Picks to Click
The SXSW Class of 2002
Friday, March 15, Broken Spoke (1am)
For eight years, Kevin Fowler made his living "throwing Chronicles." Every Thursday, he'd load his pickup with 4,500 papers and deliver them to 110 locations. "I worked hard one day a week and pursued music the rest," he says.
Early last year, Fowler quit because of extenuating circumstances: a burgeoning career in country music. Now he spends most Thursdays heading into the weekend aboard his own luxury tour bus. Thanks to statewide radio play for his uber-clever "Beer, Bait & Ammo," Fowler has sold almost 25,000 copies of the album by the same name and routinely plays 1,200-seat venues. While his name frequently pops up alongside Pat Green and Cory Morrow in regard to the "ballcap" phenomenon, Fowler is both outlaw and everyman; rather than choosing sides in the frat boy vs. good ol' boy debate, he's ridden the middle lane straight to the bank.
"We're not shy about working both sides of the fence," says Fowler, who's already had country superstar Mark Chesnutt cover his trademark hit for his live shows. "Wherever we play, it's still gonna be the same hard-core, loud-mouthed redneck full-on dance show."
Although his early biographies omitted it, the reason why Fowler's albums and shows put across a sizable rock & roll aesthetic is obvious; in 1993, Fowler played guitar for teasin' pleasin' Austin cock-rockers Dangerous Toys. How did a guy reared in Amarillo on George Strait wind up sporting spandex in Austin? "When I was 18, you couldn't get no nookie playing country guitar," he says. "You needed a Les Paul."
After using his Southern rockin' Thunderfoot band as a transition, Fowler committed himself to hell-raisin' honky-tonk in 1995. After three years of routinely unattended Tuesday night gigs at Babe's on Sixth, he released his first set of country originals on 1998's One for the Road. Though it earned favorable reviews, Fowler's success with it came from one specific place. "An assload of radio," he says.
Six months before the release of Beer Bait & Ammo, the now-defunct Lonestar 93 added Fowler's "100% Texan" to its playlist. By the time he followed it up with the title track, he'd earned similar success at radio statewide. He's beginning to get his share of major-label suitors, but he believes most labels will be hard-pressed to top the financial pleasures of his cottage industry. In fact, he plans on releasing his latest, High on the Hog, featuring another witty lead single in "Lord Loves a Drinking Man," himself, in June. That said, he's still incredulous about the response to his music.
"It amazes me," says Fowler. "The most we ever made at Babe's was $200-$300 a night. My soundman costs me more than that now. I know I've been lucky, and I know I have a long way to go. If it ends tomorrow and the bank takes away the bus, I'll still have my truck. Then maybe the Chronicle will be hiring."