True Texas Raised Redneck

Grady Keenan
For many years, Grady Keenan was touring as a musician. He also played in Tracy Lawrence’s band in the early days of Tracy’s career. In 2008, Grady formed the Keen Country Band.

He grew up in the Texas Panhandle with five siblings. At nine years old, he already played music and shortly after that started to write songs. During his service in the US Marine Corps, he completed several new songs. After several friends and fans convinced him to finally put these songs on a CD, he released his first album, Texas Raised Redneck, in 2021.

Bruno Michel: Grady, you are in the music business since many years, be it as singer/songwriter, drummer or as a board member of local music organizations. Still, it took until recently to finally get a CD with your songs. Grady Keenan: We grew up poor and in the country, in the little town of Dalhart, Texas, about 90 miles northwest of Amarillo, close to the Oklahoma-, New Mexico-  and Colorado-border. I did play music as a teenager but I never thought that I would produce an album with my songs. I was completely happy to play in a band and didn’t want to be the frontman. That’s why it took 62 years until I gathered some songs and put them on my first album.

You hail from the panhandle but you live in Central Texas in Lockhart since a long time. Are there more opportunities to play in that area or why did you move? Well, I was working in the oilfields in the panhandle for Halliburton until 1982 when the order backlog was bad and they let all people go who only worked there for a short time. So, I joined the US Marine Corps and they also gave me an education as an electrical engineer. After my service in the military, I was honorably discharged. One of my friends lived in Victoria, Texas and he needed a drummer. So, I moved down sough and played in his band for a while and also in other bands. This finally brought me to Caldwell County in South Central Texas.

About ten years ago, you won the Best Musician award in Caldwell County for several years in a row. Last year, your single Texas Raised Redneck made it on the sampler Best Texas Country Picks Volume 3, issued by the Texas Country Music Association. What do you think about such honors? It shows me that my work is recognized. Obviously, some people are listening to my music and think that it’s good enough to issue an award. It makes me proud and motivates me to move forward. These awards are proof that I am not just wasting my time and that there are people who like what I do.

Beside your solo career, you are also founder and member of the Keen Country Band. The first band that I’ve ever seen where the drummer is positioned front stage. (laughs). Yes, we usually do have a drummer but on Fridays he’s working longer hours and can’t get out early enough to make it to the gigs on time. On these days, I jump in and also play the drums, while on other days I am just the singer.

…and that’s why you get two parts of the money for the gig and not just one (laughter). How do you decide between solo gigs or those with the band? Or does that usually work out by itself? Mostly, I combine the gigs. This is kind of my house band. The boys played together long before I joined in 2008 and renamed it the Keen Country Band. We are all close friends and we love to play together.

What comes first when you write a song? The lyrics or the melody? Basically, the topic for the song. For example, the song Western Mountain Land, which I wrote on the army base in the Mojave Desert in California. But sometimes it’s the melody. When I wrote Texas Raised Redneck, I had this guitar riff in my head and not much more. Then we once ate in a little diner and I saw a sign on the wall that said: Texas Raised Redneck. So, the song started to take shape. But, like I said, usually there’s the topic, then comes the melody and finally, I build the lyrics around it.

You played with a few well-known Texas musicians, such as Tracy Lawrence or Joe Stampley, among others. Is there a big star that you would like to share the stage with some day? I’m always happy if I can play in a band who needs a drummer. It doesn’t matter if they are famous or a local small band. But if it would have to be a supergroup, then I would have loved to play with The Highwaymen.

What I like about your CD is that you combine various styles of music. Traditional Country, Blues, Southern Rock, Gospel. It’s all on that CD. Which style does fit you best personally? Honestly, it’s traditional country music that I like best. That’s what I grew up with. At home, this sound was played constantly and when we the kids went to bed, we fell asleep to the sound from the living room. That’s why I also play a lot of cover songs in my sets, for example songs by Merle Haggard. Unfortunately, there are only very few radio stations left, that like to play this kind of music. Even though there are a lot of young artists in Texas who keep playing traditional country music.

On your album there’s only one cover song, Someday Soon, by Ian Tyson. That’s another icon with a career of more than 60 years. You sing this song together with Amanda Bryant. Tyson recorded the song in 1963 also as a duet with his then-wife Sylvia Fricker. Why did you choose this song specifically? I just like it. In the beginning I didn’t even know that Tyson already recorded it as a duet. I knew the song from Moe Bandy or Suzy Bogguss and I thought that it should sound great as a duet. When I contacted Ian because I wanted to change a few lines in the lyrics, he told me that I wasn’t the first to record this song as a duet (laughs).

What kind of job would you have if there was no music career in your life? The same that I learned thanks to the US Marine Corps. Electrical Engineer. I love this job still today but I might have a hard time finding old equipment where I could still use my knowledge from the old days (laughs).

The legendary Bobby Flores has produced your CD. Our joint friend is fighting a severe illness right now, and we hope he will soon recover from it. How did you get in touch with Bobby. I had a fiddler in my band who knew Bobby well. Of course, I knew who Bobby Flores was but I had never met him personally. So, when we met, I told him about my album plans. He immediately offered to help me. And not just that. He did much more than just produce the album. His hints and tips have helped a lot to make this album better. Thanks to Bobby I now have a quality production to hand to my fans. I really hope he gets well soon.

Last question: If you were to interview Grady Keenan, which question would you ask that I did not ask? Will there be another album sometime? The answer is clearly yes. Right now, I have about half the songs ready that I want to put on the next record. Since Bobby needs some off time, I talked about it with Tracy Lawrence. He was interested to produce the album for me. It will again contain one cover song that hardly anyone knows. I hope to release it in the spring of 2023.

Thank you for the interview and lots of success in the future.