A relative of American folk hero Davey Crockett, Charley Crockett has become the king of his own wild frontier, carving out a blues-based sound that nods to his unconventional background – including busking gigs in New Orleans, subway performances in New York City and a string of Copenhagen shows as a homeless street musician – and diverse musical tastes.
He dives deep into that personal history during this week’s episode of Walking the Floor. Recorded several hours before Crockett’s album release show for Lonesome as a Shadow, the conversation traces his path from the cotton fields of south Texas to the stages of theaters across the country. Along the way, Crockett and podcast host Chris Shiflett geek out over Memphis’ musical history, Texas’ independent spirit and the thrill of chasing down your own unique horizon.
Below, we’ve rounded up a list of episode highlights, followed by the biweekly premiere of Walking the Floor.
Although raised in a poverty-stricken family, Crockett grew up in a diverse area, which helped encourage diversity in his own music.
“We lived outside of Los Fresnos,” he says, remembering his childhood in the Rio Grande Valley. “That’s a 15-minute ride to the border, right there. It’s always been a poor area, but I really loved it. It’s an amazing culture down there. Whites are the minority by a long shot; it’s 95% Latino. We lived out in the country, so it was all costal plains, cotton fields, grapefruit and oranges.”
It was later, during his years as a New Orleans street performer, that Crockett was introduced to Texas-borne country legends like Ernest Tubb.
“In New Orleans, what’s really valuable is traditional music,” he says. “Traditional jazz, early swing. . .But also, in the street – which is what I learned more of – what was popular was what the jug bands were playing. They were playing blues and country. I learned Ernest Tubb songs on the street in New Orleans. . .and I didn’t think he could sing for shit at first, but now I’m obsessed with Ernest Tubb. I know, like, 30 of his songs.”
That said, few towns have been more influential on Crockett’s music than Dallas.
“[Dallas] was really one of the most important cities in the world in the history of blues, because Deep Ellum was the first black commercial district in the state of Texas,” Crockett explains. “Let me name the people that played on the street in this neighborhood. We’re talking about Robert Johnson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, T Bone Walker, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly, Henry Thomas, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Mance Lipscomb, Washington Phillips, Bob Wills. . . Deep Ellum was that place where the European and black and Latino worlds converged.”
It was during Crockett’s years as a New York-based subway performer that he began attracting attention from the music industry, eventually inking his first management deal after being “discovered” abroad a train.
“We were called the Train Robbers – just an underground loose collective – and we were making money,” he says, nodding to a group of fellow street performers who regularly joined Crockett aboard a string of Manhattan- and Brooklyn-bound trains. “We played it so hard that if you rode the trains and were a real commuting New Yorker, you saw me in the days of 2010 to 2012. I’m talking about 8 to 10 hours every day.”
Years later, he’s still an intensely active musician, releasing four albums – including his newest, Lonesome as a Shadow – in three short years.
“Loretta Lynn had to do it that way,” he points out. “Hank Williams was doing it that way. And all my blues heroes were doing it that way. I am independent, and I’m full of energy. Between learning other peoples’ songs and writing my own, if I’m playing the music I wanna play, man, I’m never gonna get tired of it.”