Making a career in country

Highlights

  • Kevin Fowler will headline this year’s concert prior to the Iron Cowboy IV. He is scheduled to take the stage at 7 p.m. CT inside Cowboys Stadium on Saturday, March 2.
  • Fowler has written such hits as "Beer, Bait & Ammo," which was popularized by Sammy Kershaw in 2003, and "The Lord Loves the Drinkin’ Man," which was cut by Mark Chesnutt a year later. He also penned the Montgomery Gentry single "Long Line of Losers."

In This Article

FORT WORTH, Texas ― Spin through Kevin Fowler's iPod and it's only fitting that the catalog of Metallica albums immediately follows his Merle Haggard collection.

As a performer, the Texas native "runs the whole gamut," but as a songwriter his Amarillo upbringing in the Texas Panhandle is illustrated throughout his distinctly country lyrics. 

Earlier this week, during an afternoon break from preproduction for what will be his seventh studio album, Fowler described his live show as being "more Metallica than Merle."

He later explained, "It tastes like country, smells like rock n roll."

Fowler has been tabbed to headline this year's concert at Cowboys Stadium prior to the start of the Iron Cowboy IV. He is scheduled to take the stage at 7 p.m. CT for what he referred to as "the power hour."

"Justin McBride called me and said, 'Hey, do you want to do this thing?'" Fowler recalled. "I said, 'Count me in. I'm there.'"

The 46-year-old has been playing throughout Texas and the rest of the country for 20-plus years. 

"It tastes like country, smells like rock n roll."

He began his solo career on the Texas circuit back in 1998 after nearly 10 years of playing rock 'n' roll and heavy metal as a "gun-for-hire" guitar player.

"We tell everybody ― leave your worries at home, come on out and we're going to have a good time," Fowler said. "Our show is all about forgetting what's going on at the house and having a cold beer, kicking back and just letting it all go for a little bit."

His career took off in 2000 with the release of his second album "Beer, Bait & Ammo." 

"I feel lucky," he said. "I'm fortunate to have had a career down here. It's been a heck of a ride, man."

Fowler grew up the younger of two children in Amarillo.

His mother was an Elvis fanatic, and his father liked country music and played everything from Lefty Frizzell and Johnny Cash to Buck Owens and Roy Clark. Speaking of Owens and Clark, Fowler spent most Saturday's in front of the television watching weekly episodes of "Hee Haw."

Although the Fowler house was sonically filled with country music and 50s rock, like other boys who came of age in the 80s, Kevin was into heavy metal.

Rebelling against his parents and authority figures, in general, he gravitated to the likes of The Cars and then KISS and AC/DC, and eventually Metallica. 

"I'm a real channel surfer," Fowler said. "I'm not a real genre listener. I like everything.

"I was always trying to find music that pissed my parents off. I think, that's a common thread among all teenagers because I have a teenager now and, I think, she does the same thing. You get out there you try to find your own ― your thing. You're trying to find your own music that identifies yourself."

Nevertheless, those were formative years for Fowler and ultimately would play an instrumental role in developing his style.

A short time after graduating from Tascosa High School, Fowler attended West Texas A&M University. However, a year-shy of graduating he packed and moved west to Los Angeles, where he enrolled in the famed Guitar Institute of Technology.

Then came a series of rock bands.

Thinking he would eventually wind up in Nashville, Tenn., he returned to Texas and went down to Austin for what he thought would be a five-day trip. First he joined Rumble Train and then came his most notable heavy metal stint, in 1993, when he played more than 200 shows with Dangerous Toys, who at the time had released a pair of albums on Columbia Records.

"When I was playing in Dangerous Toys I really started seeing that the guys who made all the money were the guys writing the songs, not the guy hired to play the guitar," Fowler explained. "I got heavy into songwriting to where it became my passion. Guitar players out there are a dime a dozen, great songwriters are hard to come by. I started focusing on it and I got lucky."

Fowler might consider himself lucky, but, truth be told, an artist needs talent and needs to work hard to put themselves in a position for luck to happen.

Once he started to focus on songwriting, he naturally came by his transition to a more country-flavored style.

There's an old adage in which writers are often told to write what they know and to stay away from unfamiliar topics. In a sense, Fowler was simply writing about his own experience, which lyrically illustrated a quintessential country song.

"It wasn't really a conscious decision," he admitted. "It just kind of happened.

"I just went with it. I never really intended to be a country singer. I was recording all the songs ― cutting demos to try to get other people to cut my songs ― and one thing led to another and here we are. I'm still doing it."

The transition was also made easier due to the fact that nearly 20 years earlier he had been profoundly affected by Dwight Yoakam's debut album "Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.," which changed the musical landscape of country music when it was released in 1986.

"When I heard that, it was a sound I hadn't heard before," Fowler recalled. "I had listened to rock, I had listened to country and here's this guy coming out and he's combining all those elements. He was country, but he was cool. There weren't a lot of cool country guys when I was growing up. They were all slick and when that record came out it really changed my path, my musical path."

Country could indeed be edgy, entertaining, fun and, more importantly, cool.

In fact, before Yoakam there were guitar-driven country artists like Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed and then after Yoakam there was Vince Gill and, more recently, Brad Paisley.

Perhaps, there was a place for the one-time hired gun with the amplified guitar.

Kevin Fowler action

At night Fowler scored a weekly gig in Babe's on Sixth Street in Austin and by day he was writing and recording demos, which helped him to hone his craft as a songwriter and a singer.

He was already albums ― "One for the Road"; "Beer, Bait & Ammo"and "High on the Hog"―  into own solo career when Sammy Kershaw re-cut the title track to "Beer, Bait & Ammo"in 2003. A year later, he scored another hit single when Mark Chesnutt released "The Lord Loves the Drinkin' Man."

Fowler understands he might be thought of (or still remembered years from now) as the "Beer, Bait & Ammo"guy. The song admittedly was the catalyst for his career. In fact, that particular song afforded him the longevity and a much-needed opportunity to carve out a longstanding career.

It a pretty ironic twist for a song he wrote one day and never thought much about.

Only later did he realize it was a gift.

"That's one thing about writing a song," Fowler said, "you never know how a song is going to change your life, especially as a songwriter. It's wild how that works."

In 2009, country duo Montgomery Gentry made a hit out o f"Long Line of Losers."

By then Fowler was headlining his own shows throughout Texas and Oklahoma as well as New Mexico, Louisiana, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.

"To me, success is staying in the game long enough to get lucky," Fowler said.

By lucky, he's referring to having made a living as a musician without having the overwhelming support of mainstream radio.

These days, Fowler said, "I'm just happy to still be on the road, living it and doing it."

Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC

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