Josh Abbott Band: The Merry Pranksters of Texas Country

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About the last place you might expect Josh Abbott to be doing a phone interview is...Nashville. His eponymous group is synonymous with Texas country, arguably the only act of its kind this decade to graduate to the very top tier occupied by the likes of the Randy Rogers Band and the Departed. That kind of drawing power gets them invited to events like tomorrow's Eli Young Band Block Party at Minute Maid Park, where Abbott's bunch will go on directly before the headliner.

His six-piece band can definitely crank with the best of 'em, but the songs that put him on the map can get downright sentimental. The band's breakthrough single and title track of 2010 debut album was the valentine "She's Like Texas," and 2012 followup Small Town Family Dream is centered around his tiny West Texas hometown of Idalou. Growing up on the South Plains, where the songs of native sons Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore set a high standard indeed, Abbott says he learned the value of writing his own music early on. Ironically, he wound up pulling a cover of legendary Lubbock maverick Terry Allen's "FFA" from Family Dream after the actual FFA objected to its depiction of farmers.

The singer was in Nashville last week taking in all the CMA hoopla, making the promotional rounds for the band's new Tuesday Night EP, a sampler from the band's upcoming full-length that itself recently debuted at No. 12 on Billboard's Top Country Albums Chart. In contrast to previous songs like 2013 hit "She Will Be Free," which touches on domestic abuse, Abbott says the EP is all sunny skies and easy times. As their debut on Atlantic Records, it's also his group's argument that they're not "too Texas" to succeed in mainstream country like their EYB brethren.

"I just think we're going to have to prove 'em all wrong," Abbott says. "At the end of the day, whether they're a believer or not, I think everyone on the national scene and the country-music industry, I think that they're just curious what's going to happen. Are we going to be the next Eli Young Band or are we going to be the next Randy Rogers? Are we the next Pat Green, or are we the next Wade Bowen and Kevin Fowler?

"Lots of guys have stepped out here to try something, and for whatever reason it works for some and it doesn't for others," he continues. "So we'll see."

Houston Press: It seems like y'all have been doing pretty well for yourselves not having to be the next anybody. Josh Abbott: Oh, yeah. We're not trying to be the next anyone in particular; I just mean the general tendency of people in music is to compare it. So when we do get compared to people, it's going to be the Randy Rogers Band and Eli Young Band comparisons, and we've even got some Zac Brown comparisons now, that we're this actual band, this six-piece band that has kind of created our own independent career that we're trying to transition nationally.

Briefly, tell me the story behind this new EP. It's kind of a look back at our younger days, even though we are kind of a young band. I think it's a fun look at some of our young-love, carefree days [in our] early twenties in college, and just trying to make an album that makes people smile.

There's no sad songs, there's no breakup songs; this is just an album that we want to be fun and upbeat and positive, and that will continue to carry the vibe of our live shows as well as put out the kind of music we're looking to put out. Like I said, it's kind of a nostalgic piece for us. I wrote or co-wrote all the songs; they're based on real experiences, and I think when an artist does that, that's what shows.

Your Facebook bio says that you enjoy playing pranks on other bands and each other. What other bands have you pranked? JA (laughs): We've had some pretty fun pranks. If you're talking bigger names, we've had some fun pranks with Pat Green and Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen. If you're talking smaller names, perhaps, we always seem to be pranking William Clark Green. We have a lot of fun with all the bands that we play with. Sometimes they're small pranks, sometimes they're big.

We've Saran wrapped people's trailers before. We've taken the cymbals off a drummer's drum kit while they were in the middle of a song. One time we even did an elaborate prank on Pat Green and them where we went and bought a fog machine, and while they were gone, we took the back off the organ and put the fog machine in there, re-put the back of the organ on, and then during their show we gassed up the fog machine.

The keys player, at first he thought it was on fire, and then he realized it wasn't and we were pranking him, and there was this huge cloud of smoke. You couldn't even see him, there was so much smoke. I don't know. It's part of the camaraderie that comes with touring and playing with guys that you're friends with and love. It makes the road a lot more fun when you do little things like that.

Interview continues on the next page.

I can imagine. Have any of those people ever pranked you back? Oh yeah. Pat Green and them got us pretty good. We were covering a version of "Free Fallin'" for a little bit, and Pat and them created a fake attorney's office from L.A. When they were in L.A. they printed this letter and postmarked it from Hollywood. It was basically this fake letter from a law firm representing Tom Petty saying that they found out we were playing "Free Fallin'" and Tom had watched a YouTube version of our song and didn't approve of the way we were playing it, and he would like us to cease and desist.

At first read I was like, "A) Well, shit - that's really cool that Tom Petty knows who we are; b) It sucks that he doesn't like our version.' And then I started looking at the letter and I was like, 'Wait a minute. The [return] address to this letter is actually Ventura Boulevard. There's no way this is true.'

So there was a Web site on there, and when I went to the Web site to look at their law firm, there was an opening page that said, 'Click here if you're Josh Abbott.' So I clicked on it and it was like, 'You've been pranked by Pat Green and band. So, good times, good times.

Josh Abbott Band plays the Eli Young Band's Block Party, also featuring Cody Johnson and Thomas Rhett, tomorrow at Minute Maid Park, 501 Crawford. Gates open at 5 p.m; tickets available via Ticketmaster


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