Talk Music: Gary P. Nunn to play Schroeder Hall
Sept. 18, 2013 at 4:18 a.m.
An Ambassador of Texas music, Gary P. Nunn is making his way to Schroeder Hall to spread the country tradition.
Nunn, who backed Jerry Jeff Walker with the Lost Gonzo Band in the 1970s and released more than a dozen albums over his career, is hoping for a good crowd that's up for two-stepping.
Before heading out to perform in Belize, Nunn caught up with Get Out about how it all started, his plans to release an album of unrecorded songs and his idea of the perfect name.
You were pigeonholed as "progressive country" in the 1970s; did you set out to intentionally make a different sound?
No, not really. I grew up playing in rock 'n' roll bands and R&B, whatever was popular in those days.
I graduated to The Beatles and then moved to Austin. About 1972, we started hanging out and getting to know some of these singer/songwriter guys. That was a slow progression.
We were band guys, so we would jump in there and back them up and make a little band behind them - guys like Michael Murphey and Jerry Jeff (Walker).
They started getting record deals. The next step - we go in and record their songs.
The blending of it was their folk singer background in the songs they had written and the guys who had a background playing in clubs with electronic guitar music.
It was a combination of the times we were living in: The '60s and the social changes going on in that period of time.
Everybody was looking for something new and different; we just happened to be there at the time with the sound that we had.
It was nothing intentional; it's just the way it happened. We just did what we did.
The country music world was looking for something different. You had this old, hippie culture developing as well.
Especially in Texas, all these old boys grew up being cowboys. They had that country music in their hearts and souls and that Texas background and culture, and so they put on cowboy hats and grew beards and long hair and whatever else, and we just happened to be there at that right time. We represented that change.
After playing with David Allen Coe, Michael Martin Murphey and Jerry Jeff Walker, did you ever feel pressured to drop the initial and go full-blown with three names?
No, no. The P. is about all I could go.
I started signing my name in high school Gary P. Nunn, and it just stuck.
I wish I'd changed my professional name a long time ago. It's hard to make it with a name like Nunn - something like Johnny Dinero, something with a little ring to it.
Do you see any similarities or differences between the way Red Dirt music has sprung up and the way yours did?
It's hard for me because so much of this new music is not based in the old traditions, which starts out being good and easy to dance to.
I think it's a youth version of country music - young people who are still running around and partying and still chasing women.
It's a less mature view of country life. That's not bad; it just is what it is.
Roll that window down; turn that music up; we're more country than you are.
That Nashville crowd is more juvenile with it.
Back then, there was a different mind-set to it, too.
The counterculture from my point of view was purifying your lifestyle rather than just partying down - going back to the land and getting back to nature, that home and family life being an important part of your existence.
How do you describe your songwriting style? Is it something that comes from the heart, something that you can whip out?
I would say that back then, it was a more eclectic style.
I'm not a real prolific writer. You have to lock me up somewhere and throw away the key.
I tried harder to be more artistic back in those days, actually.
Now, I try to be more simplistic and just cut through all the noise and everything and just say something is simply and clearly as possible without "Oh, the flowers in bloom, the blue sky." Everybody's heard that.
My deal is try to say it as simply and briefly - get your thought across.
"The Last Thing I Needed ..." was a song I did way-back-when that Willie Nelson recorded. That was probably one of the best ones that I did that exemplified that style.
So you're briefly from the heart?
I'm not necessarily writing to write a hit record, but as an artful expression.
You think painters paint pictures because they think they'll get a hit out of this painting? They do it because they're compelled to do it.
I just write if it comes out of me. It's just something that has to come out.
Is there a new band in the works?
I'm completely retooling my band.
I'm trying to get some musicians that are more capable of doing classic country and western swing music that verges on a little jazz, too, on the edges of it as well.
Putting a band together is a lifelong project; I've been doing it every since I started on my own trying to get the right people together.
One member I'm pretty sure is a songwriting partner of mine, Levi Mullen, I've cut a lot of his material on the past couple records. He's a real good country performer in his own right, and he writes really good classic country music, which I really like.
I have two or three bass players I'm working; none are willing or able to commit to a full-time gig, but they're willing to help me out.
What else is in the works?
We just broke ground on a studio and workspace.
I've got a backlog of material in my publishing company and songs I've written that I never recorded.
I'm going to set up a studio and record a demo.
I have a couple of book projects. One is a book of my photographs that I took all during the '70s while I was on the road. I've been approached by some of the universities in Texas and Oklahoma that said they would be interested in publishing a book if I got it together.
I started with a little 35 mm camera. It's just having really good exposures that print really well.
Mostly I'm just clicking as I go along - it's people we ran into backstage, I don't have so many on-stage, but mostly in our travels and the people I ran into.
I was with Jerry Jeff at this time and we ran into a lot of notable people: Willis Alan Ramsey and Doug Kershaw, Hank (Williams) Jr. - just a lot of people like that.
And an autobiographical book of me, my life and the music business.