The two Texas songwriting legends re-publishing a forty-year friendship. This fall, they’ll additionally be share the stage


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photo: Brent Humphreys


From left: Robert Earl Keen’s 1994 Collings C10 guitar has actually a jumping-fish inlay in the headstock in honor of his song “The 5 Pound Bass.” Lyle Lovett’s Sunburst Collings Jumbo has remained in his rotation since 1992.

When fellow Texans Lyle Lovett and also Robert Earl Keen go on tour together this fall, it’ll be the recent chapter in a friendship that started when they to be students in ~ Texas A&M University. Back then, they’d sit top top the porch of the residence Keen rented and trade songs, simply as they’ll it is in doing ~ above stages roughly the country start in October. We met v the 2 singer-songwriters on the suburbs of Austin, in ~ the headquarters that Collings Guitars. Castle talked around Texas storytelling, discovering from their heroes, honky-tonk nights, and also why their friendship has actually endured.

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The 2 of friend are now the standard-bearers in a lengthy line of Texas singer-songwriters recognized for their storytelling—people like guy Clark and also Townes van Zandt. Perform you view yourself delivering on that tradition?

Lyle Lovett: there’s a straight line indigenous those males to Robert and me. Us learned just how to pat those man Clark song from Guy’s very first record, and also we sought the end Guy and Townes together we came up, because we admired them therefore much, and also got to understand them. So their version of storytelling, your take top top what a tune was claimed to be, was something the Robert and I actively pursued.


Robert, you were an English major in college, and Lyle, you majored in journalism. Perform you look for out story to call the way journalists and novelists do?

Robert Earl Keen: because that me the a exploration thing, whereby I find myself somewhere and think miscellaneous is really cool, like simply one thing. Perhaps some kid’s sitting on a damaged chair, and I start to think about that. The story forms approximately that image.

LL: i took image in school, so I like to execute that still. The song you end up liking the finest are the ones that most totally flesh the end that initial image. Those space the ones the you end up wanting to play every show.

Is there anything about this component of the nation that is especially conducive to that—like the landscape, the people?


LL: I have to recuse myself from the question, due to the fact that Texas is just home. I’m tethered here and lack perspective. My totality experience, every day in my life, is wrapped up in gift from here. I’m what in the horse service we call barn blind. Ns really prefer my horses much better than anyone else’s.

REK: I occasionally think I desire to get way out that my regular comfort ar in what I write about, yet I constantly have a more challenging time through it as soon as I do. Say I want to create a song around an Eskimo. It would be an ext about an Eskimo snow world than it would be a genuine Eskimo, you know? So ns don’t know if i’m barn blind, however I’m in the barnyard because that sure.


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photo: Brent Humphreys

Keen, photographed in ~ the Collings Guitars factory in Austin.


Lyle, you live in the family house that you thrived up in close to Houston, and also you keep horses there, right?

LL: Yes, sir. I have American quarter horses and also compete in a pair of different events. One is referred to as reining and one is referred to as reined cow horse. Castle involve the sort of strong maneuvers that a equine needs to be able to do to work-related a cow. Horses have the right to teach you a lot. If you carry out the appropriate thing approximately a horse, most of the moment the best thing will happen. A steed is a really sensitive animal and also responds in a an extremely sensitive method to any kind of input you provide it. So it’s a real lesson in just how much to ask of someone, or exactly how to ask someone a question, or how to ask someone to execute something for you. It’s a class in sensitivity.


Does that use to performing, too? you both placed on very different type of shows, however they re-publishing a emotion of effortlessness. What go it take it to obtain it all to occupational like that?

REK: If you counted up every the hours that enter it, from creating songs, recording, sitting under with other musicians and making sure it sound the method you desire it to, making certain everybody’s not screwing roughly with your amps, or out drinking beer—there’s a many that. I prospered up playing the damaged Spoke in Austin, and also I psychic waking up band members from your hangovers to go play v me. I had to learn exactly how to pressure human being to perform that, and also that if you pressure them also hard, they’ll grab their stuff and also leave—and climate you’re playing solo again. So there is an amazing amount of effort that goes into it. However, I will say this: as soon as you’re onstage and it’s working, it is effortless.

LL: That’s exactly what ns was going to say. Gaining everybody and everything arranged is the worst part of it. But the onstage component is the funny part. It’s like a team sport. But like Robert said, at an initial it was simply us.

REK: Crappy step with negative wiring and also bad promoters. I had actually a promoter one time come to me and also say, “Well, i’m going come the 4th of July parade. Here, collect the money in ~ the door.” ns said, “I’m collecting the money in ~ the door and also playing the gig?” you know, you’ve got to put on every hat feasible in the music service to continue to be in the music business.


Robert, girlfriend live in the Hill Country, in Kerrville, and also you males both quiet play some classic Texas honky-tonks. What are your favorite locations like that?

REK: ns go to man T. Floore’s nation Store outside mountain Antonio all the time. Floore’s is my favorite due to the fact that it reminds me a lot of the old open-air dance places that you’d see. Basically just a large concrete slab, some Christmas lights, and people dancing. I simply love that whole underneath-the-stars thing. Yet as time has gone by, you nothing see much of those areas anymore. Crider’s exterior of Kerrville is favor that.

LL: i have really appreciated playing Floore’s, too. In mountain Antonio i play an ext often in ~ the Majestic Theatre, since my display is much more of a theater show. However in a ar like Floore’s, you become component of the atmosphere, and also you’re not rather sure what’s going come happen. I have a actual sentimental clues in my heart for Gruene Hall, too, since that’s where I came up in the business. I and a couple of other folks gained asked to play the front barroom ~ above Sunday afternoons. This was possibly 1982. I would always look end the bar with those windows right into the hall side, and also think, “Wow, what would certainly it it is in like?”


photo: Brent Humphreys

Lyle Lovett.


Let’s talk around the 2 of you share the phase this fall. You’ve excellent this a couple of times before.

LL: The an initial time was 2013. Robert and also I, we’ve well-known each other since 1976. In school, us spent several time together, therefore we’re really friends. And because of the means everything works through touring and family, we’ve found that we don’t acquire to check out each various other that often. For this reason that tourism was an effort really simply to be able to hang out.


Has the show evolved due to the fact that 2013?

LL: the still totally unplanned. That’s the funny of it. We just sort of see where it goes. No Robert nor I talk about the collection with one another, who going come start, what we’re going to begin with. The improv in that truest sense.

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When you males were sitting on that porch in college, were your conversations about song concepts or was it more like college youngsters drinking beer and talking around girls?


REK: it was every one of that. One of the biggest things about my friendship through Lyle is, gift an English significant in college, friend know, you read all these various histories of every these writers—of human being actually sitting roughly talking about writing, right? and I am constantly disappointed in the world around that. Like, I accomplish other songwriters, and also they never want to talk about writing. Yet Lyle desires to talk around writing. He desires to talk around how this certain bridge turns into this chorus. And I constantly think the thrilling.

LL: together you go through life, there really aren’t that many human being you obtain to interact as completely as you do your few real friends. 


The important legacy of bill Collings

In 1977, when he to be still in college and also needed job-related done ~ above his guitar, Lyle Lovett met a young luthier named Bill Collings, who repaired instruments out the his Houston apartment and, top top the side, constructed beautiful guitars. “I’ve gained to have one the those,” Lovett thought. He acquired his first Collings two years later, and also he’s play them ever since, presenting Robert Earl Keen to the craftsman as well. Collings, who died last year in ~ sixty-eight, set up shop in Austin and over the years ended up being known for his world-class instruments, do guitars, mandolins, and ukuleles for Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, Joni Mitchell, Lou Reed, invoice Frisell, Emmylou Harris, and many others. Today, his widow, Ann, and also the civilization he trained room working to save the Collings legacy alive. “He was an artist,” keen says. “He was an extremely much prefer we are. Invoice did it due to the fact that he just had actually to.”—T.F.