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The shade and soul of Texas country music

By James Herd

Imagine a genre of music that didn’t identify with country but couldn’t really be defined as rock ’n’ roll, or any one genre in particular, for that matter. Such a genre exists, and it goes by the name of Texas music or Red Dirt country music.

“Twenty years ago, fifteen years ago, there was a new sound that came out called Texas music. Wouldn’t call it country, wouldn’t call it Red Dirt, it was called Texas music,” recalled Zack Owen, who serves as the Central Texas regional programming manager at iHeartMedia, the media conglomerate formerly known as Clear Channel.

Owen gives examples of artists like Robert Earl Keen, Pat Green, Wade Bowen and Cody Canada – many of whom have been known to perform the Texas Music sound from the 1980s, with others entering the scene in the 1990s and 2000s. With such a populated genre, however, where did it begin?

“I don’t think anybody knows where it really started,” said native Wacoan and Lubbock-based country music artist Bowen. “I guess Oklahoma people say it started there, and I’ll assume Texas people say that it started in Texas. They call it Texas Red Dirt, and they call it Texas music.”

According to a 2006 column on the Country Music Television website, Red Dirt gets its name from the Texas, Oklahoma and Georgia area where iron oxide gives the soil a red color. Chet Flippo, the writer of the CMT column, asked Texas writer Joe Nick Patoski about the significance of Red Dirt music, and his reply confirms this assumption.

“Significance? Can you say ‘Outlaw Country’? It’s Texas Music minus the geographic specificity, a nice way of saying Oklahoma music, which doesn’t have quite the ring of Texas music, but sure is better than citing Eskimo Joe’s in Stillwater.” said Patoski.

If that’s true and Texas music is Red Dirt without the link to Oklahoma, then perhaps there is a better name for the genre, to further separate it from its roots. There is, according to Owen, who says he has been working in the industry for 38 years, a common confusion and generalization of the Texas music genre.

“I think a lot of people just kind of throw it under one big, giant genre,” Owen said. “Which actually, the Texas music sound, if you look at a lot of the trade magazines, that all falls under what’s called Americana music….A lot of festivals that take place across Texas are Americana festivals and a lot of the Texas guys are on the lineup there.”

So the next time that country music is playing on the radio, keep in mind that there’s more than just one style and form to it, but it all comes together to form a universal image of artists who just love to perform the music that they love for the people they love.

“We like to play rock ‘n’ roll, we like to play country, we like to play honky-tonk; we like to play it all,” Bowen said. “I’ve always been a fan of country music, ever since I was a little kid. My family always listened to it, it was always around and always on. I just…I love it. I think it’s good.”