The Birth of Americana Music

The New Braunfels music scene is one of our most popular attractions, bringing fans from all over the state. So far we’ve talked about how Gruene Hall and KNBT-FM joined forces to give artists a place to play and a radio station to feature their music. Last month we learned that when Mattson Rainer attended his first show at Gruene Hall, it was to see a sold-out concert by Robert Earl Keen. This was a game changer for Mattson and was one of the deciding factors that convinced him to change the format of KNBT to Americana. However, have you ever wondered where Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett got their start? Fortunately, Robert’s best friend and college roommate is Brian Duckworth, who happens to live right here in town. I recently spoke with Brian and he shared his story of the early days with Robert and Lyle Lovett.

“Robert and I have been friends since third grade,” explains Duckworth. “We lived in Houston and were friends all through our school years and still are today. His mom was an attorney and was very well read; she had a true appreciation for language. Robert got his love of reading and writing from her.” After graduation, Brian enrolled at Texas A&M with an eye on becoming a veterinarian. Keen followed soon after and his mom rented a house for him. “I lived in the dorm but moved in with Robert once he got the house,” Brian recalled. “It belonged to an old rancher who often asked Keen to help him with chores on his ranch. I had an old fiddle and Robert had his sister’s guitar and we had a little band called The Front Porch Boys.” Robert and Lyle would later write about the rancher in their hit song, aptly titled The Front Porch Song.

During their second year at A&M, Lyle Lovett moved into a house down the street and soon joined them for the front porch jam sessions. “We didn’t know we were playing Americana, we were just playing music we liked,” explains Brian. “We would listen to lots of music, from Commander Cody to Taj Mahal to Bill Monroe. One album that had a big impact on us was ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’ by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. We wore that one out.” Keen and Lovett started playing acoustic gigs at a local coffee house called The Basement and they would check out other musicians that played there.” After graduation, Keen moved to Austin and along with Lyle started playing on Sunday afternoons at Gruene Hall.

In 1986 he moved to Nashville but returned to Texas after failing to make a dent in the mainstream music scene. By the time he released his third album, West Textures, he had written his signature song, ‘The Road Goes on Forever.’ He started touring on a national level, often sharing the bill with two of his hero’s, Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. Brian had stayed behind in Houston and had a day job but played with a local country cover band. He would sit in with Keen on weekends. “After I traveled out to Terlingua with him one weekend in 1989, I decided to quit my job and join his band full time. When I called him to let him know what I’d done, he was a little freaked out because now he was responsible for my salary.”

Brian stayed in Keen’s band until 2000, when he grew tired of life on the road and decided to open a fiddle repair shop in downtown New Braunfels. Keen lives in Kerrville now and along with fellow Texan Lovett, they had no idea that those crude front porch jams would jumpstart a new genre of music, one that would flourish in Texas and spread to Oklahoma and then all across America. “It’s funny,” says Duckworth, “when Robert first started people criticized his voice, now people are deliberately trying to sing like him. At night, when I close up my shop and walk across the street to my truck, I think I can hear Robert singing at the Pour Haus.”

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