Wade Bowen Keeps Fans on Their Toes and Secures Help from Fellow Texan for New Album, ‘Flyin’

Wade Bowen has built a reputation over two-plus decades as one of the premier artists in his home state of Texas. For his new album, Flyin, he secured a featured guest who will only further endear him to Texans. Only it’s not a musician. To kick off the track “Friday Night,” Bowen wrote a part for a football announcer. And he cast none other than his friend Troy Aikman, the three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys in the ‘90s (and currently the color commentator for Monday Night Football).

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“Let’s put this high school football announcer at the front of the song, make it feel like a movie,” Bowen told American Songwriter of his thought process. “I said, ‘We gotta get Troy on this. There’s no way we can do this without Troy.’ Sometimes all you gotta do is ask. He jumped at the chance. He even did a few different options. He was all about it.”

Aikman’s appearance is the kind of fun touch that permeates this album, which Bowen self-produced. The 12 songs show the singer and his collaborators running the gamut of styles, touching on everything from tear-in-your-beer country (“Two Hurts, One Stoned”) and thunderous heartland country (“Rainin on Me”) to bashful romance (“Mary Jane”) and unabashed swagger (“Nothin but Texas”). It’s a tour de force from a guy who doesn’t believe in being hemmed into a single genre.

“Every business model says to pick a demographic and go after it,” Bowen says. “That’s what they say successful businessmen do. I’ve never done that. I’ve always taken a lot of pride in being able to do a little bit of everything. I love singing and writing it all. When I started playing the bars, it was fun to take my songs and play rock clubs and country clubs.

“This record to me showcases that variety maybe more than any record I’ve ever done,” he adds. “It has a taste of all that within it. The beauty of producing the record on my own is I have complete freedom. If this song does this, let’s just let it do it. That’s where you hear some of that heartland rock, some of that country, some of that folk.”

As a Texas native, Bowen was exposed to a wide range of musical styles. That’s why, when he decided to record an ode to his home state in “Nothin but Texas,” he didn’t take the obvious approach of traditional country. 

“I’ve always stayed away [from it] because everybody from Texas writes a song about Texas,” he laughs. “And everybody outside of Texas thinks, ‘Those damn Texans, that’s all they want to talk about.’ I thought it was about time. And I love this one. It’s not a country song. It showcases that Texas is about blues, rock, Tejano, and so many influences I’ve been around in the state. We’re so lucky to have so many genres here. I channeled my inner Ray Wylie Hubbard on this one. He’s my Yoda. This one has that influence and the ZZ Top guitar tones.

“It shows a side of me that I don’t think people have ever heard,” Bowen continues. “And the lyrics are straight-up Texas. It’s not a song that I ever thought I would write. When I wrote it at first, I thought, ‘Is this super-cheesy or what? Am I actually going to put this on a record?’ The more I played it and listened to it, I thought, ‘Naw, this is groovy and fun. I need some of these songs in my life.’ This is such a tribute to where we’re from. It’s such a sound from our state. I love George Strait, but this sound is where we’re from, too.”

Bowen also stresses the importance of leading with honesty in his music. The closing track on Flyin, “Hidin Behind This Microphone,” tells a searing tale of a singer who gets up night after night in front of audiences that don’t realize how torn apart he is: Tonight I feel as empty as the hole in this guitar, Bowen sings.

“I’ve experienced this 100 percent,” Bowen explains of the song. “The road is lonely and hard. But it’s not just the road. The music business is hard. Everyone wants to think that we’re just up there drinking and partying, that everything is wonderful. We go from town to town. They’re waiting for us, and we’re supposed to put on this game face. That’s one night for them, and it’s every night for us. They don’t always know what’s going on with us.

“I think it’s OK to admit these things sometimes, reveal this side of us,” Bowen shares. “To me, this is old-school songwriting, the way it used to be. People used to write honest, raw-ass lyrics. What was in their head came straight out on the paper, and they were going to record it. They weren’t scared to talk about shit. I really wish there was more of this in country music today. We need the reality, the real, raw emotional stuff.”

Part of what sets the album apart comes from Bowen’s insistence on finding new ways to tackle old topics, and on keeping his audience on their toes in general. “That’s the challenge for me,” he says. “How do we take a normal phrase and twist and turn it as much as possible to where it’s unique? Sometimes that’s with lyrics, and sometimes that’s with a melody that you just twist around and make it completely unique. Freak people out that way, I don’t know. I try really hard and sometimes drive myself insane as a writer or producer because I cannot just settle on normal.” 

Bowen possesses a tireless touring ethic, while still making time for his philanthropic tendencies. (The Bowen Family Foundation, which he runs with his sister and features his parents as board members, has raised over $6 million for causes related to children and families.) Some artists run out of steam this far into their run (his first album came out in 2002), but Bowen seems energized by this new album he loves and a career that he cherishes more than ever.

“There’s just something about this record,” he says, the excitement audible in his voice. “I can’t get over the energy it has. I feel when you’re listening track to track, you’re a little shocked when the next track pops up. It kind of throws you off in a cool way, and I just love that.”

Photos by Nick Livingston

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