Many singers both in Nashville and Texas wear cowboy hats, but George Strait and James Lann are two of the very, very few country stars who are genuine cowboys.
“I grew up on cattle ranches in Arizona and New Mexico, I was born and raised cowpunching,” Lann says in a phone conversation from his home near Houston in mid-December. “I packed up and moved to Texas when I was 20, to pay my dues in the Honky Tonk’s of Texas like George Strait and many others. I was always thinking of creating a singing career.”
Nashville movers and shakers are thinking of James increasingly, ever since he notched his third straight No. 1 single on both, highly competitive Texas Music Charts with “Every Kiss Goodnight” on his own Ari-Tex Records label. His earlier No. 1 in 2010 was the autobiographical “The Talent Requires.”
In August of 2009, “Honky Tonk Two-Step Queen” also reached No. 1. This song was from his first album F-O-R-D.
Lann says of his most recent Texas chart-topper: “I wrote,’Every Kiss Goodnight’ for my wife Stephanie. It was the second single we put out from the CD Honky Tonk Kung Fu, and it’s doing really well. We have spent an increasing amount of time visiting radio stations, and we have been doing more live shows to make it work.”
James didn’t move directly to Nashville. Instead he moved to Texas because, he says, “I wanted to stand out from the crowd and have crafted a unique sound and really build a strong market for our music before we approached the national levels. We’ve been building our fan base here in our market and really creating a great springboard for our music. We really want to expand our markets and create great relationships in Nashville as we move forward.”
Musically, Lann’s records feature strong, guitar-driven hooks with his smooth, confident baritone vocals. “Every Kiss Goodnight” has the kind of chimey guitars that artists like the Byrds made famous. This combination of retro and current stylings has helped James become a radio and fan favorite in the Lone Star State.
And oh by the way, the Lone Star State is a bigger market now than ever. In late December, the 2010 Census revealed that Texas is one of just 5 states whose population grew by more than 20 percent the last decade. It is also a state where the Great Recession which has pounded the economy of other places – like Tennessee – has had little or no affect perhaps because of Texas’s continual growth.
Lann says his own musical influences run the gamut from AC/DC to George Jones, with countless stops in between. “The Talent Requires” also features many Brad Paisley-style shades and humor as well.
“We’ve been well accepted by radio, and it’s been a great blessing,” Lann says. “We’re excited every time we get a charted single. We love the rush from working to take it to the top of the charts and continue to put out the best music we can possibly record.”
But because of the massive size and scope of Texas, playing and touring in the state is never easy.
The traveling can be really exhausting,” Lann admits. “We hit 25 or 30 stations a week, usually driving between 1,500 and 3,000 miles each week. I bought a truck last year and it’s already got 80,000 miles on it. We are now in the process of buying a bus.”
Depending on the show and the venue, James works with either a 4-piece or 5-piece band on the road. Lann books many of the shows himself. He also works with Charles Vessels of Gold Stream Management and radio promoter’s Ed Spacek with The Spacek Company and Dorothea Ivey with Cabin Creek Promotions both based around Austin, TX.
Another major contact in Nashville is Allen Butler, who oh by the way used to run a label group here you just might have heard of – Sony Nashville. Butler is now working as an independent artist manager.
James grew up on a working cattle ranch. What was that like?
“I think it instilled deep family roots, moreover a good work ethic,” he says. “Dad taught me that if it needs to be done, you do it. You don’t always have someone else to do things for you. If you gotta pull a well or do surgery on a cow out in the middle of nowhere, do it.”
That massive work ethic helped Lann do something else recently. He lost a whopping 40 pounds in 90 days through eating healthier and exercising.
And where did the unique name of the current album come from?
“ `Honky Tonk Kung Fu’ is one of the names of a song on the album. Chuck Floyd and I wrote that tune and it’s hilarious. The song is about a bar brawl and how it really looks like an old Chinese kung fu flick and not MMA. It’s a catchy name that people might pick up to look at a little closer, that’s why I picked it as the title,” James says, smiling.
James works with several CO-writers, both in Nashville and Texas, including Chuck Allen Floyd, Jon Goodwin, and Carson Chamberlain. Carson used to help run Mercury Nashville, and his production credits include Deana Carter’s No. 1 “Strawberry Wine.”
Lann is also a huge fan of his fellow Texas artists, including Kevin Fowler, Wade Bowen and many others.
Given his phenomenal work ethic and chart-topping radio success, 2011 figures to unfold as another amazing year for James Lann.
By Phil Sweetland