I started singing when I was six years old in a gospel trio with my dad and brother. Daddy was orphaned during the Great Depression when he was around that same age. He had set up shop, selling newspapers and shining shoes on the streets of Wichita Falls when one day a “hoochie coochie” dancer from a carnival that was passing through town “hired” him to travel with her and work as the master of ceremonies, introducing her act. You can’t make that stuff up!
Looking back, I realize this is how I came to be a performer. Not knowing how to raise a child,
having never really had a family, my dad assessed my childhood talents should I ever meet the
same fate he had and decided that since I was always skipping around singing songs and making
up words to them as I went along, I could get by as a singer. Thankfully he was right. And Daddy
Ray, above all, was always fun. (He could even skate backwards!)
Fast forward to 1979 when I arrived in Austin, Texas with my first handful of songs, looking to
make a record, just as the epic era of the freak red-neck revolution was coming to a close.
Again, fate stepped in and saw me through. I fell in with the perfect folks, Bobby Earl Smith of
Freda and The Firedogs, The Hancock Family, Blaze Foley and Townes Van Zandt et al, Willie
Nelson Family, The Flatlanders (also from Lubbock where I was raised) and a lot of the local
aspiring actors and comedians. I was invited by Willie to record my first record at his private
studio. Things started happening really fast after that.
I went from playing for fifty people at the Alamo Lounge to headlining festivals in Europe with
25k people in the audience and soon was touring with my two large bands, one US and one
Europe. Along the way I fell in love with and married Joe Gracey, the iconic and ground-
breaking DJ and record producer who had been at the heart of the Austin scene in the 70s. In
Nashville I met Cowboy Jack Clement who took me under his wing. Together we even returned
to Sun Studios in Memphis (he had been the engineer there during “the hey-days”) where he
helped us to record my third album.
Fast forward some more… I signed a publishing deal with Almo-Irving Rondor, the largest “still
standing” indie publisher at the time, owned by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, and spent the next
ten years writing songs for all sorts of genres. Not only did I get the opportunity to meet and co-
write with many heroes during that time, Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, Peter Frampton
but many great songwriters. I also got to write for films. I even had a song covered by Babe the
Pig, produced by Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd “The Wall”) and Gabriel Rhodes.
My son, Gabriel grew up in Willie World and was mentored by not only Willie but the great
steel guitar player Jimmy Day, Bucky Meadows (Tal Farlow) and David Zettner (Willie’s Family
Band’s first bass player before Bee Spears.) Recording demos with me for Rondor and touring
with me Gabriel became not only a guitar virtuoso but a record producer who is much in
demand today. He’s also become a fine singer-songwriter in his own right.
Together Gabriel and I have created music for my plays and other theatre productions directed
by Joe Sears (Greater Tuna.) We are finishing the production of a new album (my seventeenth
solo) with many of the songs co-written. We are looking forward to “unveiling” some of our
news songs for this upcoming Austin Acoustical Café show. I’ve gleaned many tales from my
adventures that I love to share between songs.
I was hanging out backstage with my mentor, Willie, one night before a show we were doing in
London. Willie was doing an interview and the reporter asked him, “If you could write your
own epitaph what would it say?” He gave it some thought before he replied, “I think I’d like it
to say, “” He did a great show. He gave people their money’s worth.””” I’ve always
Come see us at Austin Acoustical Café on March 11. Fun promised!
-- Kimmie Rhodes