Bill said that he started playing the guitar at age nine and Bonnie started playing piano at age eight while she was at the State School for the Blind in Austin (both Hearnes are legally blind). "We never thought we'd make a career of music," he said; she was going to be a social worker and he was going to be a teacher.
The Hearnes, who now make their home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, met at the Chequered Flag in Austin in 1968. Owned by the future producer of the Kerrville Folk Festival, Rod Kennedy, the club was the center of the Austin folk music scene.
The couple married in January 1970 and began to establish a musical career that earned them the title of "godparents of Austin folk music." They worked with a young Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, and Darden Smith at the beginnings of their careers. The Hearnes are the only performers who have played at every Kerrville Folk Festival since the first one in 1972.
By 1979, the music scene in Austin was exploding with redneck rock. "To be honest," Bill said, "we didn't feel we fit into the new Austin scene." Since 1970, the Hearnes had enjoyed a loyal following in northern New Mexico. When they were offered the job of house band at the Alpine Lodge in Red River, New Mexico, the duo jumped at the chance. The tiny mining town-turned-resort town, famous for summer fishing and winter skiing, offered them a steady paycheck and a new audience.
"From about 1979 to 1987, Red River had some really good music and a lot of energy," Bill said. Musicians like Ray Wylie Hubbard and Michael Martin Murphy had moved to New Mexico to form a songwriters' community.
"We didn't further our careers much in Red River," he said, "but we had a wonderful time." The Hearnes moved to Santa Fe in 1991, where they still make their home.
The native Texans -- he's from Dallas and she was born in Corsicana -- still make it back to Texas two or three times a year. They're on the road about two months a year playing the coffeehouse and folk music festival circuits. "If we could only play three places in the world it would be Poor David's Pub in Dallas, the Cactus Cafe in Austin, and Gruene Hall outside of New Braunfels," Bill said.
With a new album scheduled to be released on April 22, the Hearnes hope to double their touring. "Folk music is flourishing in the Northeast," Bill said, and he hopes to expand the duo's recognition outside of the Southwest.
Diamonds in the Rough was recorded in Austin and Nashville with the help and support of many of the friends the Hearnes have made over the years. Jerry Jeff Walker, Tish Hinojosa, Christine Albert, Lloyd Maines, and Spencer Starnes helped out on the Austin-recorded tracks, and Lovett and Griffith contributed vocals and songs in Nashville.
To get on the mailing list for the Bill and Bonnie Hearne newsletter, contact them at 825 Calle Mejia #502, Santa Fe, NM 87501.
Coming up this weekend...
Jazz Festival in Wimberley at the Cypress Creek Cafe showcases local musical talent (Jan. 31-Feb. 2 and Feb. 6-9) as well as "A Taste of the Town" on Feb. 7. 512/847-3909.
Mardi Gras! brings the carnival to Galveston, Feb. 1-11. 409/763-4311.
Ezell's Cave Workday needs volunteers at the Nature Conservancy-owned limestone cave in San Marcos, Feb. 1. 512/327-9472.
Bill & Bonnie Hearne are scheduled to play in Texas at Tres Rios Campground's Spring Bluegrass Festival in Glen Rose, Apr. 19; Gruene Hall, Apr. 20, and the Kerrville Folk Festival, June 8. 505/983-2815.