“The harder you work, the luckier you are.” That’s one of the many insights unleashed by California country singer Sam Outlaw during this week’s episode of the Walking the Floor podcast. Premiering on Rolling Stone Country three days after the dual releases of Outlaw’s new album, Tenderheart, and Walking the Floor host Chris Shiflett’s West Coast Town, the clip finds an articulate, animated Outlaw talking about etymology, mariachi music, Ry Cooder and all points in between.
Here’s five things we learned from the interview, which is streaming in its entirety below.
“Outlaw” is a legitimate family name.
Known as Sam Morgan during his time as an advertising salesman, Outlaw left his birth name behind once he launched his music career. Outlaw was his mother’s maiden name, and he adopted its use as a tribute to her. “It sounds fake, even verbalizing it,” he admits, “but it’s a legit name. At first, when I was playing small clubs and doing music as a hobby, I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll use the name because it sounds country.’ And then since my mom passed away, using my family name takes on a deeper meaning. It becomes more than a marketing thing.”
Folksinger Matt Costa, songwriter Carly Ritter and the late Bakersfield legend Wynn Stewart are among the musicians who helped connect Outlaw with Ry Cooder, the producer of his first album, Angeleno.
In 2013, Outlaw joined Brushfire Records artist Matt Costa on a West Coast tour. “I put a small acoustic band together,” says Outlaw, who played the first set of a three-band bill, “and we did these shows with Matt. The middle artist was Carly Ritter, Tex Ritter’s granddaughter and the actor John Ritter’s daughter. “So Carly Ritter was the main support on his tour, and her band included Joachim Cooder on drums.” The whole crew hit it off during the tour. Later, while assembling musicians to play on his first solo record, Outlaw – who intended on producing the album himself – reached out to Joachim. Two days of rehearsals at Outlaw’s house in Los Angeles convinced Joaquin to enlist his father, who asked to meet Outlaw at a local restaurant for breakfast. There, after kicking off the conversation with a discussion of Wynn Stewart’s music, the two agreed to work together.
The mariachi influences on Outlaw’s albums are a tip of the hat to his California roots.
“Mariachi in classic country music is more associated with Texas,” Outlaw allows, “because that’s obviously also a border state, and Norteño is more of a Texas touch point. But here in Los Angeles, Mexican music and culture are completely ubiquitous. I’ve always thought mariachi was a Southern California thing, and I’ve always tried not to be shy about the fact that I’m doing this in Los Angeles, because there’s fucking awesome country music history here.” As a result, mariachi music enjoys a place in Outlaw’s albums, figuring heavily on Angelo and popping up once on Tenderheart.
As a teen, Outlaw was most definitely not a punk-rocker.
Outlaw moved to San Diego as a 10-year-old, putting down roots in the epicenter of pop-punk music. “The Blink 182 guys went to my high school,” he says. “Tom DeLonge’s sister, Carrie DeLonge, was in my class. That was everything: punk and pop-punk. I say this almost embarrassingly, because I wish I had a better grasp of it, but I think I was the one kid in Southern California that never really went through a punk phase.” Likely because Outlaw grew up in a conservative Christian home, raised by parents who promptly freaked out the one time he brought home a Pennywise record.
Instead, Outlaw dove into the Eagles and Asleep at the Wheel.
“My dad, like every other American in 1994, bought the Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over record,” Outlaw remembers. “We had the best of Eagles, the best of James Taylor. He liked Bread and America, Crosby Stills and Nash. The Troubadour-era singer-songwriter thing was very much a part of my childhood.” Coupled with Asleep at the Wheel, those artists helped shape the sound of Outlaw’s career. “When I listen to my music now,” he adds, “I almost hear those three [influences]. It’s country rock. It’s singer-songwriter acoustic music. And sometimes, it’s straight-ahead country.”