A honky tonk is supposed to be an old, rundown little dive.
Oh well. Two out of three ain’t bad.
The cavernous Spokane Coliseum will be converted into country’s biggest honky tonk on Sunday, when Mark Chesnutt, Chris LeDoux and Ken Mellons crank up their bands for a show.
All three wear “honky tonk” as a badge of honor:
Mark Chesnutt: His record company calls him “this generation’s embodiment of honky tonk mystique.”
Chris LeDoux: His latest single is titled, “Honky Tonk World.”
Ken Mellons: In an interview, he said, “I call my music traditional, hard-core honky tonk with a ‘90s edge.”
You know a singer is genuine honky tonk when his songs have the word “jukebox” somewhere in the title.
Two of Chesnutt’s big songs qualify. “Brother Jukebox” hit No. 1 in 1990, the year he broke nationwide, and “Bubba Shot the Jukebox” became one of Chesnutt’s signature songs in 1992.
It has taken Chesnutt only four years to have 14 top-10 singles. This Beaumont, Texas, native had been a local star for a few years in Southeast Texas when Nashville record executives came down to see him perform in a club. About 500 people were there, two-stepping like crazy. The executives signed him immediately.
His first single, “Too Cold at Home,” was about a cold snap in a marriage, and it became an immediate hit. His other charting songs, besides the jukebox songs, are: “Blame it On Texas,” “Your Love is a Miracle,” “Broken Promise Land,” “Old Flames Have New Names,” “I’ll Think of Something,” “Ol’ Country,” “Sure Is Monday,” “Almost Goodbye,” “I Just Wanted You to Know,” and “She Dreams.”
LeDoux, a particular Spokane favorite, has one of the most interesting resumes in all of country music. Before he was a country star, this Kaycee, Wyo., native had already won the 1976 World Championship in bareback bronc riding. Since then, he’s also won best-of-show awards as a bronze sculptor.
As an ex-rodeo star, his music has always had a Western cult following. But his career took a big swing upwards when Garth Brooks mentioned his name in a hit song and then took to ending his shows by shouting, “God Bless Chris LeDoux!”
“When Garth came along, he really drew a lot of attention my way,” LeDoux told American Cowboy magazine. “Suddenly, the big labels all wanted to know more about this Wyoming cowboy.”
He ended up signing with Liberty Records. After 22 independent albums, LeDoux was finally on a major label. He made up for lost time by recording “Whatcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy” in 1992, which transformed him into a mainstream country music star big enough to share headlining honors with Mark Chesnutt.
Ken Mellons will be the opening act, and he’s an up-and-coming honky tonk star in his own right. This 29-year-old Nashville native broke nationwide last year with the song “Jukebox Junkie.” Not only did this song make it to No. 8 on the charts, it also has a good honky tonk title.
“I define honky tonk as traditional music with a lot of fiddle and steel guitar,” said Mellons, by phone from Mississippi. “It started many years ago with George Jones, Buck Owens and Lefty Frizzell and continued with Keith Whitley and John Anderson.”
Many musicians found their calling early, but Mellons took that to new extremes. He had a daily gig on his school’s P.A. system.
“In elementary school, they’d give the thought for the day and the lunch menu, and then they’d say, `And here’s Ken Mellons with a song,”’ he said. “I’ve been known since first grade as Ken Mellons, the country singer.”
He’s known nationally now, but still has some bigger ambitions. One, according to his biography sheet, is “to be a legend.”
MEMO: This sidebar ran with story: Mark Chesnutt, Chris LeDoux and Ken Mellons Location and time: Coliseum, Sunday, 7 p.m. Tickets: $21.50