You played Wunsche Brothers Cafe in the early 1980s when you were just starting out. What memories does this place conjure up?
I used to come here with my dad. He would sneak me in and shoot a few games of pool, and I’d get a Coke. It was always a nice place to play, although we’d have to stop when a freight train roared by.
How did your hometown, Klein, Texas, influence your music?
Every afternoon, I was in the pasture with cattle or fishing and shooting my BB gun. That kind of freedom allows imagination to develop.
You wrote “This Old Porch” with Robert Earl Keen when you were both students at Texas A&M. Tell us about those days.
The house where Robert lived was the coolest place to be. I used to ride my bike past it and hear people playing music; finally I got brave enough to ask to park there. Robert was so gracious about kids hanging out at the house—it was not unusual for him to check in to a hotel to study during finals week rather than run people off.
Your touring schedule is brutal—how do you stay true to your roots?
When you have a solid upbringing and a strong sense of place, that sustains you. My sense of home never leaves me.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road?
Never eat Mexican food east of Mississippi or north of Dallas.
Tortillas—corn or flour?
It depends. I like flour, but I always go with whatever is made in-house.
You sing a lot about Southern food. What’s your favorite meal?
I’m a good eater, and I like everything—collard greens in particular.
Diesel or unleaded?
Diesel. We’re so accustomed to filling up with diesel on the ranch that I have a constant fear that I’ll put the wrong fuel in a rental car.
Is there such a thing as a perfect Texas town?
It’s the people who make a place. Always. Without the right spirit, buildings are empty shells of nothing.
How do you measure success?
When someone tells me what he or she was doing the first time they heard a song of mine, then I’ve done a good job. If my song becomes about your life, then I’m successful.
What’s the most important thing your mama taught you?
She’s not finished!
What can we expect from Release Me?
The album marks the end of my relationship with my long-term label; it’s a reflective look back, with original songs and others I’ve played since 1976. The title track is a duet with K.D. Lang.
What’s the last thing you scribbled on a paper napkin?