The cowboy and the hillbilly


  • McBride met Wynn Varble on a golf course

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Justin McBride met Wynn Varble on a golf course, of all places.

The bull rider and the self-proclaimed hillbilly were wearing cowboy hats instead of sun visors that day at a country club in Mississippi, but they didn’t just happen to be there. It was 2002, and they were playing in a charity golf tournament hosted by country singer Tracy Byrd.

Varble spent the next three evenings in McBride’s hotel room with J.W. Hart and Ross Coleman, sharing songs and drinks.

“That guy is hard to forget meeting,” McBride said. “He makes an impression on you.”

McBride was in awe of Varble’s ability to capture the attention of everyone there, either “rich, snooty people from the golf tournament or drunk bull riders.” All Varble needed was a guitar and an audience.

At the time, McBride was known to play the guitar, but didn’t dream of performing on stage or writing songs that he would call his own.

It would be seven years before McBride released his debut album “Don’t Let Go,” but those three late nights in Mississippi would be wind up greatly influencing his musical career.

“He’s a smarter guy than people know,” said McBride of the boisterous Varble, “but you have to get to know him a little bit.

“When you first see him he’s usually got on some big clodhopper boots, an old dirty hat, he starts talking and you think, ‘Here’s some dumbass hick.’ Don’t get me wrong, he’s as country as the day is long, but he plays it up a little bit, too.”

Over the next few years their friendship grew.

Varble, a Georgia native who relocated to Nashville in 1992, would come visit McBride every spring to help brand his calves. They’d tell stories and play guitar until eventually those stories became songs.

And when the time finally came to record his first album, McBride enlisted Varble’s writing talents.

He helped write "God’s in Oklahoma Today" and "Good Saddles Ain’t Cheap." Varble also had a hand in writing "Tough," "Cowboy ‘Til I Die," "Don’t Let Go" and, of course, "Beer Drinkin’ Songs."

“I don’t write that much,” McBride said, “and he’s one of the only people I will write with, just because I’m not completely comfortable going around a complete stranger. But he knows who I am and what I’m about.

“All you have to do is give him an idea of what you’re wanting to write about that day, and he’s on it.”

Varble understands it’s not about writing his own songs for someone else to sing, but to help that person – and in this case, McBride – find his own voice.

It’s a trait that comes from being comfortable with himself, which is exactly how Varble appears on the CMT series "Next Superstar."

He’s not a young man, and doesn’t try to portray himself as hip and trendy. He’s not the greatest singer, and doesn’t pass himself off as one. However, he is an accomplished songwriter keen on adapting to whatever situation he finds himself in. In addition to penning songs for the likes of Chris LeDoux and Garth Brooks, he’s had a No. 1 hit with Darryl Worley.

This weekend, the two friends will each be doing what comes naturally – entertaining audiences.

The second episode of "Next Superstar" airs on Friday night at 9 p.m. ET on CMT, while McBride and his band travel to Las Vegas for two performances Saturday night.

McBride, who released his second album last year in conjunction with the PBR World Finals, will perform three songs at Mandalay Bay during the intermission of the Last Cowboy Standing.

The performance can be seen in its entirety during the PBR pay-per-view special. Following the event, he and his entire band will play a full concert at the PBR Rock Bar beginning at 11:30 p.m.

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Click here to purchase Last Cowboy Standing.

— by Keith Ryan Cartwright

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