Charley Crockett – King Of The Wild Frontier

Photo: Bobby Cochran

The accolades have been coming a mile a minute for Americana singer/songwriter Charley Crockett for his 2022 breakthrough album “The Man From Waco”. He is among the most nominated for the 2023 Americana Honors & Awards with nominations for “Artist Of The Year”, “Album of The Year” and “Song Of The Year”. “The Man From Waco” was the first album to debut at #1 since Nathaniel Rateliff in 2021, and that other music magazine, Rolling Stone, declared “Waco” the second-best country album of 2022.

But those who might think Charley to be an overnight sensation ought to think again. Charley’s hoboing, as he calls it, started around 2008, when he played on city street corners. When he became tired of one place or simply felt like moving on he would hop onto a boxcar or hitch a ride, and this led him to New Orleans, California and back east to New York. He also spent some time overseas plying his trade in places as disparate as Paris and Morocco. For Charley, all the miles he logged were well worth it. 

“I taught myself how to play and sing on street corners and on highway sides,” says Charley, on the phone line from Grand Rapids Michigan prior to his show there. “I also learned from older men and women and other traveling kids on the highways of America. That’s what I really did, and it ain’t no ruse or a made-up story in lieu of not having any background. If you find other people that truly learned American music on street corners, it will have the same qualities. I learned how to play folk music and New Orleans traditional jazz standing there on Royal Street (in the French Quarter). There’d be young jug bands, young Cajun kids and all-Black teenage brass bands playing hip-hop and recycling old soul music. When it’s happening like that in public on a street corner and you’re young enough, you’re not giving any thought to what genre you’re playing. There’s no thinking about that.”  

Fast forward to “The Man From Waco” and you find Charley incorporating those street smarts into his songs. The recently released “The Man From Waco Redux” offers different versions of five tracks found on the original album. The title track now comes across like an Old Western ballad that recalls Marty Robbins, complete with Mariachi horns similar to those heard on Marty’s hit song “El Paso”. 

“Well, I really appreciate the Marty Robbins comparison,” Charley begins. “That’s a really high compliment. Those Marty Robbins gunfighter things are amazing, and then there’s Johnny Cash’s “Ballads Of The True West” which to me is really underrated. I don’t think anyone in our generation can touch those guys. We’re further removed from that reality in some ways. In other ways, I’ve felt like the kind of traveling performer troubadours like guys like myself are the closest thing to those kinds of cowboys when the range was open. I’m not a cowboy; I’m a cowboy singer in the same way that Waylon Jennings was. He wasn’t no ranch hand. I’ve done a little bit of that work out of necessity when I was hoboing, but I ain’t no cowboy. Cowboy singers, that’s a state of mind and a way of living. It’s the whole idea that we can’t be fenced in, sold off or flayed out.

“I have an entire album of those Marty Robbins-style recordings that I want to put out but for now it ended up putting out the “Redux” album. “The Man From Waco” is selling a lot better than anything else I put out before, which wasn’t hard to do because I wasn’t selling shit before. I think the idea, which I was willing to go along with this time around was to really be able to give more audiences a chance to look at that record.”    

While Charley’s previous albums may not have racked up big sales figures, they offer a wild range of eclectic styles and they are well worth the trouble of seeking out. He has released a minimum of 11 albums over the last eight years, several of which were cover albums under the guise of “Lil’ G.L.”, in which he featured various genres of music. (Charley went under the guise of late American blues singer G.L. Crockett, who was no relation to him).  One of these albums, “Lil’ G.L.’s Blue Bonanza”, may have served as inspiration for the bluesy “Just Like Honey” on the new album.

“We haven’t announced it or anything yet, but I have a couple of records in the can, one of which is very much on the soul and R&B side with a female group of backup singers. We’re kind of totally doing it out of that gear. I do western music pretty good and I can do soul music pretty good, but I think it’s being able to bring them both with me that might allow me to carve out a little piece of the pie for me.”

Charley hails from San Benito Texas, the same city that gave us Freddy Fender of “Wasted Days, Wasted Nights” fame, and he’s a huge fan. “Freddy started out in ’59 as the El Bebop Kid and he was doing this crazy crossover, rockabilly, Tejano, Spanish, English crazy-ass shit. It’s every bit as revolutionary as Chuck Berry was.” Another famous name that Charley has an association with is Bob Dylan.  The song “Tom Turkey” from the new album is Crockett’s finished version of a portion of a Dylan outtake from the “Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid” soundtrack for the 1973 film.

“I found these old tapes on YouTube, and I’m sure they’re bootlegs,” Charley recalls. “They were labeled “Pecos Blues”, and it’s all of the reel-to-reel tape sessions, digitally transferred, of the two different studios that Bob cut all of that material for Peckinpah’s film. There were two sections that really spoke to me, and one section eventually got published as the extended version of the song “Billy IV” with eight verses.  The other is a section where he just recorded these two verses, start to finish, and it’s a jam-out. It kind of exists on its own and those lyrics are different to those in the “Billy IV” version. I just felt like finishing that song since those two verses were so perfect. That’s why I went ahead and wrote another chorus for it and another verse to shore it up. I called Bob and told him I finished his song and he told me that Truth or Consequences, a New Mexico city that I added to the lyrics, didn’t exist back in the day of Billy the Kid. I told him, yeah, but it’s got a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? He laughed.”

Charley’s current tour takes him for a swing through Canada from Toronto to Vancouver, and it’s the first time he’ll be performing in the Great White North. He’s particularly chuffed about playing the Calgary Stampede.

“I’ve known about the Calgary Stampede since I was a kid,” he says. “I’m from south Texas where the rodeo is still a really big part of life. If you can get to the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show and play there as a performer, that’s about the biggest thing you can do from where I come from. I look at the Houston Rodeo and the Calgary Stampede as the big global rodeo events. It was like a lifetime goal of mine to play the Stampede.”

Perhaps the most important thing that Charley learned about hitting the road is to go mean and lean. He learned this from his mentor Willie Nelson, who was also instrumental in helping Charley launch his career.

“Willie saw what I was doing and he wanted to play with me so he signed me, and now I have the same agent as Willie and Dylan. I got on the road with Willie and I saw this ocean of the new guard where these artists tour with 10 semi-trucks and 10 buses and there ain’t nobody on them. Willie is out there with an old-school crew that’s so efficient and lean and experienced, and they’re adaptable. They can handle the small show and they can handle the large show. I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to come up and learn from some of these guys that come from the old school, and that I have that with me right now.” 

 If Charley’s attributes remind one of a similarly named American folk hero, frontiersman and storyteller, it could be more than just a coincidence. That’s because he’s a distant relative of the King of the Wild Frontier, Davy Crockett.

“You better believe I’m a relative,” he says. “That portion of the Crockett family coming out of Tennessee in that westward movement is where we get the lineage. He would be like my uncle, six or seven generations removed. When you have that kind of lineage, people always ask how could your name still be Crockett. But when you have that type of prideful ancestry with somebody like Davy, the family makes sure that the name stays up front.”

You can catch Davy’s descendant on a tour that is currently crossing Canada.  Here’s a link to the dates:

Country Stuff:

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Tim Hicks’ new single “Yee to the Haw” out now.

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St. John’s emerging singer-songwriter Peter Vance is trailblazing his way into the streaming market with the release of his single, “Nothing To Lose.” A song that embodies the carefree summer attitude of taking risks and enjoying life with no limits or boundaries, “Nothing To Lose” marks Peter’s debut in country music. The song serves as an introduction to his unique musical style and songwriting ability, as it was written by him in the dead of winter while dreaming of the warmer weather to come. 

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