Though Texas phenoms Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen have been touring together for over a decade, it wasn’t until recently that their collaborations became a recorded effort. And while apparently the initial intention wasn’t a new record, the creators of Hold My Beer: Vol. 1, which releases independently on April 20th, suggest there’s more to come.
“This record was actually not supposed to happen this way,” Bowen says. “We were gonna do a live record – we have all this stuff recorded going back to like 2008 – so we were gonna piece all that together, and give people a glimpse of what we do on the road, our acoustic tour, and put a couple of studio tracks and the end of it. We got into the studio and were having so much fun that Randy kind of came up to me and said goes, ‘Man, this is too good to just do two or three songs, we need to do a whole record.’ So we started digging through all of our stuff, just scraping together money and scraping together songs. It just happened by chance, kind of came out of nowhere.”
Rogers and Bowen wrote two new songs for the project, “In The Next Life” and “Good Luck With That.” Writing duets for two men was a challenge they hadn’t anticipated, and one they’re looking forward to tackling further with future projects.
“I asked Guy Clark to come sing on one of my projects – he’s like one of my biggest heroes – and he started digging through his catalog. About three songs out of all the songs he’s written were ones I could actually choose from, ‘cuz you’re trying to have two men singing it make sense,” Bowen says. “That’s what Randy and I kind of struggled with, ‘cuz we always write like heartbreaking, love gone bad kind of songs together, so it was a cool little challenge we put on ourselves to do that.”
The rest of the material comes from the collective repertoires of both artists – “country songs that were maybe too country for our own records,” Bowen says. While “Good Luck With That” was written only two weeks prior to finishing the record, songs like “Standards” have been in rotation for at least five years.
“I was talking to Buddy Cannon, who produced the next Randy Rogers Band record, and I said I didn’t feel like like I was done with trying to get play on the radio,” Rogers says. “I grew up listening to the radio, obviously want my songs on the radio. Then I played him that song, and he goes, ‘Well you’ve pissed ’em off now! You really wanna get play on the radio?'”
He laughs. “But that song is not… I didn’t write that song as a shit talking song at all, it was a song about me and how I play every night and people dance to my songs every night, which is all I’ve ever wanted. So it’s okay that I’ve never had the big #1 smash hit. I’m able to tour all over the country and do this for a living. So I hope nobody takes that the wrong way, but if they do…” He pauses. “Who cares.”
“We always make fun of each other,” Bowen adds. “Like, I had a song that was #39… well, he had a song #38. So we’re making fun of ourselves ‘cuz we don’t have any hits, and it’s okay, but we’re still out here doing it. That’s kind of the theme behind the whole record. That song’s a great example of just us as artists and our friendship and everything, we just go out and love our jobs and go play the shows and don’t worry about anything else.”
“What’s cool about this project and everything about our friendships,” he continues, “is that we don’t flip the entertainer switch and go on stage and become something that we’re not. It’s not an alter ego thing. When people come to see us when they come to our acoustic tour that we’ve been doing for years, it’s… there’s no set list, there’s no preparation, it’s little thought at all.”
“You can ask a girl who her favorite artist is,” Rogers jokes. The two played Nashville’s City Winery the night before, during which Bowen asked an attendee who of the two men she liked better. “I didn’t let her say, ‘cuz I knew she’d choose him!” he jokes. The banter between them isn’t exclusive to the stage; in their presence, one finds oneself constantly laughing.
“It’s the same way we are in our living rooms,” Bowen says. “We live ten miles from each other and we sit around and hang out. And that’s what we do on stage. I think that’s what’s always been successful about this and made it successful is that we just go out there and be buddies and make fun of each other and it works.”
It’s a perfect joinder not only of their personalities, but their careers; Hold My Beer: Vol. 1 is in part the product of similar life events for the artists: being dropped from their labels.
“Neither of us are bitter about it,” Rogers says. “We both got dropped from our labels, so that’s why we could do this record. Before, you would have to get too much red tape to have one artist that’s on a completely different label work with an artist on another label and just budgeting and all that stuff, everything that goes into making a record, just the process. So this was the perfect timing for us to finally get to do this.”
While the two have had to fund the record out of pocket, it’s allowed them the freedom to pursue a sound without barriers, both as a duo and in their own works. Bowen released a self-titled album last October, a 12-track force of both Saturday smiles and beauteous brooding. Rogers just completed a new album with his band and Cannon, which he plans to release in the near future.
“The freedom that we have in our careers right now is fun,” Bowen says. “There’s a great spirit between our friendship and there’s a freedom to do whatever we want. You can hear it, I think, in our music, in our songwriting right now, and hopefully it translates to albums sales and the fans really digging what we’re doing right now. I think it’s the best probably he and I have ever been, together and separately.”
One thing is for sure: fans are responding. In the Texas tradition, Bowen and Rogers have built a substantial following through extensive touring, and the “70’s Willie/Waylon” vibe makes for a fun and engaging offering in Hold My Beer: Vol. 1. Listeners can’t help but chuckle in empathy with the truth of “Standards” or “Good Luck With That,” an ode to questionable decisions. “‘Til It Does” channels the more somber side of Bowen’s solo works, while covers of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Joe Ely plant the release firmly in its Texas roots.
Grab Hold My Beer: Vol. 1 via their label Lil’ Buddy Toons on iTunes April 20th.