Ask Kevin Fowler how’d he’d describe his own music and he doesn’t think twice before responding: “It’s country with a bad attitude. It’s country with an edge. It’s just beer-drinkin’, hell-raisin’, good-time music.”
And anyone who’s ever been to a Kevin Fowler show knows he does far more than just talk the talk—the man delivers one of the most entertaining, high-energy performances you’re likely to see in country or any other genre, with a hard-ticket base that rivals many gold-selling artists. A blend of in-your-face rockin’ intensity, tongue-in-cheek humor and captivating country storytelling, Kevin’s music has his standing-room-only audiences hanging on every word . . . and singing right along with him. Whether it’s “Beer, Bait and Ammo,” “Cheaper to Keep Her,” “The Best Mistake I Ever Made,” “Don’t Touch My Willie” or any of the other unforgettable tunes that have seen him regularly perched atop the Texas music charts, Kevin’s music is the product of years spent perfecting his craft.
And he’s not the only beneficiary. Other artists, like Montgomery Gentry (“Long Line of Losers”), Mark Chesnutt (“The Lord Loves a Drinkin’ Man”) and George Jones (dueting with Kevin on “Me and the Boys”), are among those who have recorded classic versions of Fowler songs.
“Pound Sign,” the first single from Kevin’s upcoming album, picks up where his earlier tunes left off, while ratcheting up the production values, the humor and Kevin’s already-strong vocals a few notches. When it came time to decide on a first single, “Pound Sign” is the tune that simply would not be denied, especially within Kevin’s own family. And though he didn’t write it, when Kevin kept playing a CD of tunes he was considering putting on his new album, his three young daughters—Darian, Riley and Kambry—kept singing along with the song’s chorus, “Pound sign, question mark, star, exclamation point,” sings Kevin. “That’s the song they kept gravitating to. And I kept thinking, ‘Don’t you like this one of Daddy’s?’ ‘No, we like that one!’” he laughs. “So it passed the kiddie test.”
Response to the song about watching the words spoken when innocent ears may be around—or as Kevin describes it, shifting from “bus mouth” mode to “daddy” mode—has been excellent. And the tune, one of seven on the record produced by artist and frequent Fowler co-writer David Lee Murphy, is already making its mark on the charts.
With his career track record, it would be easy to assume Kevin must’ve always known music would be his life’s passion. After all, how can you be this good at something and not have worked at it for a lifetime? But he admits coming to his career path later in the game than most.
“There was a day in life that changed me,” Kevin recalls of the transformative epiphany he experienced at the Texas Jam in the Cotton Bowl back when he was about 20 years old. “I had been dabblin’ in music and played everything a little, but nothing well. Aerosmith was there. White Snake. All these bands were playing at a day-long festival. They were hosing down the crowd with big fire hoses. And it was just mayhem. I had never seen 100,000 people in one place. I remember that day going, ‘Well, that’s what I’m supposed to be doin’.’”
While Amarillo boy Kevin may not have had a clear vision of his life’s path prior to that momentous day, he shouldn’t have been surprised when he finally realized he was put on this earth to write songs and entertain people. After all, he’d been entertaining in one way or another since his attention-seeking days as a self-described “band geek,” playing drums in junior high and high school.
But Kevin’s musical training had begun earlier when his mom, Shirley, insisted he take piano lessons, in spite of his hatred of it and his desire to play football instead. Looking back, he thinks his folks made the right call. “They were probably thinkin’ to themselves, ‘We’ve seen you play football—that’s no good!’” he laughs.
While Kevin recalls knee-knocking piano recitals as his first experience with live performing, his first taste of country music came through the records his dad played—Johnny Horton, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and Roy Clark. Kevin, of course, rebelled and gravitated more toward rockers AC/DC, Kiss, The Cars, Metallica, and other decidedly non-country bands. “It wasn’t ‘til later on in life that I thought, ‘that (country) stuff was really cool.’”
Kevin recalls Amarillo as a good place to grow up, but entertainment options were, let’s say, limited. That meant 16-year-old Kevin and some buddies might sneak a 6-pack of beer on a Friday night, head down the road a few miles to tiny Vega—a town of under 1,000 people—find an old dirt road and “hide out.” Let the good times roll!
So, was there a little culture shock when Kevin moved to California a few years later? “It was like fallin’ right off the turnip wagon,” he laughs. “I was in shock.”
The move to L.A. came after Kevin, then a junior at West Texas A&M in Canyon, saw that life-changing show at the Cotton Bowl. With 100 credits toward a business degree, he quit school and went to the coast to study at the G.I.T guitar institute. While there, he learned how incredibly competitive the music world really is. So, was he intimidated?
“No. It was just an eye opener. My mama always persisted in telling me, ‘Whatever you’re gonna do, don’t be a quitter.’ That’s why she never would let me quit piano music. Somebody told me one time, ‘You’ve gotta stay in the game long enough to get lucky.’”
After finishing school in L.A., Kevin—a road warrior at heart—realized that paying gigs were few and far between in Los Angeles. “That’s the only reason I got into music . . . to play live,” says Kevin, who’ll do about 150 shows this year . . . slightly fewer than usual because of time spent writing and recording. So he left L.A. and tested the waters elsewhere. “A friend lived in Austin. I was gonna go there, then I was gonna check out Nashville and figure out where I needed to be. When I got to Austin, that 5-day visit turned into a permanent stay. Been there ever since.”
Not long after his move to Austin, Kevin joined a band that became Rumble Train, but soon discovered he was the only with any motivation. Then he fell in with long-haired rockers Dangerous Toys (yep, short-haired, cowboy hat-wearing Kevin was in a hard rock band—there’s a rumor photos exist!). And, not surprisingly, they had a problem with Kevin’s tunes. “‘Man, these are redneck songs! We can’t play any of these.’” So, in a move that was more necessity than intention, Kevin began singing them himself.
And Kevin, the rocker who also wore out two cassettes of George Strait’s Right or Wrong album, found a way to combine the best of both worlds. “I’ve always liked rock, for the attitude and the energy. But I’ve always liked the country lyric. It just tells a story. And I try to combine those elements . . . make it rockin’ and fun with a good lyric in there, a good turn of a phrase.”
That ability has given Kevin more than a decade of success in his Texas stomping grounds where he is embraced with a vengeance by audiences who love him and his music. But he wants more.
“At first, my whole thing was to make a livin’ playin.’ ‘Course, once you get that, you do want more. Right now, we’re just tryin’ to spread the gospel of Hank Williams and honky tonks to the rest of the world.” But Kevin admits he’s intent on doing that without alienating his strong, loyal fan base by changing his music or who he is. “You gotta remember to dance with who brung ya.”
And, if anyone can do it, Kevin can . . . especially with his new batch of tunes, including the quintessential Fowleresque “Hell Yeah, I Like Beer,” “Beer Money” and “Chippin’ Away,” all the kind of clever party tunes Kevin’s built his career on. But the rowdy Texan reveals a very appealing tender side with the heartfelt “Do That With You Gone” and “Daddies and Daughters,” a song guaranteed to make even tough guy fathers of girls reach for a tissue. “Borderline Crazy,” a highlight on an album full of them, combines geography with a state of mind and adds just the right touch of Tex-Mex accordion, along with classic lines like goin’ to bed with my flip flops on. Who hasn’t been there?
And Kevin perfectly describes every cowboy’s dream with “Girl in a Truck,” a song about a girl who, thankfully, is a “little naughty and a little nice.” “Here’s to Me and You” is an unabashed ode to Friday nights, “the girls all prettied up” and “guys with a couple hundred dollars burnin’ a hole in their blue jeans.” Does it get any better than that for a country boy? And “Big River” offers a different take on all things country . . . including the winding river whose “muddy waters wash my cares away.” Great lyrics full of powerful images.
“That Girl” is, as Kevin correctly describes it, “just a big country-pop monster.” And because of that, it’s the kind of song he might have been uneasy including on his records a few years back. But now he realizes, “Our live show is in your face and crazy and has more to do with Metallica than Merle. But our records are more country. And I think our fan base is just like me. They’re just pick-up drivin’ good-time beer drinkin’ . . . they listen to it all.”
And one song they’ve been listening to and loving in Kevin’s live shows is “Knocked Up.” But what’s not to love about a song whose chorus includes the lines: “you got knocked up, I got locked up . . . I guess you’d say we both got screwed?” Yep, that ladies and gentlemen, is country music.
With his new album, Kevin will have a larger megaphone than ever before, one that will not take him away from his country roots, but show the rest of the world what’s so special about them.
But, ultimately, Kevin knows he only has control over one thing in his career. “What you do onstage . . . nobody can make you sound crappy but you. That’s Kevin Fowler Music 101 in a nutshell. Make it about the fans, the live show and the music. And hopefully everything else will come from there.”
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