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Road dogging wrap-up
Country singer-songwriter Wade Bowen finishes up a string of 21 shows in 31 days before he returns to the recording studio.
The narrator of Wade Bowen’s “Saturday Night” is a cynical, lonesome soul who isn’t happy the weekend has hit its good times pinnacle. Here he sits, in a crowded bar filled with laughing and dancing, thinking of one last kiss some ways back and how now there’s nothing waiting at home for him except Sunday morning. He complains of the stale beer. About the smoke in his eyes. And he grouses about the drunk girls at the bar and the band’s music being a little too loud.
“I keep sittin’ and drinkin’ and thinkin’ ‘bout a sad goodbye, so tell me why is everybody so in love with Saturday night,” Bowen sings in his smoky, dusty baritone as his backing band throws in a wall of heartland rock guitars.
Bowen wrote the tune, the opener of his May 2012 release The Given, with Lee Thomas Miller, the songwriter behind such country hits as Jamey Johnson’s “In Color” and Brad Paisley’s “I’m Still a Guy.” And the tune is a bit of a departure for Bowen. Not because the sound of the track, which entered the country singles Top 40, is not Bowen’s new traditional, Texas country music, country music that’s a little less concerned with what’s happening in Nashville and more concerned with telling honest stories backed by roots music — a little bit of George Strait crossed with Waylon Jennings and Bruce Springsteen. “Saturday Night” still has that up-tempo, independent sound fans found on Bowen’s previous four studio albums. What has changed is that the narrator is a character and not based on Bowen’s life.
“It used to be,” says Bowen when reached via telephone at his New Braunfels, Texas, home, “when I was writing songs in the first half of my career or even more than that, I always wrote about personal experiences, and I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older and the happier I am — my life’s pretty boring now because I’m so darn happy — I’m noticing myself venturing into trying to create characters. It’s been pretty fun. It’s a different way of looking at songwriting. It’s interesting. It’s a new thing to tackle for me.”
The Given, as a whole, was also an evolution for Bowen. After about 13 years in the Texas country music scene, the 10-track album was Bowen and his band’s first for a major label, being released on BNA Records. (After some reshuffling, Bowen is now part of Columbia Nashville, another part of Sony Music Nashville.) Bowen’s other records, including 2008’s If We Ever Make It Home, were all released independently. But the move into the big leagues was necessary, Bowen says. The lead singer and guitarist, and his band — Gary Wooten on lead guitar, Matt Miller on guitar, Brooks Robinson on drums, Caleb Jones on bass and Ross Smith on keyboards — wanted a bigger audience for growing their Texas country music scene that includes groups such as Randy Rogers Band, Casey Donahew Band and Josh Abbott Band.
“The strength of the scene is everyone being so friendly with each other, and so willing to help each other out at any time,” Bowen says. “It’s definitely a genre or a group of people who play music for the right reasons and really enjoy each other’s friendships. I think that’s the one thing that carries us through. I think we are all such road dogs that we need those friendships. We need those people out there with us reminding us that we are not alone. We’re different from a lot of different scenes in that we play 180 or 200 shows a year. A lot of times those people in the scene are our best friends because they are the ones out there doing it with us.”
Part of Bowen’s recent road dogging was a string of 21 shows in 31 days and 6,755 miles traveled from late December through late January, including a number of West Coast dates with Randy Rogers Band, playing cities such as Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Spokane, Wash., that he had never played or not played in years. The results were electric with most of the shows sold out and fans singing along to Bowen’s songs. “It’s nice to see the hard work pay off, and it’s a sign of what the Internet can do for you,” Bowen says. “Word of mouth in this music scene is pretty great. It was insane. One of the best runs I’ve had in my 15 years of doing this.”
Though well-known and loved in the Southeast, the Midwest and especially Texas — Bowen was the 2009 Texas Music Awards’ Male Vocalist of the Year — the goal is for the band to commit to becoming better known in the rest of the country, including the East Coast, Bowen says. “For all the places that we’ve played in the last 15 years, the crowds have gotten bigger and we haven’t fallen on our asses yet,” he says. “That’s a good sign. If we just keep working the places, they’ll get better.”
And soon the band will be heading back into the studio, starting the process of recording a follow-up to The Given. The new recording is in its beginning stages and there’s no word on when it might be released, but Bowen says the band already has about 30 or 40 songs in different stages of writing already on the table. Just don’t expect any of the new songs to pop up in the band’s rousing, passionate live sets.
“I used to road test songs all the time,” Bowen says. “Unfortunately now, because of YouTube and iPhones, it’s hard to road test a song because the next day it winds up on the Internet. That bothers me because it’s testing it. You’re not ready for it. It may not even be finished yet. I kind of got away from [road testing songs]. We do soundcheck new songs every once in a while and work on them like that, but we don’t play them live very much. I’m very protective of them. Way more than I used to be because of the damn iPhone.”