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The Secret History of Texas Music

“The Front Porch Song”/ “This Old Porch” (1984)

Written by: Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett Recorded by: Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett

Robert Earl Keen (right) and a friend on Keen's porch in 1977, photographed by Lyle Lovett.

In the mid-seventies, Robert Earl Keen, an English major at Texas A&M (class of ’78), could often be found on the front porch of his rented house in College Station, playing bluegrass and country songs with friends while studious cadets and future engineers bustled past. Every so often a journalism major named Lyle Lovett (class of ’79) would ride up on his ten-speed, lean it against the porch, and listen. The two music geeks, who were each just starting to write songs, soon became friends.

One day as Keen sat on the porch, strumming some chords, he started thinking about the porch and what it meant to him. He wrote three verses, first likening the porch to a bull, then to a plate of enchiladas from Bryan’s LaSalle Hotel, and finally to an old local movie theater. Keen knew as he sang that this song was different from the ones that had come before. “I realized, here’s where I have to go to be a songwriter,” he recalls. “I have to be real, colorful, dramatic.” 

Keen played the song for Lovett, who liked it so much that he learned to play it too. As he did, Lovett found himself thinking about Keen and his relationship with his landlord, the man who owned the porch. He was a little overbearing, says Lovett. “He’d walk right in, make himself at home. But Robert treated him like he belonged there, and he’d go help him move his cattle or build a fence. I admired that.” Lovett thought the only thing the song was missing was Keen himself, so he added some lines about his friend and the old man. Then, for the final verse, he brought the song around to the two guys singing it—slacker songwriters in a town full of serious students—ending on a note of defiance.

Looking back, Lovett says, “I’m as proud of that verse as anything else I’ve ever written. I was able to say exactly how I felt.” Keen loved the new parts too. “Before, I had a riff on what this porch was all about. The song didn’t breathe until Lyle got to work on it.” Each singer put the song on his first album, Keen’s version (“The Front Porch Song”) outgoing, Lovett’s (“This Old Porch”) wistful. Today the porch and the house it fronted are gone, but the song, which both still play in concert, remains, a nod to two young musicians determined to make their way in the world.

This old porch is just a long time
Of waiting and forgetting . . .
And remembering the falling down
And the laughter of the curse of luck
From all of those passersby
Who said we’d never get back up.

Looking back, Lovett says, “I’m as proud of that verse as anything else I’ve ever written. I was able to say exactly how I felt.” Keen loved the new parts too. “Before, I had a riff on what this porch was all about. The song didn’t breathe until Lyle got to work on it.” Each singer put the song on his first album, Keen’s version (“The Front Porch Song”) outgoing, Lovett’s (“This Old Porch”) wistful. Today the porch and the house it fronted are gone, but the song, which both still play in concert, remains, a nod to two young musicians determined to make their way in the world.

This Old Porch: Words and music by Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen Jr. ©1986 Michael H. Goldsen, Inc., Lyle Lovett Music and Keen Edge Music. All rights for Lyle Lovett Music controlled and administered by Michael H. Goldsen, Inc. All rights for Keen Edge Music administered by BMG Rights Management (US) LLC. International copyright secured. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Hal Leonard Corporation.

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