Some country artists sing songs and tell tall tales of their lives and the lives of others, creating a mythical cloud around their onstage personas. This is not the case with Charley Crockett who in his long career for a young man, has proved that he is the absolute definition of the real deal.
In pre-COVID times, Crockett would be out on the back roads he knows so well touring the country with fervor but for the past year and half he was forced to cool his heels with the rest of the world.
Now that live music is returning, so is he. Crockett will be performing at the White Oak Music Hall for a special outdoor performance on Saturday June 26 with opener Gus Clark. “That’s the longest I’ve been without a gig in my entire life since I picked up the guitar,” says Crockett from the road.
“This isn't the time to take it easy or take a break, this is the time to get busy. I’ve tilled the land for a long time but I'm not done tilling. If they thought I was hard to keep up with before,” he laughs.
Throughout his career, Crockett has never stopped moving. From hitchhiking, playing on subways and street corners all around the United States and beyond and running into trouble with the law, to playing bars and respected venues and festivals, all while self-releasing nine albums, Crockett has rarely decelerated his pace.
Recently nominated for an Americana Award for emerging artist of the year, Crockett has consistently pumped out quality records, a mix of originals and well-selected covers which he releases under the name Lil G.I.
During the shutdown he released two albums and worked on another two set for fall 2021 releases. He's also been busy filming music videos that play out like short films.
“I never had no time to do anything but make sure that I could wake up in time to do the gig, do the interviews and make sure my suits look good. I can tell you right now, there was nobody marketing or getting the word out about these records besides my live shows, that was the whole strategy, so when they shut the business down you know ole Charley Crockett got to work.”
Welcome To Hard Times was actually written after Crockett had open heart surgery. The songs on the album are timeless.
“Welcome To Hard Times’ was something that I just wrote from my life experience, but every once in a while an old boy gets lucky and the culture and the times make a song that might have just been considered a good song on the album, it defines it.”
Crockett also sadly said goodbye to an old friend and musical hero, James ‘Slim’ Hand and as a tribute he released 10 For Slim: Charley Crockett Sings James Hand. Though Crockett frequently records the songs of others, this particular record holds more weight and really conveys Crockett’s desire to get it right more than any other.
“I always promised him I was going to cut his songs. I know he didn't believe me,” says Crockett of his friend Hand. Crockett first saw Hand in the form of a portrait hanging on the wall of a venue in Deep Ellum. The face in the photo haunted him until one day he followed the sound of an amazing voice into Ginny’s in Austin where he was led to none other than the man from the photo he had seen so long ago.
After that, Crockett sought out Hand’s live performances and soon struck up a friendship. He remembers sneaking into the 2015 Ameripolitan Award show at The Paramount Theater where he ran into Hand who sensed he was nervous and put his arm around Crockett.
Later that night Crockett went to watch him perform at The Continental Club where he was once again blown away as Hand outstretched his hand while singing “Lesson In Depression,” a song Crockett covered.
“I didn’t meet George Jones and I never got a chance to see Hank Williams or any of those people, but I knew James Hand and in that way, I did touch hands with the greats because I’m telling you when that guy was at his best, even in his sixties, it had to be like what it felt like to see those people, at least for me.”
Crockett recalls seeing the final live show he caught in Austin before all the venues went dark and it was Hand at the White Horse. Before his death last June, Crockett had convinced Hand to join him on the road and the two were going back and forth finalizing Hand’s song “Slim’s Lament.”
For Crockett, it wasn’t just Hand’s talent and personality that made their friendship so strong but their shared experiences of working on their craft for what felt like an eternity before anyone would listen. Despite singing and playing since his youth, Hand didn’t release an album till he was 47 years old.
“People ask me ‘How do you make it in the music business?’, and I say well shit, if you keep going in twenty or thirty years you’ll look down the line if you’re still playing, no matter the size, man you won and he did it. He in my mind, was the most magical country music performer that I ever laid eyes on in my life.”
“He made me proud of the way that I was getting more and more identified with and stepping into country music. They call me folk and blues but they started calling me country and I’m proud of that because I like country music and I’ve leaned into it. When he died, I couldn't have lived with myself if I didn't do it because I just kept thinking about the way that he looked at me and that look in his eyes like he was sad, kind and looking like someone was about to break into the room and murder us at any moment all at once,” he laughs.
“There’s nothing wrong with being from Illinois, but I’m not from Illinois, I'm from San Benito and all things Texas belong to everybody from Texas and when I got done looking at the record I thought, well I'll be damned, I might actually be turning into a pretty damn good country singer.”
Crockett recently shared another honor with a lifetime musical hero, Freddy Fender. Fender and Crockett are both from San Benito and Crockett remembers as a young child seeing Fender on the Johnny Canales Show which was filmed at the same station where Crockett’s mom worked.
“I was proud since I could talk that I was from the same town as Freddy Fender, that really mattered to me,” says Crockett who was recently placed alongside his hometown hero in The Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville for their American Currents Exhibit.
“When I got there and I seen him on this billboard outside the building, that made me shed a tear. I know how hard it was for Freddy to get where he got being a brown skinned man from South Texas. He damn sure didn't have it easy, it took him forever to shake off the stigma of prison and the marijuana. Standing there looking at him I just thought, I never thought that would happen, I really didn't.”
Charley Crockett will perform with opener Gus Clark at 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 26 at White Oak Music Hall, 2915 N. Main. $150/grid for six people.
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