Here’s a show made in newcountry heaven: Little Texas, Tim McGraw and BlackHawk will join forces for a threesome at Pullman’s Beasley Coliseum Thursday.
Little Texas is a six-piece band that formed in Texas a few years ago. Newcomer Tim McGraw became the Billy Ray Cyrus of 1994 with his leftfield hit “Outlaw Indian;” BlackHawk is a new trio which scored a Top-10 hit last year, “Goodbye Says It All.”
This ticket is a reflection of the confidence Nashville’s Music Row has in its young country-rock acts; previously, tour bookers liked to add the obligatory old hand just to draw a more traditional crowd.
And until the last couple of years, there haven’t been enough new acts with sufficient seasoning to carry a bill by itself.
But all that has changed, as the flavor-of-the-month phenomenon has taken solid hold in Nashville. Among them, these three acts have produced a total of five records - three for Little Texas, the “veterans” of the trio, and one for each of the others.
Together, they’ve spent less time on stage than Merle Haggard has spent in the shower.
The venue is telling - five years ago, you couldn’t have put a country show on a college campus 90 minutes from an urban center, even out in the middle of the Palouse. The few country shows to play the Moscow-Pullman area haven’t fared especially well, but many of today’s collegians got into on new-country in high school, so the booking makes sense.
In a few years, the young audience will move on to the next trend, but for now the market is booming.
But what the so-called new-country music does is revive the arena rock that had its heyday when the parents of its devotees were boogying to Lynyrd Skynyrd. The same big drums - in fact, arena bands like Skynyrd would have loved the big-drum sound these guys get - lots of guitar solos, and tight harmonies over layers of instrumentation.
The more things change…
Little Texas recently released the third record of its short career, a appropriately called “Kick A Little.”
Its first Nashville-produced record, “Kick A Little” includes the rowdy title song and a redneck rocker called “Redneck In Me.” “Amy’s Back in Austin” features tight, pretty harmonies, and “Southern Grace” has a gospel edge.
Proving its versatility, the group even throws in a big, bluesy piece called “A Night I’ll Remember.”
Of course, any country band that features a slide guitar has to play some blues.
Tim McGraw is an interesting case. The product of a fling between his then-teenage mother and New York Mets pitcher Tug McGraw, McGraw didn’t know who his dad was until he was 11 and his mother and stepfather split up.
But having a famous father didn’t do much for his career. McGraw had been in Nashville for six months before his dad sent him a penny of support.
“We grew up on food stamps and welfare and stuff like that, on and off, until I was probably 13 or 14 years old. And she never asked Tug for a penny,” he says of his mother, Betty Trimble.
Though he grew up loving country music - Keith Whitley was his hero (he arrived in Nashville on the day Whitley died) - McGraw didn’t even play music until he was in college.
“I’ve always had high ambitions, always wanted to do something with my life. I made up my mind after my first year in college that I was gonna teach myself to play guitar. I was gonna do it; there was never any doubt. That was all I thought about. I ate and slept country music.”
Chronologically speaking, BlackHawk musicians are the old men of this show. Henry Paul was rhythm guitarist and singer in the Outlaws, the country-rock - emphasis on rock - group that had hits with “There Goes Another Love Song” and “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” in the mid-‘70s.
His BlackHawk partner Van Stephens scored with two pop hits in 1984 - “Modern Day Delilah” and “What the Big Girls Do.”
The third member of the group, Dave Robbins, has written songs for Eric Clapton, Poco, Laura Branigan and other pop stars.
“I think pop music has departed from its roots to such a degree that it has left a lot of people wondering what to listen to,” Stephenson told a Nashville newspaper. “And country music is filling that gap.”
MEMO: This is a sidebar that appeared with the story: Little Texas, Tim McGraw and BlackHawk Location and time: Beasley Coliseum, Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $20.50