Interview – Chris Wall: Getting Reckless

“Man, I heard the coolest song on the radio today. It was called “Something To Shoot” and it’s by this guy named Chris Wall.” A close friend was calling from Houston, very excited about discovering Chris and his music. With a recommendation this strong, I had to find the CD and hear it for myself. The year was 1989 and the album was the classic “Honky Tonk Heart.” I was an instant fan and have been ever since. In 1991 he released “No Sweat,” another cornerstone of pure Texas honky-tonk that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the first album was no fluke. Both were released on Jerry Jeff Walker’s Tried And True label.

God smiled on Chris in ’93 when Confederate Railroad recorded his song “Trashy Women” and took it all the way up the country charts. Using royalties from that song, Chris founded his own label, naming it Cold Spring Records. His first release was his 1994 album, “Cowboy Nation.” Simply brilliant is the phrase I used to describe that album. In 1997, Wall recorded a few shows at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels and released the live album “On Any Saturday Night In Texas.” Hundreds of music critics, including myself, named it the best album of the year.

Chris headed south to Texas from Jackson Hole, Wyoming in late 1988 at the invitation of Jerry Jeff Walker. Walker had heard Chris during a tour through that state earlier that year. Chris was bartending at a club where Jerry Jeff was performing. During the break, Chris got up and sang a few songs. Walker told him to visit him in Austin and maybe write some songs together. Almost a year later, Chris decided to accept the offer. Things were kinda slow in Wyoming and winter was coming on. Soon after arriving in Texas, Chris opened a show for Jerry Jeff at Gruene Hall and the rest is history.

We caught up with Chris shortly after the release of the incredible new album, “Tainted Angel,” recorded with his friends, Reckless Kelly.

CLM: The new album with Reckless Kelly is fantastic. Where did the idea come from to record with them?

Chris Wall: Basically they moved down here and I know their dad real well from Idaho. (Muzzie Braun, father of Cody & Willy Braun, of Reckless Kelly). He had a band up there, the Braun Brothers Band. His kids were in the band, Cody and Willy. I’ve known them since they were little kids. When they decided to move to Austin, I did all I could to help them get started. They wanted to make a record so I put “Millican” out on my record label. We just started hanging out, doing a lot of picking together and some of the music started to make sense. I had some songs that I thought needed to be rocked up a little more, and they played the country stuff real good. So, we talked about it and thought it would be a fun deal to do. I really heard it in my head coming out about the way it did. It was a fun project to do.

CLM: One of the things that first got me interested in your music was your songwriting style. When I hear a song of yours, it’s like you can picture the story in your mind. Explain that style.

Chris Wall: Yeah, the imagery and all that is important. The guys I admire are writers like John Prine and John Stewart. Robert Earl  and Guy Clark. Like in “Desperados Waiting For A Train”, you are sitting in the Green Toad Frog Cafe in Mineral Wells. You can see it, like a movie. Just like Springsteen’s stuff, it’s like seeing a movie.

CLM: Speaking of Springsteen, have you bought his new box set yet?

Chris Wall: Not yet, I want to get some opinions on it before I do.

CLM: I see where you’ve signed a distribution deal with E-Squared Records, Steve Earle’s label. That’s very exciting.

Chris Wall: It’s really gonna make all the difference in the world. Not only for my stuff but for other artists as well. It will also help the soundtrack for “Chasing The Dream,” a soundtrack we did for a bull riding documentary.

CLM: What gave you the idea to start your own label?

Chris Wall: After I left Jerry Jeff’s label in ’93, I just didn’t have anywhere to go. Nobody was particularly interested in a 40 year old cowboy singer. So I started my label so I could release my album, “Cowboy Nation.” Once we made our money back, we did the live album. That album did better and then we had the chance to do the “Chasing The Dream” soundtrack. About that time, Reckless Kelly were ready to record their album, so now we have five releases. We decided to sign another band and were able to get the Asylum Street Spankers. Their album comes out in January or February. We’re also excited about James Hand from Tokyo, Texas, who we just signed. He’s phenomenal and writes great songs.

CLM: Since songwriting is one of your major talents, do you have the title first or the idea?

Chris Wall: Actually there are a lot of songs that I have a hard time finding a title for. There are several songs I’ve written that just don’t seem to have a name. You play them for awhile and someone comes up and says “Do that “Turns To Tears” song.” And you go, OK, that’s what it’s called. Sometimes it’s the hook, it’s the title. It’s about 50-50 with me. You get a line or two and it grows. Those that have a story to tell are often harder to write than the ones where you just have an idea.

CLM: How do you come up with those witty lines like, “I’d rather be a fence post in Texas than the King of Tennessee?”

Chris Wall: I don’t know. If I did, I’d bottle it.

CLM: Just for the record, is that a true story about meeting Jerry Jeff in Wyoming and being invited to come to Texas?

Chris Wall: I’d met him in Jackson Hole and played some songs with his band. I was tending bar there. That’s all true. We went back to his hotel and stayed up half the night, playing songs and stuff. He said if I got a tape together to send it to him. It took a good year before I got a tape together and I sent it to him. I went back to working at ranches in Montana and he called me on a Sunday in September of ’88. My number was on the tape, so he said “Do you want to come down and write some songs?” I said sure, but I don’t have any money. “That’s OK, he said, you can open some shows for me.”  I planned on staying a few weeks, but one thing led to another. Got some real good response, was getting paid and winter was coming on in Montana. So I decided to stay and see if I could make a go of this music. It’s been 10 years now.

CLM: Any future plans we need to know about?

Chris Wall: I’m gonna write more songs and tour more than I did in ’98. I have some help now at the label so I’m free to play more live shows now.

CLM: Good, well Chris, I hope the record enjoys plenty of success and I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to us today.

Chris Wall: Well thank you very much, I appreciate that. Take it easy. I’ll see you soon.

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