Music

Red-Dirt Leader Wade Bowen Talks Bringing the Party With ‘Nothin But Texas’: ‘Anthems Need to Be Simple’

When The Texas Regional Radio Report handed out its annual awards in Arlington on March 25, Wade Bowen was the most-honored winner, taking home three trophies, including male vocalist of the year.

Three nights later, he hit Global Life Field – again in Arlington – for the Texas Rangers’ season opener. It was a big deal: Bowen has a lifelong obsession with the team, and attending that game meant he got to witness as they hoisted a flag to recognize the Rangers’ first-ever World Series victory in 2023. Bowen delivered “The Star-Spangled Banner” that day, but the team also played another anthem on the stadium sound system: Bowen’s “Nothin But Texas.”

“Of all the times I’ve listened to it,” Bowen says, “it’s never been better.”

The New Braunfels resident is one of the leading red-dirt artists, grounded in a country bar-band style that fits the club-heavy listening habits in the state. But the area also boasts a notable blues/rock current, and “Nothin But Texas” leans on that under-represented part of Bowen’s musical personality.

“Obviously I listened to Stevie Ray Vaughan and ZZ Top and Delbert McClinton,” he says. “I listened to them a lot, you know. It’s around me all the time, so it’s like, ‘Okay, I need to show some of this.’”

“Nothin But Texas” came in Bowen’s first collaboration with songwriter Leslie Satcher (“Troubadour,” “When God-Fearin’ Women Get The Blues”), whose default goal is to write something energetic.

“I’ll leave the ballads to the other guys,” she says. “I want to write the uptempo, let’s-turn-up-the-radio-and-drive song. And I’ll say, ‘Let’s do something that will have your crowds with their beer in the air.’”

They didn’t have a particular title or musical approach in mind when they started writing, but both are from the Lone Star State, and Satcher had just gotten back to Nashville after visiting Texas. Somewhere in their introductory conversation, one of them said that when they were able to retire, it’d be “nothin’ but Texas for me.” That sounded like something they could turn into a celebration, and Satcher started playing a blues-laced groove in an open tuning, starting the chords on the afterbeat and cutting them off on the downbeat. It had the same propellant feel as The Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ “If You Wanna Get to Heaven.”

Most Nashville songwriters would focus on the chorus first, but that’s not how it worked here. “I always start at the first line,” Satcher insists. “It was just sort of building blocks as we went – sort of Jenga, you know. It’s like you just keep stacking until something falls down.”

Figuring the song out was almost too easy. They turned the opening verse into a travelogue of American party cities, leaning into Las Vegas, New Orleans and Los Angeles, with the singer reflecting that he’s been “pedal down in L.A.” That, of course, is quite the accomplishment – anyone who’s driven on the 405 during daylight hours knows the brake is down as much as the gas pedal.

“I guess we shouldn’t should have said that,” Bowen says. Nonsense, Satcher counters: “There’s lots of ways to drive fast in LA., you know. It’s a party life, and it’s a fast life.”

Those cities set up the chorus’ payoff: Those towns are great, but “It ain’t nothin’ but Texas for me.” That opinion gets stronger when it’s repeated in line two, and after a melodic detour that applies blue notes at the end of lines three and four, they said it again to end the chorus. Thus, the title appears hree times in five lines.

They both second-guessed it – the repetition is quite stark when it’s written down on paper – but the questions quickly disappeared. “Anthems need to be simple,” Bowen quips. “That’s what makes them anthems.”

The second verse seemed easy, too. After playing up the state in the chorus, they needed to explain what makes Texas so great. Or, since it was a song for Bowen to sing, what makes it such a great place for him.

That meant putting a country-band perspective on partying in the Lone Star State. They latched onto I-35, “straight to the river” – it cuts across the entire state, north to south, from Denton to Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and to the streets of Laredo, linking with a Mexican boulevard at the edge of the Rio Grande. “I-35 is obviously a huge part of my life,” Bowen says. “Like, I live on 35 more than [in] my damn house.”

By the end of the verse, the singer promises to clap back at “any law dog that tries to run me off” for playing the music too loud. The “law dog” is a phrase Satcher has used previously – “It’s just so fun,” she says – though it’s probably false bravado.

“Anybody knows me knows that I’m gonna keep my mouth shut,” Bowen admits, asked if he’d really confront a cop. On the other hand, he offers, “I’ve got a drunk alter ego named Paul that might do it.”

Satcher slipped in a reference to “cowboy beers” – a phrase she and her husband use for his Coors Light habit – during a bridge that’s so subtle it could pass without the listener recognizing the change of pace. “People who are dancing in Texas, dancehall people, they don’t particularly care for a song that busts up the groove or has a weird melody or something like that,” Satcher offers. “They’re dancing, and so they want to keep going round the circle.”

Bowen created a sparse work tape, but when his crew had some down time on tour in Colorado, they did a more extensive demo that laid out the basic arrangement. Bowen recorded “Nothin But Texas” during three days of sessions for his album Flyin’, Nov. 15-17, at Curb Studio 43, a Music Row facility with Spanish-flavored arched entrances, an architectural touch that’s familiar in Texas.

An eight-piece studio band firmed up the demo’s blues/rock foundation, approximating the sound of Vaughan’s recordings, particularly through Jim “Moose” Brown’s earthy Hammond B-3 tones and Tom Bukovac’s assured guitar licks. The band members entered informally during a 25-second intro that toughened the original rhythms, and they kept going for at least a minute after the song had survived its Jenga course. Bowen, self-producing the track, asked after one take for Bukovac to expand the solo, giving it even more of a live sound.

A day later, Satcher came in to layer in soulful backing vocals, offering R&B-flavored ad libs and churchy three-part harmonies. “This track is not near as good,” Bowen says, “if Leslie doesn’t sing the parts.”

“Nothin But Texas” was a key focus track leading into the May 10 release of Flyin’, while another cut, “Rainin On Me,” plays on red-dirt stations, ranked at No. 9 on the May 24 Texas Regional Radio Report chart. It’s a statement about the musical identity of both Bowen and his homeland.

“Texas is not just country music,” Bowen notes. “This kind of music is a huge part of our state: blues/rock. It’s a huge, huge aspect of where I come from.”

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