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Reflection is the catalyst to coming full circle.
Texas country singer-songwriter Kevin Fowler took a couple of years to take stock of his artistic career, launch his own record label, then write and record How Country Are Ya? the old-fashioned way.
How Country Are Ya? - Fowler's seventh studio album and his first for Kevin Fowler Records in a joint venture with Nashville's Thirty Tigers - is the good-timing, tradition-steeped and honky-tonk-stomping Amarillo native's return to basics effort. A year in the making, the album features 15 fresh tunes (he wrote all of them except for the raucous instrumental "Mousturdonus") and was produced by Ken Tondre, Fowler's drummer, at Tondre's The Compound Recording Studio in Austin.
One of the most potent songs on How Country Are Ya? is "Panhandle Poorboy," a completely autobiographical piece that's clearly the centerpiece of Fowler's mindset during the creation of the disc. Simply put, he wanted to come back home.
"The last couple of records have been on Nashville record labels," Fowler said, referring to 2007's Bring It On, released on Equity Music Group, and 2011's Chippin' Away, released on Average Joe's Entertainment.
"But this one is on my own label with my buddies like we used to make records. I wanted to feel right at home, go back to the well, and not get into any outside influences. I really felt like I wanted to make music closer to all my anthems that people scream along to at shows."
Plus, How Country Are Ya? is chock full of Texas-centric collaborations. Earl Dibbles Jr., the alter-ego of Dallas-bred Granger Smith, provides the disc's no-nonsense intro. Amy Rankin, one half of Austin's The Rankin Twins, croons with Fowler on the emotionally evocative number "Before Somebody Gets Hurt." San Antonio's Grammy winners Los Texmaniacs crank up the South-of-the-border ambiance of "Borracho Grande." Kingwood, Texas' rebel-rouser Davin James lends his big personality to the hilarious "Chicken Wing." And Huntsville, Texas newcomer Cody Johnson stirs straight-up country action on "Guitars and Guns."
See? Told ya Fowler threw a studio party with his good friends and turned it into a record. But of course the first single, "How Country Are Ya?," is quintessential Fowler. The song crackles with all the beer joint energy that characterizes every creative fiber in Kevin Fowler's body.
The point behind each lyric, each guitar lick, and each twanging-rocking melody is the live show. Fowler has earned his reputation as one of the most amped-up concert performers to emerge from the modern day Texas country movement. For those that have experienced Fowler onstage, then you know he brings unbridled musical muscle to the platform. Backed by his trusty band he's a dynamo - cracking jokes, hitting high notes, strumming his guitar and putting each of his fans in two-stepping mode.
"From day one I realized I couldn't control what radio played and what video channels played, but the one thing I could control every night was the live show," Fowler said. "The musicians want to be there, the fans want to be there and I want to be there. People can listen to the CDs at home. But if they come to the shows they are ready to have a good time for an hour-and-a-half, forget about their problems and forget about work on Monday."
Pretty much any city in Texas belongs to Fowler, but he will immediately point out that he is quickly growing in Oklahoma and throughout the Midwest, all the way up to Chicago.
"I get a big kick out of seeing the way it has spread now across the country. It's really cool how we've come so far. I remember a time when Texas country music didn't have as long a reach."
Enter social media. Fowler boasts more than 270,000 Facebook likes and 34,000-plus cool Twitter followers. But, most importantly, the percentage of those people who engage Kevin online is higher than nearly any country artist anywhere. For an independent artist like him, that's crucial to career growth and sustainment. He knows full well that social media puts bodies in concert seats and creates an imperative rapport with his fans. It is the technological age way for artists to connect with admirers.
"Social media is the biggest part," Fowler said. "Social media is king. It has impacted my career as significantly as radio. Twenty years ago the only tool you really had was Kinkos to make flyers. This is the biggest piece of the puzzle especially for us now since we don't have a lot of radio airplay. I can reach my target audience big time now."
But naturally even the fiercest honky-tonker needs a little down time. Or should we say outdoors time? Fowler comes from a long line of hunters and fishermen. And if you ask him how often he gets to the hunting grounds and the fishing hole he quickly replies, "Anytime I can!"
How thick is the hunting and fishing blood coursing through Fowler's veins? You could say it's totally innate.
"I was born in May and in September of that year I went on my first hunting trip. My dad was a huge bowhunter. I still go bowhunting. That is what we did as a family. We also went on fishing trips every spring break. That made me who I am. It was camping in Colorado, bow hunting in the fall and fishing every spring break. Now it's all about the camaraderie of friends, getting away, and the freedom of the outdoors."
"I would have never in a million years thought the Texas music scene would grow to what it is now," a proud Fowler said. "I was lucky enough to have been there since the inception. I feel proud to have played a part in establishing the scene, in making it what it is. We fought a lot of battles and kicked a lot of doors down. We broke those barriers down back then. And now we are having fun spreading it town by town outside of Texas, just the way we did inside the home state."