Just like the Waylon and Willies before them, Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers have a musical and personal kinship so deep, they were bound to make an entire record together someday. That day — April 20th — has been 15 years in the making, as the Texas-bred buddies have been friends since around the turn of the century and have been sharing the stage on their acoustic Hold My Beer and Watch This tours for eight years now.
"I'll take credit," Rogers tells Rolling Stone Country of the inception of their annual, scaled-down trek together. "I had so much dirt on Wade, I needed an outlet."
A namesake album, Hold My Beer: Volume 1, will finally come in the spring, weaving tales of their friendship with roadhouse-ready party anthems, aching love stories and a lot of fiddle and steel. Produced by the legendary Lloyd Maines (Dixie Chicks, Robert Earl Keen), the project took so long for a pretty simple reason: before now, the two artists were too busy with — and contractually tied to — their respective record deals (Bowen as a solo act and Rogers as the lead singer of Randy Rogers Band).
"We both got dropped from our respective major labels," reports Rogers, once a member of the powerhouse Universal Music Group Nashville family. "I feel like we are both in a really good spot. Music is fun again."
"Both of us being on major labels, [this album] would have been very tough to pull off," echoes Bowen. "The freedom to do whatever we want shines through in this album. You can hear it in the production, in the playing, in the song choices… the entire album just smiles."
The friends co-wrote most tracks on the album but chose three nostalgic tunes to complement their autobiographical lyrics: Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard's "Reasons to Quit," Haggard's "It's Been a Great Afternoon" and Joe Ely's "I Had My Hopes Up High." (Listen to the world premiere of the Ely track, exclusively on Rolling Stone Country, below.)
"This was Lloyd Maines' choice," Bowen says of the clever Ely song about hitchhiking hijinks. "He felt it really fit the direction of the album, and he was right. Turned out to be one of [our] favorites."
Bowen and Rogers somehow manage to take the rollicking tune to a new level, while being respectful to the original. That's a tough balance, for which they also credit Maines.
"It's always important to Randy and I to show respect where respect is due. Ely deserves every bit of it," says Bowen. "But I do think it's important as an artist to show Ely and the world your own personality. The overall goal in a cover is to do the song justice but make it your own."
"We honestly tried to write those songs," Rogers adds of all three cover tunes. "They had already done it better than we ever could. The thing about all those guys is, they also covered songs that meant something to them. We are carrying on that tradition, hopefully."
As this album, whose cover art also makes its debut on Rolling Stone Country (below), has "Volume One" in its title, the guys are making an implicit promise to keep the duets coming. And regardless of what record label they're on, that shouldn't be a problem. The singers assure mixing friendship with business is and has always been harmonious.
"We agreed long ago to help each other and throw the egos aside," Bowen says. "That's why it works. We both listen to each other on every level and respect each other."
Plus, each knows his place.
"Randy sings better harmonies and I can beat him in golf," Bowen jokes. And when asked who wears the pants in their partnership, Rogers replies, "I actually wear the jhorts."