The Stories Behind the Music

Texas musical luminaries reveal the family histories, powerful influences, and big breaks that made them the artists they are today.

Illustration by Max-o-matic; Franklin: Mickey Bernal/Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival via Getty; Colvin: Neilson Barnard/Blackbird Productions via Getty; Crockett: Amy Harris/Invision via AP; Burnett: Anna Webber/Americana Music via Getty; El Dusty: Jason Merritt/LARAS via Getty; Rodriguez: Steve Helber/AP

Over the course of several months, Texas Monthly worked with the South by Southwest festival to put together a show called “Texas Music: The Untold Stories,” a singular event that would reveal the hidden narratives behind the careers of some of our state’s most beloved artists. Six Texas musicians—Austin singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin; multihyphenate Houston performer Kam Franklin; Corpus Christi nu cumbia pioneer El Dusty; Houston rapper Lil Keke; Rio Grande Valley roots artist Charley Crockett; and San Antonio boogie woogie pianist John Tennison—developed stories to share onstage at ACL Live at the Moody Theater on March 17, accompanied by Austin musician Carrie Rodriguez and her band.

Unfortunately, just as this issue was going to print, we learned that the City of Austin, responding to the coronavirus outbreak, ordered SXSW to cancel the festival, meaning that “Texas Music: The Untold Stories” would not go on as planned. Though the live show was the heart of this project, we believe that these stories, which are by turns funny and serious, but always frank, stand on their own. 

Below, we’ve compiled a selection of the monologues, as well as stories from Rodriguez and Austin musician Walker Lukens, who penned a special song based on a reader-submitted confession that he had planned to perform. Each of these stories illuminates a vital moment, conversation, or idea that animated an artist’s aesthetic evolution. Together, they remind us why this current moment in Texas music is so exciting. 

Two Trailblazing Country Musicians From San Benito Led Parallel Lives Decades Apart

Charley Crockett grew up watching Freddy Fender perform. He tells us how his life in music took a similar path.

How One of Houston’s Most Celebrated Rappers Started His Career in a Car

Hip-hop mainstay Lil Keke tells the story of how he earned his musical chops driving around Houston.

A Life Surrounded by Vinyl Records

The Corpus Christi DJ, producer, and nu cumbia pioneer El Dusty talks about the music that shaped his trajectory.

Moving to Austin Changed This Singer-songwriter’s Life—and How She Thought About Death

Shawn Colvin on her early days in Texas, and thinking ahead to her final days.