It’s no secret that Texas is home (or at least the birthplace of) to some of the world’s best and most talented country musicians, but Houston seems to be an especially fertile ground for growing a particularly strong crop of artists. The city can take credit for plenty of superstars — a small, unknown artist named Beyoncé, perhaps? — but at least where country music is concerned, a deeper trend emerges.
In fact, many of country music’s most critically acclaimed artists were born (and in some cases, raised) in Houston. As such, they’ve had a bigger influence on the genre than many might expect. Though musicians from all genres can say they’re from Houston, these 10 country artists are among the finest to come out of Space City.
If it weren’t clear enough from his 2001 album The Houston Kid, Crowell spent his hardscrabble youth on Houston’s east side, graduating from Sharpstown High School before heading to College Station. There, he befriended equally legendary Houston-born musician Lyle Lovett before heading off to Nashville in the early ‘70s. Songs like "East Houston Blues" and “Telephone Road,” replete with strategically placed nostalgic Easter eggs inspired by his city of birth, are among Crowell’s strongest songwriting efforts.
Robert Earl Keen
The O.G. of Texas country’s party-obsessed scene, Houston is totally responsible for REK. His iconic “The Road Goes On Forever” helped put the genre on the map, creating a place for gritty Texas-based artists like Randy Rogers, Wade Bowen and Aaron Watson to flourish. Since its release in 1995, listening to “The Road Goes On Forever” while drinking copious amounts of beer is still a rite of passage for every college student in Texas.
After finding varying degrees of success in Nashville, Jack Ingram has settled into his role as one of Texas’s finest songwriters with 2016’s Midnight Motel. He might have ditched the city to go to college at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, but Ingram’s gifted lyricism is good enough to forgive him for that time he released a cover of Hinder’s terrible mid-2000s hit “Lips Of An Angel.”
Technically born in New Jersey, Clint Black was raised in Katy and hosted his first performances as a musician in the backyards of his neighbors. Always a country music traditionalist, Black commendably rebelled against the genre’s shift toward a poppier sound in the 1990s while racking up classic hits like “Killin’ Time” and “A Better Man.” Black released a largely unremarkable album in 2015, but those thoroughly ‘90s hits — and Black’s iconic felt hat — will live on forever.
He’s probably most well-known for marrying Julia Roberts after only knowing her for a few weeks, but Lyle Lovett is a much-revered figure in the Texas music scene and for good reason. There are few musicians who can match Lovett’s picking and playing, not to mention that endlessly charming stage persona. Born in Houston and raised in Klein, Lovett’s revival of the western swing sound is important on its own, but his unique fusion of classic Texas sounds with jazz and blues is what makes Lovett truly remarkable.
Responsible for writing some of country's catchiest tunes, Kenny Rogers deserves his place in the Country Music Hall of Fame if only for "Islands In The Stream," that endlessly infectious 1983 duet with Dolly Parton. Plenty of people might say that Rogers' slicked-up, countrypolitan sound isn't exactly authentic, but his contributions to the genre are undebatable. Literally everyone loves "The Gambler," whether or not you first heard it on country radio or via the terrible 1980 made-for-TV movie of the same name.
Born to a sharecropper in Centerville and later discovered in Houston’s Third Ward, American rock and country music would not exist as we know it today without Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins’ flawless finger-picking. Cited as an influence by pretty much every legendary guitar player ever, Hopkins’ greatest contribution to country music is 1960’s Country Blues, which functionally paves the way for the origins of honky-tonk tunes. Although recognized as one of the major figures of blues and rock music in the 20th century, Hopkins perhaps doesn’t get enough credit for his contributions to country music at large, but especially in Texas.
More alt than country, Robert Ellis keeps Houston on his sleeve out on the road — literally. You can frequently find the artist in a smart nudie suit emblazoned with a spaceman. On 2015’s The Lights From the Chemical Plant, Ellis explores leaving Space City, but only after finding himself here. “When I was afraid, your lights did not fade, no they shone through the night,” he warbles on the pulsing, emotive “Houston,” which is as good an ode to the city as country music has to offer.
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On the scene since the early 2000s, Hayes Carll was born in The Woodlands and came up in Houston’s music scene. Now, he’s one of the finest songwriters in Texas or anywhere else. 2016’s Lovers & Leavers was arguably one of the best albums of the year, and there’s no better performer around when you’re looking for a real songwriter’s showcase, complete with his shaky baritone and excellent guitar playing. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s written so many great songs for other artists, like his Grammy-nominated “Chances Are,” released by Lee Ann Womack in 2015.
Born to a musical family in Houston, Barbara Mandrell found country fame in the 1970s in Nashville. The girl who was “Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” brought so much more than her smoky alto to country music. As a kid, she learned how to play the pedal and lap steel, even touring with Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and George Jones before hitting high school. After scoring major hits like “Sleeping Single In A Double Bed,” Mandrell went on to star in a television show alongside her sisters, cementing her status as a pop culture icon.