Behind the Song: Robert Earl Keen, “Feelin’ Good Again”

Texan Robert Earl Keen has maintained a rare consistency as a performer and songwriter for over three decades. His material has been recorded by George Strait, the Dixie Chicks and others, but he is still best known as an artist who can bring a room to a hushed silence with just his voice and guitar. The song that many of his followers might vote their favorite is his upbeat homecoming anthem, “Feelin’ Good Again.”

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The Internet abounds with theories about what the lyric really means, so American Songwriter asked the author himself what was on his mind when he penned this classic. The main thing that inspired the song, Keen said, was “Returning home after a long time gone. I lived in Bandera, Texas. When I would come home, it would occasionally be really late — this was back when I didn’t have a bus. And there was this place called Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar Saloon that you could go to, still exists. So I would come home and my wife would be asleep. Now, the other way, just about half a block, was Arkey’s. Lit up with a big silver dollar and it says ‘Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar’ on it. And I would go there. Not to avoid going home, but to decompress from traveling — I would still be pretty awake. Even past 2:00 a.m.”

“There is a bar,” he continued, “and you walk down from the steps to get there. And in the cellar, which is the bar, was all of Arkey’s stuff. He had velvet paintings of Elvis and Dolly, and this great jukebox, and this corner stage where he would play every Friday and Saturday night. Arkey said actually that he built that place because he was kicked out of every honky-tonk in Texas … So Arkey’s was just a comfortable place to go and there was always people at a table, and it was a beer joint. So anyway, there it is. There’s the inspiration to the song.”

Keen said that some of the song’s characters are based on real people. “Perkins, which I mention in the song, was this old, really tiny guy, weighed about 140 pounds, really thin … he would do the train whistle. He would just come right up to you and go, ‘WOOOO, WOOOOO!!’ very loudly. And Jimmy John was not a person in the bar, but he was one of my nine managers. He was actually from Bandera … There is no Silver City; there is a town in Texas called Quihi that’s about 10 miles down the road. So I used Silver City because Quihi didn’t really work in the song. And now, Kathleen, the love interest in the story coming down the stairs, is my wife because occasionally she would wake up and figure, oh he’s not here, he must be at Arkey’s. And she would come down and see me and we would all sit and drink. And sometimes Arkey would lock the door and we would keep going after hours and go as long as we wanted to.”

Keen said that the bar not only led him to write one of his best-known tunes, but it’s also where he first met another Texas singer-songwriter who has enjoyed some pretty substantial success himself, Bruce Robison. “If you want to hear more about it ask Bruce Robison, because he grew up in Bandera, and that’s where I actually met Bruce. I came down and he was sitting there at the bar.”

Read the lyrics.

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