Did Pat Green save country music? That is a contentious question no matter on which side of the Red River you're standing, but it's also a little beside the point. Nurtured by the storytelling culture of legendary Central Texas singer-songwriter rooms like New Braunfels' Gruene Hall and San Marcos' Cheatham Street Warehouse, Green's high-octane but sensitive music was exactly what a lot of beer-drinking young Texans wanted to hear in the late '90s. Fans flocked to his shows in droves, but also others like him such as Kevin Fowler, Cory Morrow and Jack Ingram.
In short order, Green had jumped to a major label (Universal, for 2001's Three Days) and, along with his peers, gave rise to a specific brand alternately known as Texas country and Red Dirt that continues to do blockbuster ticket sales across the Southwest, in venues from Billy Bob's in Fort Worth (where Green hosts an annual Christmas show) and Midnight Rodeo in Austin to the pair of Big Texas dancehall/saloons in Spring and Clear Lake.
Now the man who grew up admiring Robert Earl Keen and Jerry Jeff Walker has found himself passing the Texas country torch to Randy Rogers, Roger Creager, Josh Abbott and many others, but the Waco native is barely 40 himself.
His new album, Songs We Wish We'd Written II, is a hell of a ride. A kind of sequel to his 2001 album of duets with Morrow, Songs We Wish We'd Written, Songs II ranges from rave-ups like Joe Ely's "All Just to Get to You" and the Allman Brothers Band's "Soulshine" (with Austin guitar hero Monte Montgomery) to more reflective pieces like Lyle Lovett's "If I Had a Boat" (with Morrow returning) and pensive versions of Tom Petty's "Even the Losers" and Collective Soul's "The World I Know." It's Green's first album in four years and his first for SugarHill records, the bluegrass-leaning North Carolina indie label known for Americana legends such as Doc Watson and Marty Stuart.
Green headlines the Coastal Conservation Association of Texas' Concert for Conservation Saturday at Sam Houston Race Park, with Walker, Sammy Kershaw, Gene Watson, Brant Lee Croucher and Kevin Charles. Rocks Off caught up with the singer from his home in Fort Worth earlier this week, just after he finished taping a prototype episode for a radio show Austin's KVET-FM. "The Vet" was one of the first country stations to play Green's music before there were "Texas country stations."
Rocks Off: What was the first song you remember really falling in love with?
Pat Green: That I didn't write? Because if you ask a songwriter what his favorite song is, he'll always tell you his next one.
PG: My favorite song that I remember falling in love with -- it's gonna sound weird. I dated a girl in college in Georgia, and I remember listening to that song over and over again, just as far as the first instance of those feelings in a young person. But it's really hard to say that that was the first one.
The first one I really remember as a child listening to over and over was "Ode to Joy." My dad had a thing for classical music, and we'd always listen to that over and over. As six- and seven-year-old kids, me and my brother used to run around as it got faster and faster and faster and faster. We'd run faster and faster around the coffee table in the den until we fell in a heap.
RO: Which venues were most important for you in your early career?
PG: I guess as far as Houston's concerned, I sure remember always being excited to play the Firehouse Saloon on 59 there. That was one of the first places where we had the sensation of having a sellout venue of any kind. Stubb's in Austin stands out in my early days as being one of the big ones, so to speak.
RO: What place do you think you've played most often?
PG: Wow. Certainly we have never stopped doing the annual [Christmas] show here at Billy Bob's here in Fort Worth.
RO: The story behind this new record, leaving Universal for SugarHill, sounds like you're -- for lack of a better word -- rebooting your career. Is that how you see it?
PG: No, I guess I don't really ever feel like I needed rebooting. I don't know if that's how I'd put it either. But I've just always kind of done things the way I've felt it. We were with Universal for the Three Days album, then Wave on Wave and Lucky Ones. We left there, and ended up with RCA/BNA for the Cannonball and What I'm For records, and then...
You know, I guess I just kind of... it's not that I found myself wanting, or frustrated as much as I just kind of wanted to make records on my own terms. I felt like with SugarHill, I had been off a record label three or four years, and I felt like it was time to get back in the mix, into the public fray.
SugarHill is a great deal for me, because they really want the artist to be the artist. It's not really record by committee, it's record by "hey, what do you think? Go out and make a record and just be you." It was perfect timing, everything all at once.
RO: Especially for people in Texas, some of these songs on this new record are fairly well-known, and others aren't so much.
PG: That was by design.
RO: Was it a matter of picking a batch of songs you liked, or were you trying to throw some exposure some of these other guys' way?
PG: Both. Songs like "Even the Losers," "The World I Know," etc. -- they're very well-known songs, but then you think of "Streets of Galilee" by Aaron Tasjan, that guy has such a tremendous talent. His band in New York City, I don't know if it's still active, but that band when I got introduced to him was called the Madison Square Gardeners.
You can see right there, from the name of the band, how his humor works. He's a funny guy, and I looked up on my iTunes what songs had been played the most on my entire catalog of songs, and that one was the most played. I said, "man, that's a strong indicator of something I really do wish I'd written."
RO: About songwriting, do you think there will be an album of original songs in the foreseeable future?
PG: Oh yeah, we're actually having our first planning meeting today at my house with our new producer. I'm going to write a song with him, and a few guys are going to get together at my house tonight for dinner and we're gonna just sit around and listen to music. You know, the songs I've written in the last four years.
RO: Do you have quite a stockpile at this point?
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PG: Oh gosh, yeah. I have more than I can deal with, to be honest.
More with Green a little later today. Green headlines Coastal Conservation Association of Texas' Concert for Conservation Saturday at Sam Houston Race Park, www.shrp.com. Gates open at 2:30 p.m.