Chris Whitten!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Oh my goodness this is a big one! Mr Chris Whitten!!

Are you currently touring? If so with who?
“I am currently a member of the Texas Jamm Band, featuring Members of George Strait's "Ace in the Hole Band", the new project since GS retired. I am also the House fiddle player, of sorts, at my friend, the “Czar of Talk Radio", Michael Berry's Redneck Country Club in Houston (Stafford), TX. I also gig out with anyone, and everyone on a regular basis from John Slaughter, and Jody Booth, to Dub Miller, and Jason Boland and the Stragglers. I do a lot of studio work, albums (such as Cody Johnson's "Six Strings, One Dream", and albums by Curtis Grimes, and even Grammy nominated rock band “Dimitri's Rail"), radio jingles (I did one for Gaskins western wear recently), and I'm part of a newly, reformed, Oklahoma band )they're old friends) called "Jackson Tillman", named for those two counties in SW Oklahoma, near where I was raised. I'm producing, and playing on an EP with those guys in a couple of weeks.”

Who all have you toured with?

“I began touring with Vince Gill, a month after my sixteenth birthday, in January of 1997, my first gig being at the Opry, where I got to meet, and perform with the “Man in Black" Johnny Cash. I worked with Vince through '99, until Andrea, his regular fiddle player's baby was old enough for her to leave. He is an awesome guy! Then I worked with Toby Keith on his 2000 "How do Ya Like Me Now" tour, which he wasn't quite so good a guy to work for. I left at the end of the tour, after the last of the original band quit. I did some fill in gigs with Mark Wills, Rhett Akins, Brooks & Dunn, Ty Herndon, Ricky Skaggs, Hank Thompson, Kitty Wells, Wanda Jackson, and Tanya Tucker.
Before my stint was over with Vince, two things began steering me towards the small, largely underground Texas music movement.
I was hurriedly rushed into the studio to cut on, unbeknownst to me before tracking until 1am, Tim McGraw's "A Place in the Sun", with" Please Remember Me", and the "barbecue Stain on her white T-shirt" song. The album was a huge hit, winning the "1999 Album of the Year" award from the CMA, and my name didn't appear anywhere on it, and I'd met Jason Boland, the Ragweed Boys, and Stony LaRue through my friends Bob Childers, and the "Red Dirt Rangers". Jason and Roger Ray (that's all the band they had at the time!) Were preparing to record their first record at Lloyd Maines studio in Austin, and they wanted me to join the band, but I was too busy. They kept telling me about this Pat Green Guy, and another dude named Jack Ingram, and Ragweed's old manager, who also worked with" The Great Divide", which was where we met, a guy named Ron Reichel ,talked me into riding to Paris, TX to see Ingram. They were playing this city park, and it was packed with kids my age (and a lot of pretty girls!!!), and I was blown away by the experience!!! Around that time I talked to my friend Frank Liddell (Nashville producer, and husband of LeeAnn Womack), who's publishing company handled a number of Texas artists. I was sold!!! I worked for Dallas based singer/songwriter Mark David Manders for three or four months, and my friends Jason Boland (who'd hired Dana Hazard... Every time he needed a fiddle player I had a gig, and every time I needed a gig, he had a fiddle player!), and guitarist Rodney Pyeatt (played for Selena, and Rick Travino, and since with just about everyone, including a long stint with Stoney LaRue) hooked me up with Kevin Fowler, whom I'd met at Blaine's Pub in San Angelo, along with Cory Morrow, while working with Manders. Fowler's fiddle player, a drunken Englishman, whose visa had expired four years earlier, was in fear of deportation, and Kevin had a gig in Acunã, Mexico, at the infamous Corona Club, and they were afraid he'd not be let back into the country. I drove to Austin, and got on the bus, leaving to play Gatesville, TX at the Horseshoe club (where the sweetest Lil blonde named Miranda Lambert opened for us, starting a friendship with the now megastar), and then Acunã, and that was the start of nearly nine years, four albums, and over 1,500 shows with a man who remains a dear friend, and partner in crime!
I continued to live in Oklahoma for the first month or two, until I finally rented a condo from Larry, and Pearl Butler, out at Willie's place, on the golf course, behind the studio. I lived there next door to one of my best friends, Willie's longtime tour manager, Poodie Locke, may he rest in peace, and that was a riot!!!
After headlining the Houston Rodeo with Fowl Ball, my health couldn't keep up with the gruelling schedule, and I had to take a break, and get my systemic lupus, and multiple disc herniation in my lumbar back, in check. I gigged around with friends Jason Allen, and Jarrod Birmingham, going to Afghanistan with Jarrod for Christmas and new years 08/09 (I'd previously toured the Iraqi theatre with Kevin, and Charlie Robinson in the spring of 07, during the surge). I worked on Cody Johnson's first album, finally meeting him six months later whenever he asked me to gig with him. I worked with him for a year and a half, helping him get his operation off of the ground, before accepting a position with George's band (the Aceholes) in late 2010.”

When and why did you start playing?

“I began playing in public school orchestra in Lawton, OK at age nine. I had many older relatives that played, including a cousin who played fiddle from '49-'55 with Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. He would regale us with stories from the road at Delmer's Barber Shop when I would go in for a trim with my grandfather, the worlds biggest Bob Wills fan, as a young child. I grew up on western swing, hymns, old country, bluegrass, and classic rock.”

Which instruments do you play?

“I mostly just play fiddle. I can play mandolin, steel guitar (pedal, and lap), and guitar, but I'm not that good at any of them.”

What drives your passion?

“The quest for that perfect solo, or kickoff, but more so when you see that you move people. I don't do that much, but I hope what I do is meaningful. I try to set a good, Godly, wholesome image, and not glorify that which is not good.”

Where do you usually gather songwriting inspiration? What is your usual songwriting process?

“I don't! Lol I improvise what I feel.”

Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?

“Johnny Gimble!!! He's the best, and he's a good, Christian man.”

Which famous musicians have you learned from?

“All of them!!! I learn licks from everyone, even from other instruments, which has made me much more versatile! I even learn stuff from the worst musicians, even if it's how NOT to do something!”

What are your fondest musical memories?

“I'd have to say playing twin fiddles with Johnny Gimble on "Faded Love", while Merle Haggard, and Ray Benson played guitar, and sang it, during a jam session at “Asleep at the Wheel's" studio, Bismeaux.
Also anytime I get to jam with Willie, Hag, Johnny Rodriguez, Johnny Lee, or any classic artists!
Lastly, rocking "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" in Reliant Stadium, in front of 66,000 people!!! It was cooler than playing "Devil" with Charlie Daniels, as I've done a number of times!!!”

Were you influenced by old records & tapes?

“Absolutely!!! My Grandfather had all of Bob Wills, and Hank Thompson, and the like on both mediums! He would record them live on cassette from the radio. I learned a lot from those tapes!”

Who are your favorite musicians?

“Johnny Gimble, all of the "Aceholes", all of Bob Wills Texas Playboys (I played with most of them as a kid), Elvis Presley (who is my Cousin, my Great-Great-Grandfather Thomas Franklin Hood being first cousins with his grandmother, Minnie Mae Hood (Presley), who, next to his mother, was his closest relative, who lived with him his entire life, dying at Graceland five years after Elvis), Vince Gill, Mark O'Conner, Brent Mason, Eddie Bauers, Glen Worf, Matt Rollings, Paul Franklin, Stuart Duncan, Larry Franklin, my mentor Byron Berline (the most recorded fiddle player ever, next to Gimble, and O'Conner. He was part of the folk rock movement of the seventies in LA, playing with the Eagles, the Byrd's, the Rolling Stones, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Elton John, etc... Anytime you heard fiddle in TV or movies between about 1975, and 1995, it was him!), Jerry Reed, Reggie Young, Chip Young, James Burton, Hank Garland, Speedy West, Floyd Crammer, Jr Husky, Allison Krauss, Dan Tymenski, Jerry Douglas, John Hickman, Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Vassar Clements, Chubby Wise, Scotty Stoneman, Antonio Vivaldi, Wolfgang Mozart, Dvorak, Fritz Kreisler, Rudolph Kreutzer, and Beethoven, just to name a few!!! I've been fortunate to play with everyone on this list, except Hank Garland, and the old composers at the end!”

What is a typical week like for you?

“I have no typical weeks!!! Last week for example, I went to Oklahoma driving 8 hours, stopping to get a free hairdo at my cousins salon, and spa in Wichita Falls on a Friday, hosted a radio show in Altus, OK from 7 till 10, recorded some acoustic demos at the station in preparation for the studio for the Jackson Tillman session next month, returning to my mother’s to sleep at 4:45am... A 24 hour day. I had to drive the 60 miles back for sound check in Altus at 3pm the next day. Sound check, dinner, get dressed, headed back to the venue, played, had breakfast with old friends, and drove back to Lawton again, going to bed at 5:30am. I got up, visited, and ate, and started back south, when Jody Booth called me to play a special, VIP event with the president of the Ford Motor Company the next day (Monday for those keeping count!), in Houston. I arrived home at 6am, slept until 10am, got up and ready to leave for the 3 hour trek to Houston. As soon as I left, leaving my luggage at home, expecting to come right back, I got a call from Dub Miller asking if I could play the next night, Tuesday, for the Liberty (Chambers County, NE of Houston) Rodeo. I loaded in, and played a few sets between 4, and 6pm for the Ford guys. There I reconnected with one of the executives from Rios of Mercedes/Anderson Bean boots, and the owners of Texas National Outfitters. I went to Livingston to sleep at Jody and Kim's house, and had to be back in Houston at 2pm the next day, for a fitting for some custom, Arapaima boots, with all the bells and whistles (even fiddles, and my name inlaid! Those people are awesome!) As part of an endorsement deal. I left there at 4pm, and had to be in Liberty (hello rush hour traffic!) At 6pm. I arrived, loaded in, and sound checked before eating dinner, changing (a quick trip to Dollar General, and a shirt from Jody made up for my lack of luggage!), and playing 9:30-midnight. After the show I drove home, for two days off, then I was off to Bulverde for another gig with Dub Miller, on Friday night (load in, sound check, dinner, two hour gig, as before!), and the wedding of an Adj. General near Temple with my friend, and hero, Johnny Gimble's son, Dick, to then drive two and a half hours home after the gig, getting home around 4am Sunday.
I've had crazier times though, but it was on a bus, where I could catch a bit more shut eye. I remember playing Columbia, SC on Friday, from 10:30pm, til 12:30am, getting to the room at two, having to get up at 4:30 to get to the airport, and ready for a 7am flight. We flew to Chicago O'Hare, where it was sleeting, and cold, and connected with a flight to Dallas. We arrived in Dallas, and played a sold out show at the Smirnoff Center, near the state fairgrounds, with Pat. Afterwards, we returned to Love Field, for a private Learjet flight of 26minutes to Galveston for an 11pm show, racing back to Austin, and getting ready for an 8am flight to Vegas to host the Outdoor Network's, Golden Moose Awards., to fly home on Tuesday, going back on the road on Thursday!!! You can see why I was growing more I'll!!!”

What's your favorite thing about being on the road?

“Getting to entertain a new group of folks every night!!! The people!!!”

What's the funniest thing that's happened on the road?

“Where do I begin!?!?!? Lol probably the time we made three laps around a bumpy dirt racetrack at 65-70mph, in a bus, with trailer, right after bassist James Hertless went into the trailer to shower!!! He had just soaped up when we took off. He fell down, his bag spilled over, and he just slid around naked, bouncing off of the walls, and was pretty bruised up, but he was no worse for the incident!”

Best place to eat while on the road?

“Small, one of a kind, hole in the wall places!”

What's the best town play in?

“I love them all! I'm especially fond of west, and south Texas! The best looking dance crowds around!!! I love playing in Southern France, and Italy too!”

Since everyone was a startup once, can you give any smaller or local bands looking to get gigs and airplay some tips?

“There is NO "big break"! Its lots of baby steps, and even more hard, hard work. Support your fellow artists. There's strength in numbers! Do not expect to take off every holiday, family reunion, funeral, opening day of deer season, etc... I haven't been with my family for any of that in over fifteen years. I have missed a lot, but I had it to do. Always call every radio station to thank them (even if they aren't spinning your stuff!!!), and don't think just because you paid a radio promoter $5k, you don't ever have to pick up the phone. You should be on the phone from sunup til sundown, or you might as well give me that $5k, and let me slap you on the back of the head... Same difference! Be careful who you trust. That goes for people promising the moon, as well as people you hire to work on the road, because if the road manager's a D@#k, then you are one, or at least that's how the story will be told! Slow and steady wins the race. I know it's cliché, but it's cliché because it's the truth! As Fowler always said, if you're born, and live by radio, you will die by radio! Go build your fans, one beer joint, fair, festival, etc., at a time. Records don't make you money unless you're at the George Strait level. A label might give you half a million as a sign on bonus, but remember, you don't see a dime in record sells until they recoup it, so you'd better hope they promote it well, and you sell a couple million of them!!! If you don't, they drop you, sue you for that remaining balance, and destroy your credit. Think of records as advertising for your live show, where you sell tickets and merch which will make you money! My last tidbit is this, stay true to yourself, and don't waste a lot of money just because suites tell you that's the way you have to do it, because you'll regret it! You don't need a fleet of buses, and semis, tens of thousands of dollars in staging, a six figure video production cost, as well as six figure album!!! You can compete with a $500,000 record, with a $60,000 record! Trust me... We did it many times!!!”

Thank you Chris! Your awesome! 

Xxx West Texas Sweetheart

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