon emerged, when Ducas began to learn guitar and write his own songs. “I think maybe I was 12 when I wrote my first one," he says.  "And it was a total Willie Nelson [song], what would have been a Red Headed Stranger type of record. It was called 'Women and Whiskey.' And you’re 12 years old, you know?

"It was a story song, about a guy who had lost his girl. It was goofy. It was a little bit funny, sarcastic. Then he finds the girl back at the bar, and her new boyfriend had left her. And it was like, ‘Women and whiskey / They’re both so risky / They’re both good for nothing at all.’ Sometimes I look back and think, ‘That’s not a bad start.’ Could’ve done way worse!”

George Ducas will perform at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 25, at the Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk. $35. For more information, visit mcgonigels.com or call 281-357-9478.

For more information on George Ducas, visit georgeducas.com.
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Contributor Tom Richards is a broadcaster, writer, and musician. He has an unseemly fondness for the Rolling Stones and bands of their ilk.
Contact: Tom Richards