Lyle Lovett is many things – a Grammy award-winning singer, a talented songwriter, and an entertaining storyteller, just to name a few. But one thing he’s not, and that’s easy to pigeonhole. Is his music more country or folk? Is he more in the style of Western Swing, Bluegrass, or the Blues?
The answer is, all of the above, and much more. He’s also a genuinely nice guy who’s enjoying being a dad to five-year-old twins, along with his wife, April, at their home near Houston. He says he likes touring in Texas because he can fly home after the show and be there in the mornings when the kids get up.
The Texas singer was born in Houston and grew up in the nearby community of Klein. He graduated from Texas A&M in 1980, where he received his BA in both German and Journalism. He played and sang in many of the clubs around the College Station area and performed at the Kerrville Folk Festival in the early 80s. Contacts that he made there eventually led to a record contract.
His music is hard to categorize, but that’s a reflection of a lot of Texas music in general. The highest award in the music industry is the Grammy, and he’s won four of them – one for “Best Male Vocal Performance,” and one for “Best Country Album.” He’s also in demand as a singing partner – he collaborated with Randy Newman on “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” (the theme song from Pixar’s Toy Story) and has also won a Grammy for a recording he did with Western Swing band Asleep at the Wheel, and another for a version of the classic Willie Nelson song, “Funny How Time Slips Away,” recorded with pop singer Al Green.
He has been to Abilene twice in the last month, playing both times at the historic Paramount Theatre, with an amazing four-piece backup band he calls the “Acoustic Group.” All of these guys are world-class musicians and session artists – a piano player and keyboardist, a fiddle player, a guitar and mandolin player, and a bass guitarist. A lot of his songs showcase the guys from the band taking turns doing instrumental solos – what’s known in Bluegrass and other musical forms as a “breakdown.” And let me tell you, these guys could really play! Whether it was the strong Blues riff of “My Baby Don’t Tolerate,” or the upbeat Western Swing, “That’s Right – You’re Not from Texas,” the concert featured a wide cross-section of musical styles. The show lasted a little over two hours, then they came back out and played an encore for another half hour.
My friend Loren Cole met Lyle a few years ago and they have kept in touch, and so Loren was able to get us tickets and backstage passes to visit with the singer for a few minutes after the show. And even though we were standing in a cold wind, in the alley behind the Paramount, after a long show, he was gracious and friendly, and seemed to really enjoy the visit and conversation.
I enjoyed hearing many of his best-known tunes – songs like “She’s No Lady” and “If I Had a Boat.” During the encore, he did a personal favorite of mine – a song written by Michael Martin Murphy that mentions Haskell and Abilene, called “West Texas Highway.” He also told a great story about getting to meet and work with the cowboy singer.
But I think my favorite part was when he told a sweet story about his family’s cemetery in East Texas and going to visit there during workdays. He told about being a kid and playing with his cousins while the men mowed and trimmed the trees and hauled off the branches around the cemetery. And as the ladies fixed a huge covered-dish dinner, he and the other kids would be jumping and sliding into a muddy branch of the San Jacinto River. He talked about the continuity of family and knowing that these were your people, and the generations continuing. Then he sang “12th of June,” a gorgeous song about the birth of his twins. As the lush harmonies unfolded – vocals pretty enough to make you cry – he got to the last verse:
So to my father and my mother
And to our fathers long before
There are those who walk above us
Who’ll remember that we were
They will remember that we were
And to these beautiful two children
And to my sweet and tender wife
I will love you three forever
Though I fly beyond this life
Though I fly beyond this life
By the branch at San Jacinto
Play for me a happy tune
Know of all the days I loved
I loved best the 12th of June