The state of Mississippi may be small in population, but gigantic in its influence on American music and culture.
From Elvis Presley to B.B. King, from Jimmie Rodgers to William Faulkner, and from Marty Stuart to Show Dog/Universal artist Randy Houser, the Magnolia State has made massive contributions to our lives.
“When you think about it, Mississippi was the home of the King of Rock’n’Roll, Elvis,” Houser says in a conversation in mid-January, hours before he stepped into a Nashville studio to record some new hits.
“So was the King of the Blues, Robert Johnson,” Randy continues. “And Jimmie Rodgers, the Father of Country Music, was from there too.”
That reminded Randy of a conversation he once had with his producer, Mark Wright.
Randy asked Mark, “where do you think the soul came from in the singers I grew up lovin’, like Otis Redding?”
And Wright told Houser something which has remained with him to this day: “Randy, I think it comes from bein’ poor and feelin’ it. It’s feelin’ the blues. You can hear blues, but it’s not just the notes. You either feel it or you don’t.”
One of Randy’s breakthrough songs as a writer, Trace Adkins’ 2005 smash “Honky Tonk Badonk Adonk,” came when he and co-writers Dallas Davidson and Jamey Johnson were all themselves feeling the blues, since at that time none of them had scored a cut and all were pretty much broke.
The three were at the Wildhorse one night.
“I was looking down at all the girls dancing, and for some reason this song idea popped into my head. I just started laughing,” Randy recalls. “I went over to Jamey and said, `you ain’t gonna believe what I just thought of.’ I’d heard the word ‘Badonk Adonk’ before, but my idea was `Honky Tonk Badonk Adonk.’ ”
About six weeks later, the three guys wrote it, and the rest is country and country radio history. Now, Houser is on the same label as Adkins.
That record company, Show Dog/Universal, is run by Toby Keith, and Houser had a history with Toby as well, long before he signed with his label. That came in Randy’s first days in Music City.
“I was sittin’ in Tootsie’s, and Toby Keith walked into the upstairs floor there,” Houser said.
Randy couldn’t summon up the nerve to say hello to his hero, but Toby came over and said, “well, how you doin’? Whatcha doin’ here?”
Houser told Keith: “I just moved here this week.”
Then, as Randy recalls, “Toby said, `well, good luck brother, and he bought me a beer.”
Now fast-forward a few years, and Randy’s on Toby’s label.
Another big Randy hit, this time as a solo artist, was “Boots On,” which he performed at last year’s Country Radio Seminar New Faces Show.
“It was a blast playing the New Faces,” he says. “Talk about a lot of pressure. All the people who are gonna decide whether or not to play your record are in the same room, and we were quite successful.”
Randy expects to introduce his latest single at this year’s CRS-2011, which takes place at the Nashville Convention Center March 2-4.
Houser fans will not only love his new solo album, “They Call Me Cadillac,” but also his appearance on a tribute to one of Randy’s all-time favorite artists, Waylon Jennings..
The album is called “The Music Inside: A Collaboration Dedicated To Waylon Jennings.” Houser performs Waylon’s “I’m A Ramblin’ Man,” the 1974 single that gave Waylon his second consecutive No. 1 Billboard hit. “This Time” came right before it, and prior to that Waylon had never scored a Billboard chart-topper as an artist.
“Waylon Jennings was a huge influence on me, obviously,” Houser says.
“I think he was the one that really taught us a generation that we can make our own music. And really whether we’re getting the push by the labels in Nashville that we need, we still get to make our own music and let the fans decide.”
Now Randy Houser and his radio-friendly music and tours are inspiring a whole new generation and proudly carrying on the Waylon and Mississippi traditions that were so important to Houser back in the day.
By Phil Sweetland