When Americans meet each other, the first question they usually ask is, “Where you from?”
If the answer is “New Jersey” or “Kansas” or “Rhode Island,” there’s often a polite silence followed by a change of subject. But if the answer is “Texas,” it’s not unusual to hear some genuine enthusiasm. “Really! What part” or “What’s it like?”
Like it or not, there is awe surrounding Texas. Sure, it’s big. In fact, it’s almost the biggest state there is. The Sons of Sam Houston probably still haven’t forgiven those upstart Alaskans for taking away that distinction. But in any case, the response you get goes beyond land mass. There’s something about Texas. Texas is a culture. It’s a way of life. People from Texas are not simply average Americans. They’re Texans. There have probably been more movies about Texas than any other state, and as far as music goes…. Well, just read on.
Mind you, not all the qualities associated with Texas are admirable. Like movies and music, there are probably more jokes about Texas than there are about any other state in the union. Texans take a fair amount of ribbing about who they are and what they do. Ribbing, of course, is the least you can expect when your national cuisine is barbeque. Who can count all the jokes about Texans who die, go to Heaven (or Hell) and end up getting barbeque sauce all over the place? Texans somehow manage to antagonize the guy in charge. St. Peter complains because there are pickup trucks or empty six packs all over the streets of gold. The Devil complains because a bad day in Hell is “like a spring day in Amarillo.” Texans are seen barbequing on the fires of Hell and have installed air conditioning just in case it really heats up a bit. In short, Texans take their culture with them wherever they travel, including the hereafter.
Texans, as well as visitors from more temperate climes, have a lot to say about Texas weather. The heat is a big topic of conversation. Texans pick their parking places by shade, not distance. They know that a seat belt in July does a pretty good imitation of a branding iron. Droughts, too, are a way of life. Texans long ago stopped associating bridges with water. As folks in the country say, “It’s so dry the trees are bribin’ the dogs.”
Just about every quality of Texas life – whether good, bad or indifferent – is on display on this musical collection. Twenty-five songs telling you a whole lot of what you need to know about Texas and Texans. Here are the things that Texans are proudest of, right along side a few other qualities they may not brag about, but they sure ain’t ashamed enough to stop writing and singing songs about them.
You’d think that a collection like this would consist solely of native Texans singing their pride, but that’s not the case. Admittedly many of these artists hail from Texas – men like Ernest Tubb and Tex Ritter, but there are plenty of exceptions. And speaking of Mr. Ritter, when a guy adopts the name of a state as his first name, you know you’re on to some serious identity issues. And Tex Ritter is just the tip of the iceberg. Think about Tex Williams – who came from Illinois! There just aren’t too many guys out there calling themselves “Illinois Williams” or “New Jersey Jones” or “Pennsylvania Smith.”
Along with Williams, there are quite a few non-Texans on this collection proudly singing about the joys and perils of life in the Lone Star state. When you have a guy of Scandinavian ancestry like Ole Rasmussen (whose California-based band was named the Nebraska Cornhuskers) or a Canadian from Nova Scotia singing about Texas, you know there’s something powerful going on. And Hank Snow isn’t the only Canadian on board this train. There’s fellow Nova Scotian Wilf Carter as well. And there are lots of out-of-state Americans like Hank Locklin (Florida), Rex Allen (Arizona), and old Roy Rogers, himself, who hailed from Ohio. Nothing stopped these non-Texans from singing the praises of Texas.
The songs here range from boogies to ballads; from bad-ass posturing to lullabies, from bizarre tall-tales (just listen to Say Pardner) to drinking songs. Understandably, there isn’t much of what disc jockeys call “MOR” music here. But as any Texan will tell you, there ain’t nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos. Many of the songs are as full of wind as a corn-eating horse. (That means a tad boastful, for you non-Texans).
Some of the titles will be familiar to everyone, not just Texans and country music fans. Songs like The Yellow Rose of Texas and Deep In The Heart of Texas were major hits and long ago became part of American popular culture. We also present the original 1929 version of Jimmie Rodgers’ Jimmie's Texas Blues. Grandpa Jones sings an early '60s version of T For Texas, one of the most frequently recorded song in country music now nearing its 100th anniversary. Other tracks are obscurities by just about any reckoning. Some, like Texas Tornado, may have been hit songs at one point, but that time is long past and after 70 years it’s a rare record collector or country music historian who remembers them.
Like many Americans, Texans may not be renowned as world travelers. But Texans, at least, have an excuse for it. Consider our final track – Charlie Walker’s I’ve Never Been Out Of Texas (But I’ve Seen Everything). It may not be the most musically engaging tune on the collection but it does contain an essential truth. Confront a Texan with the fact that he’s never been out of his home state and he’s likely to tell you, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been all over Texas.” And that, friends, in the eyes of many people, is a universe in itself. If you don’t believe me, listen to these 25 songs. And bear in mind that a recent issue of the Austin Chronicle listed approximately 500 songs with Texas or places in Texas in their titles. Since no one ever accused us of being “Big Hat and No Cattle” (that’s “All talk and no action” to you non-Texans), we’re telling you that another round of Texas songs wouldn’t take much effort to compile.