It’s been nearly 15 years since Randy Rogers bumped into Wade Bowen at a gig in San Marcos, Texas.
At the time, both songwriters were greener than the Texas Hill Country. Rogers had just wrapped up the sessions for his first studio album, Like It Used to Be, and Bowen was a few months shy of releasing his own debut, Try Not to Listen. The two hit it off, and Bowen brought his road band back to Rogers’ house after the show, looking to swap songs and drain a leftover keg. That night in San Marcos — full of stories, beer, country music and acoustic guitars — kickstarted a long-running collaboration that’s since taken the two songwriters from Rogers’ backyard to stages across the U.S. This week, the project hits highway speed with the release of Hold My Beer: Vol. 1, the pair’s first album as a duo.
Rogers and Bowen didn’t need to record an album together. For years, they’ve built separate careers as frontmen of two very different-sounding bands — the Randy Rogers Band and Wade Bowen, respectively — earning household-name status in Texas and gaining an increasing amount of attention from left-of-center country fans in the rest of the country. Together, though, they represent something that’s been missing from modern-day music: an old-school country duo whose music ignores the contemporary sound of bro-on-bro acts like Florida Georgia Line and, instead, takes its cues from Pancho & Lefty, Waylon & Willie and other tag-teamed classics.
On a spring afternoon in Nashville, several weeks before the album’s release, Rolling Stone Country tracked down Rogers and Bowen at a Mexican restaurant where, fueled by alcohol and tortilla chips, they weighed in on a number of topics, from male duets to day jobs.
Back in the Day
Randy Rogers: In the early days, we traveled in my ’88 Suburban named “Peaches.” It was blue with a racing stripe down the side. How we didn’t die in that thing, I don’t know. But she was a true peach.
Wade Bowen: She was a beaut, Clark!
Rogers: She was a real beaut.
Bowen: College Station was the first town where we ever made money. We were dead broke at the time. We went back to the hotel and Randy’s counting the money, and I’m trying to talk to him about something serious, and he’s like, ‘Holy shit, man, we just made $1,500 apiece!’ Then he does a Nestea plunge on the bed and money goes everywhere. We were so broke then, so just $100 would’ve been great.
The Early Bird Special
Bowen: Randy is a creature of habit. No matter what town we’re in, he has a routine he sticks to. You go to these specific restaurants and these specific bars. Once it’s 5:30 or 6, it’s dinner time and we’re going to the same place we always go.
Rogers: I like what I like. I like to eat a nice dinner. Any place you can get a good piece of fish and some decent wine.
Bowen: Yeah, but it’s always the same one. “Hey Randy, let’s go to this new place I heard about.” “No, let’s go to the place we went to last time.”
Rogers: Wait, did you just kick me under the table?
Rogers: That’s going on the record. Wade just kicked me. Also, Wade likes to turn it up when the sun goes down. He’s for shit during the day, but once the lights go up onstage, he comes alive. I’m more of a day tripper. He’s more of a…
Rogers: Like Ray Wylie [Hubbard] says, “It’s the night people’s job to take the day people’s money.” I guess I believe in that. My days usually start earlier than Wade’s, so by the time I’ve peaked and I’m coming back down, Wade is accelerating at a pace that I cannot keep up with. He’s more personable than me, maybe. Everybody likes Wade because he hangs out. I just go to bed after the show. I say, “Everybody get out of my bus!”
He Said, He Said
Rogers: We wanted to make a country-ass record. We wanted it to be a throwback, to lean heavily on the music we liked as kids. The music our dads would jam to. We wanted lots of fiddle. Lots of steel. And lots of duets, obviously.
Bowen: It’s hard to write a song for two male vocalists to sing. It’s a bit more difficult than writing a regular song. That sound was really popular for awhile — you had Willie singing with Waylon, Willie singing with Merle, Jones making a record with Paycheck — and those albums had some really classic male duet songs, but it stopped. Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett did “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere,” and Jackson did “Murder on Music Row” with George Strait, but those are duet songs, not duet records.
Rogers: You see these collaborations on TV, at the Grammys or the CMA Awards, but it’s a one-off. It’s rare that two artists come together and forge a new sound. Wade and I couldn’t be more different when we do our own records, but we come together and create this sound that sounds like it’s own thing.
Bowen: It’s like we formed our own band.
Quit Your Day Job
Rogers: I worked at McDonald’s for a year when I was 16. I also roofed houses, which, if you know me, is hard to believe, because I’m not too handy.
Bowen: You’re not so blue collar.
Rogers: I’m blue collar, bro. Come on. But I’m not handy. Like, if your sink broke, I couldn’t fix it. Anyway, I roofed houses. I mowed lawns. I was a ref for intramural basketball games. I worked at Eddie Bauer. My best job ever, though, was working at Mailboxes Etc., right out of college. I was good at that. I could bubble wrap your computer and ship it off to Dell, super fast.
Bowen: Did you learn anything at McDonald’s?
Rogers: Man, all I learned is that those chicken nuggets are good.
Bowen: I worked for my father growing up. He’s an electrical contractor, and I credit him with giving me the desire to pick up a guitar and start writing songs, because I was crawling underneath houses and going into attics when it was 105 degrees, and I was 12 years old. So thanks, Dad, for inspiring me to do something else! When I was in college, I was an assistant maintenance man at an older folks’ apartment complex. I’d carry groceries for the ladies and they’d tip me in Hershey’s bars.
Rogers: Hey, I wanna change my favorite job. My favorite job was working for Landmark Pool and Spa Company in San Marcos, Texas, right outta college. A guy from my hometown owned the company, and we cleaned pools and stuff. He just let me work the office like a secretary, but then it flooded, and all these swimming pools down by the river were filled with water, and I had to clean them out. It was the nastiest job ever. Shop vaccs, toilets, dead fish. . . One day, I was cleaning this pool out and I got a phone call and it was Judy Hubbard, Ray Wylie Hubbard’s wife. She said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m cleaning out this pool.” She said, “Ray is playing Gruene Hall tonight. Wants you to open. You available?” I said, “I’ll be right there,” and I quit the job that day. No more cleaning pools for me.
Off the Cuff
Bowen: The thing with Randy is, you never know what he’s gonna say or do onstage.
Rogers: We’ve never planned things out and said, “After this song, this is gonna happen.” It can get your ass in trouble, though. The Dixie Chicks are a great example of that. It wasn’t scripted for them. It was just a moment. I think about them sometimes. I say some stupid things that could get my ass in trouble.
Bowen: Like what?
Rogers: Like stories about you passing out somewhere, or you breaking my cell phone one night because you thought I was filming you dancing. It was an iPhone, too.
Rogers: Wade has said some dumb stuff onstage that I’ve had to save him from. One night in San Antonio, he started talking about how great the Dallas Mavericks team was. And 5,000 people are going “Booooo!” And I had to say, “Wait, Wade didn’t mean it!”
Rogers: [The album’s lead single “Standards”] is not necessarily a true story. In the lyric, some record company guy comes to me and asks me to cut a song about a dirt road, which never happened.
Bowen: But it has happened in this business.
Rogers: The song is also a joke about Wade and I. We’ve never had a hit song. But we still play every night, people get up and dance, and it still feels like we did our job. In Texas, when people dance, it’s like a standing ovation. So if they have fun and come back to another show, it doesn’t matter how high your song went. Wade’s biggest hit went to 39. Mine went to 38. Who cares? Although, you know, I did get a higher chart position.
Bowen: Someone must’ve entered something incorrectly there.
Rogers: The song isn’t really about slamming the business. It’s more a joke. A standard is a song everybody knows, a song that makes people sing along and get up and dance. That’s pretty much what I have in my band. We have a bunch of songs you can get up and honky-tonk to.
Bowen: I do think that song is a powerful enough statement to say, “There’s room for all of us. There’s room for country in country music.” I think it’s OK to say that.
Rogers: I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m no fucking outlaw. I’ve got a fiddle in my band, and we tour our faces off and we try to get people to have a good time. I go out there and try to be the best representation of what’s country music in my mind. We play rural areas, fairs, festivals, rodeos. We do our thing. I feel like Wade and I made country music on this record. If that’s gonna be pigeonholed as Red Dirt or Texas Country or something other than mainstream country, then whatever, but it’s just country to me.