Originally printed in the May issue of Buddy Magazine
Gary P. Nunn and his Bunkhouse Band will be in North Texas again at: the Wildflower! Festival in Richardson on May 17; at the Testicle Festival (cancer fundraiser) at Love & War in Texas in Grapevine on June 13; and in Ivanhoe (Texas) at the Save Lake Fannin fundraiser event on July 11.
You can’t have lived in Texas any length of time without having become familiar with a guy named Gary P. Nunn. More likely, you’ve become a fan. After all, he can plainly put into words what’s in others’ hearts about the Lone Star State, and about those of us who live here. And he’s been taking Texas to the country and the world for decades now.
Gary P. (one can’t just call him ‘Gary’ — it just doesn’t quite fit) was already in Austin when, in the 1960s when Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Michael Martin Murphey moved to town. He was there when the Redneck Rock, aka Progressive Country or Cosmic Cowboy music movement began. And he’s still there today, working at what he does best — being a Texas musician.
“I have a full-time job,” Gary P. said. “I have two or three different hats, and wear one right after the other. I’m always working with the band, two or three days every week on the road. I have my record company, and my publishing company, and those require attention and management just to keep track of the business.”
He laughed when he added, “I don’t just get up and slave every day. I sometimes sleep late on Monday. But it’s all very time-consuming and keeps me busy.”
One project just now in the baby-step phase is the probability of writing a book about it all — a biography not only of himself, but of the evolvement of the Texas music scene. “I guess I have had a unique experience. I’ve been there and had been there several years when the songwriters started coming to town and I got to work with them. We knocked down the trees, built the path through the forest, and picked up the arrowheads,” Gary P. said metaphorically to describe those historic beginnings. “I want to document what I can remember as significant points and highlights along the way.”
The book, right now, the icon explained, is more of a journal, with memories jotted down as they come. He’s also sorting through boxes and cartons of photos kept in corners over the decades. He said those could go into a book all by themselves, and again that engaging smile that makes one wonder if Gary P. is teasing or not.
Actually, right now, Craig Hillis and Craig Clifford are co-writing a book due out in the first quarter of 2016. Hillis said the Texas A&M Press book is called “Pickers & Poets, the Ruthlessly Poetic Songwriters of Texas.” Hillis interviewed Gary P. for inclusion in that book, which Nunn considered quite an honor in itself.
Honors have come at this singer/songwriter/musician like swarming bees. He’s in several halls of fame, is the Texas Ambassador to the World, appointed by Governor Mark White, and Ambassador of Texas Music, an appointment made by Governor Rick Perry. Just last month (April), he said, he was the first inductee into the new Outlaws & Legends Festival hall of fame. “I’ve been at that festival every year, and become good friends with (producer) Mark Howell, and tried to offer him whatever assistance I could. This year, he had Dean Dillon and Charlie Daniels on the stage. I always take the sundown show, and during my show this year, he got a whole bunch of people onto the stage. That’s when he honored me.” A part of that honor is that Gary P. will have a new pair of “manly footwear” to show off — Leddy boots specially designed for him. “I’ll get a logo of the Outlaws and Legends logo on it, and something Texas, too.) M.L. Leddy is another Texas legend, this one in the handmade boot industry.
Still, Gary P. insists, his most honorable of the halls of fame of which he is an inductee is the West Texas Walk of Fame, based in Lubbock. Nunn was inducted in 1995, and especially mentioned others honored there to be Buddy Holly (the first inductee), Waylon Jennings, Joe Ely, Lloyd Maines, Bob Wills, and Roy Orbison. “To even be mentioned in that group, that’s pretty special. I grew up singing Roy Orbison.”
Several years ago, a friend asked Gary P. to go show support for Texas music before a particular legislative committee, charged with investigating the possibility of establishing a Texas Music Museum. “Turned out, I had to get up and testify before the committee. Hopefully, that will come to be, and I am happy I may have had some involvement in that, either in its getting established or by helping them put it together.”
And, whether it was to honor him or to document his involvement in the evolving Texas music, Lone Star Beer (which years before had commissioned him to write a song, and that became “What I Like About Texas,” … well, in Gary P.’s words — “They did a big piece, a video documentary of him which is in the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum in Nashville.
“People have gone out of their way to let me know that they recognize what little part I played to help it all get started. That’s the good part, really, the individuals who stop to thank me,” he whispered.
Nunn was the first independent to cut a record, without a record deal to help him, in Texas. His own publishing company is many years on the ground, and has resulted in several classics recorded not only him, but by his cronies. “Everything I have done (along this line) has stood the test of time, and the songs have more significance as time passes . I am pleased about that part of the legacy. I have the ability to pick a song that will have some lasting quality.” Witness, for once, Willie’s version of Gary P.’s “The Last Thing I Needed…”
“Back when we started in the days, Willie would cut Jerry Jeff and Jerry Jeff would cut Willie. I always felt like that had a snowball effect because of the symbiotic relationship, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
“We were all hanging out, and the bars closed at midnight, and we’d go to Bud Shrakes’ or someone’s house and write songs. There was a lot of that going on at this time. Nowadays, everybody is a songwriter and nobody looks at anybody else’s stuff.” Nunn added that it does happen at the yearly Music Fest in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
One of Gary P.’s own idols is Dean Dillon, the songwriter who has contributed literally dozens of hits for Texan George Strait and others. “He’s a great guy, and his songs are so simple, so beautifully simple. He’s also so disciplined, he’s got the songwriting down where he makes time every day or every week for it. It’s part of his discipline. I even offered to go on the road, play in the band, with him.”
That publishing company continues to be one of those affairs that keep Nunn busy. “I’ve got hundreds of songs to choose from when I’m going to record. And if I can’t find one in there, I’m always working on writing as well. Now, you can’t unpull the trigger, when you go into a studio, it all happens really fast. You gotta get it done — there’s no time to lollygag around.” He talked about one musician, a talented man with a good following behind him, who has been working on a record for 25 years. “You only need two days to cut a record, two days to overdub, and two days to finish it up. It’s a busy trail, but you put take step right after the other.”
Nunn said he’s never tried to immerse himself into the Nashville country music scene. He visits family regularly, and sometimes makes records in Nashville. But, “never tried hustling, promoting myself there at all. I am happy that I enjoy a good recognition from the Nashville community. BMI honored me with a reception and some little plaques after “The Last Thing I Needed…” came out. But I’ve always been busy in Texan. There’s never an end to the gigs, and I felt committed to what I do.”
So, how do people make it big on the national level? Nunn has his thoughts on that. “It all comes down to PR (public relations) and publicity, and publicity all comes down to money. You have to have the PR money behind you, and the national media has to pay attention to you, like that big talk shows in New York. You gotta work it like Garth Brooks, expose yourself to 10s of millions of people. It’s a combination, but it’s the media and the money, that’s the controlling factor.”
Gary P. continued on this subject he’s studied over the years. “Here in Texas — first we don’t have access to national media, that’s a giant step, a ground floor to penthouse ride on the elevator. Here, we have a regional thing. And the people backing these acts and supporting careers… well, you can take all the money from them, but the trade-off is you have to pay it back.
“For me, freedom is the most important factor. They (big money machines) would have to offer me a whole lot because I like to spend my own life my way. I use my energy, all I have, to get it done, but when it gets stressful, I pull back. I want to also maintain home and family. It’s been a nice balance to me.”
Nunn has his wife, Ruth, on his side. “She fills in where I fall short. We work together, and she understands the sacrifices. It also takes a lot of trust on her part, too.”
Also, nowadays, Gary P. really enjoys working with the newcomers and then stepping back and seeing them in actions. Two he believes are headed for the top are Cody Johnson, Aaron Watson, and Kevin Fowler.
“I met Cody Johnson years ago, when he started coming to the trail rides I produced. I have watched him turn into a very dedicated, serious, and intelligent musician,” Gary P. observed.
“I’m surprised it’s taken Aaron Watson this long. Something like 10 years. But he’s confined, like everybody, in Texas. The night before Easter, he sold out Billy Bob’s Texas, and that’s a pretty good lick. He’s taken care of business, he’s a dedicated worker, and disciplined and being good looking along with having talent doesn’t hurt a thing.”
And as for Fowler, Gary P. said, “He’s so good natured, has a good attitude about the whole business.”
It’s all getting so big now, compared with the earlier years when his axe helped chop down those trees, that Gary P. said he has a hard time keeping up with it all. “Guys I’ve never heard of are selling out shows. Something is working pretty good, and I’m too busy taking care of my own affairs to keep up with them all.”
So, if someone asks what you like about Texas, you have the option of saying “Gary P. Nunn” or just breaking into the song.
Category: *- Features