Waco-bred Pat Green became a statewide celebrity twenty-five years ago with a song bearing a simple message: “I Like Texas.” In the early aughts, Green’s music bridged the gap between eras of Texas country; he drew comparisons to legends like Jerry Jeff Walker and Robert Earl Keen, as well as younger red-dirt hit makers like Cory Morrow, Jack Ingram, and Sunny Sweeney. Fittingly, his new country radio show for Apple’s country music station, “Don’t Mess With Texas Radio with Pat Green,” aims to elevate music from Texas.
The monthly show, which premiered on August 27, has released two episodes so far. It features guests such as Wade Bowen, Josh Abbott, and the Eli Young Band. Over the course of two hours, Green and his guests put together an eclectic playlist of songs by Texas icons, Green’s contemporaries, newcomers like Kylie Frey and Bri Bagwell, and, sometimes, alternative acts such as Bob Schneider. Green and his guests complement the songs with firsthand stories about the state’s musicians, studios, and venues— with a vibe that’s less hard-lived road tales and more like happy hour at an icehouse. (Green introduces a song by Kolby Cooper by claiming, “I’ve got socks older than Kolby.”)
Green spoke with Texas Monthly about bringing Texas country music to a national audience and how he perceives the historically complicated relationship between Texas country and Nashville radio.
Texas Monthly: Texas country has had a fraught relationship with Nashville and mainstream national radio. It’s hard not to compare it to this general Texas attitude of not seeking approval or validation from non-Texans. I’m curious how you approach a national radio show about a proudly independent genre.
Pat Green: I love what Jerry Jeff [Walker] said to me one time. He goes, “I don’t care what f***ing bin you put my music in, as long as you buy it.” I wanted to be a professional musician and make a good living all my life. I think that there are a lot of bands who don’t like the Nashville world and that’s because the Nashville world hasn’t ever signed them to a record deal. Most of the time I think that’s jealousy. There’s not a single musician in the world who wakes up in the morning and dreams of playing in somebody’s cow pasture for fifty people. We’re all dreaming of getting as big as we can in the world.
I certainly think that—especially in the nineties up until around 2010—country music that was made for big radio had a totally different sound than a lot of the guys making music in Texas. There were plenty here in Texas who as long as they were making a living, they were happy. I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I didn’t have a label. Then in the time that I was in the mix, I didn’t like being told when to make a record, but I figured if somebody’s going to dump all that money into me I should listen to their opinion. I don’t think that’s selling out.
Is it right? Is it wrong? It doesn’t matter to me, as long as you play good music and play it with your heart. You can’t say [Green’s 2003 song] “Wave on Wave,” which was by far my biggest song, was remotely close to any of the other music that was on the radio with it. It was almost alt-rock.
I didn’t feel bad about the conflict that arose. But I think it happened because most of the people who listened to my music at that time—we were kind of localized to Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas. That was our footprint. They didn’t like the idea of everybody else in the world listening to it.
I think that happens a lot. You look at the Old 97’s, who I love. Perfect example. They became huge nationally and still are. They were in a movie with Jennifer Aniston. And there’s people with pink hair down in Dallas going, “Holy moly, what are these guys doing? They’re screwing up my scene.”
TM: How would you describe Texas country to someone who’s thinking about checking out the show? Is it as simple as Texas being a central focus in the lyrics or context, or is there a stylistic difference?
PG: Early on [in my career], I made a real point to make sure that Texas was a star ingredient, to quote the guys from Chopped [laughing]. I made sure Texas was a star of the record. A lot of people claimed, “Oh, he just says, ‘Texas, beer, Texas, beer, beer.’” I remember those guys who said that. As time went along, I proved my point. People knew I was from Texas. They knew my name and where I live in this world. I didn’t have to pound that down their skull every time. I got to the point where it was implied that Texas was my star.
It has evolved so much. There are so many great bands. The reality is that when there were just five or ten of us, it was easy to identify what was out there. Now, there’s a lot. Kacey Musgraves, everything she’s ever sung, I go, “That is just brilliant.” And Bob Schneider. And Todd Snider—who’s not even a Texan, technically. Well, neither is Jerry Jeff Walker, for that matter. Or Ray Benson [chuckling]. I think it’s a feeling, and certainly we’re trying to capture as many people as we can.
TM: Kacey Musgraves and other artists have recently called out the sexism of country radio. Texas alone has had a number of talented women in country music who seem to be bubbling just under the surface of mainstream success. What do you make of that?
PG: I’ll answer that question in this way: I think that Kacey Musgraves is a much better songwriter than I am or ever have been.
There are extremely successful female artists, from Carrie Underwood to Taylor Swift. Yes, there are much more male-oriented success stories, but I think the girls that make it and make it big are extremely talented people. You listen to the people that made it, they end up being household names. The Chicks, Reba, Shania, Faith. These are all one-name people. Miranda [Lambert], I mean, Jesus.
Yes, it’s harder for women. I do believe that. But the caveat is that the flash-in-the-pan, one-hit-wonder guys in the country world don’t last long. And the one-hit-wonder girls don’t last very long. It’s hard for anybody. This business is so cutthroat.
TM: Is there a guest who you would love to persuade to do twenty-five minutes on the show with you?
PG: I’m already doing the begging. I’m looking forward to Lyle Lovett. He said he would do it. I’m very excited to have a conversation with him.
I would love the chance to talk to Willie. I’m putting that line in the water. I want to go over to his place in Hawaii. But right now, if you get to Hawaii you have to quarantine in your hotel room for fourteen days. You just try to get me to do that.
My dream guest would be George W. Bush, just to see what he likes about Texas country music. “Wave on Wave” was his walk-off music at a lot of his campaign dates back in the day. I would love to talk to my buddy [Troy] Aikman about his country music taste. Dolly Parton. I don’t care that she’s not from Texas. I would talk to her, just to hear her laugh at me.
TM: How do you feel about where Texas country music is right now?
PG: All music goes through phases. It’s very cyclical and predictable, too. When I was in college in the late eighties, it was all about Garth Brooks and smashing guitars and crazy, weird-looking shirts and tight pants. It was terrible clothing decisions these people were making.
There was a tipping point. Once it got too big and predictable, I was literally standing there. [The] Chicks were standing there. People wanted people who could play their instruments and not worry about what they looked like as much as what they sounded like. Not with eighteen folded-in tracks with seventeen harmony guitars and twenty-five dancers and a partridge and a pear tree. It was so much. People wanted it just to be a band. I was a band. I would never claim to be as big as the Chicks, but we got pretty darn big down here in Texas. It kind of came back to that.
It’s gotten even more and more rootsy. You look at bands like Turnpike Troubadours. You look at Mike Ryan. Then you look around the landscape and, I mean, now there’s the prettiest guy I’ve ever seen in my life, Parker McCollum. You look at Cody Johnson and some of the guys that are coming up. They’re very mainstream. They’re very good-looking. They play the part. Then you also have the other side. There are so many bands that are really kind of rustic. Like Koe Wetzel; funky, with no corners. That boy ain’t never folded nothing.
Both ends of the spectrum are very healthy. I like that. I think that’s what’s good for our scene right now. We have smooth and slick, and we have rough around the edges. I’ve gotten to be both of those throughout my career, and I think I like the middle now.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.