A rock ’n’ roll influence is pretty common in today’s popular country music _ even Kenny Chesney, in one of his latest hits, says he feels like a rock star.
Little Texas was one of the bands that opened that barn door, so to speak. Formed in Nashville in the late ’80s, Little Texas generated heavy rotation on country radio with such hits as “You and Forever and Me,” “What Might Have Been,” “My Love” and_ of course_ “God Blessed Texas.”
“It was a natural thing for us,” bassist Duane Propes says of Little Texas’ patented “rocking country” sound. “Arena lions like Journey, Kansas, and Queen influenced us more than country did.”
But the band members were determined to make their way in Nashville and that meant charting a country course, which Propes now says he’s glad happened since Little Texas found itself at the start of something fresh rather than at the tail end of Southern rock’s heyday.
Little Texas is set to headline the 15th annual Wachusett Mountain MusicFest happening Sept. 9. The main stage also features Orleans and E Street Shuffle’s tribute to Bruce Springsteen, while the local-spotlight stage features James Keyes and Andy Cummings. Music starts at noon at the Princeton slopes.
Little Texas toured the country for a couple of years before signing a contract with Warner Bros. records and releasing its debut album in 1991. Over the ensuing six years, the band released four more records, including a greatest hits package, and became one of country’s hottest touring acts. The band broke apart in 1998, with members taking off into other projects and in some cases just settling back with family.
In 2006, Little Texas reunited and carries on minus the manic pressure to produce like it used to, Propes says.
Little Texas today consists of original members guitarist and singer Porter Howell, drummer Del Gray, guitarist Dwayne O’Brien, and Propes. (Even though original singer Tim Rushlow did not take part in the reunion, Howell has proven himself a compelling singer in his own right)
“We’re having as much fun as we ever did,” Propes says. “We’re not doing 200 shows a year. We keep it to weekends, and I think that keeps it dynamic. It doesn’t become a job. And we all have 11-year-old kids at home and want to be there with them.”
Little Texas also just released its first batch of new songs since reforming. “Deep in the Heart, Vol. 1” and can be sampled and purchased online at www.littletexasonline.com.
Even though what Little Texas started doing more than 20 years ago is pretty prevalent in today’s country scene, Propes sees some differences.
Fort starters, there are a lot of star singers, but not many star bands. Propes figures the record companies realized it’s easier to deal with one Chesney or one Shelton versus a gang like Little Texas, which the bassist admits could be difficult to round up or to get everyone agreeing on one thing.
Propes is also a little suspect of county songwriting.
“We wrote 98 percent of what we sang, and that lent it a legitimacy. We wrote about what we lived,” Propes says.
Propes like quoting a bit of Vince Gill, who said, “If I want a hit today, all I have to do is write a song about a truck.”
Checking out “Deep in the Heart, Vol 1,” we couldn’t find a truck song. Instead there’s that blend of rowdy (“Hot in Texas”) and tender (“Take This Walk With Me”) that worked so well in the first place.