Rave new world

Tom Faulkner explores his musical horizons

Although the CD is a particularly mature and cohesive work, it nevertheless might never have happened. The entire Texico state of mind has been a gradual epiphany--if such a thing is possible--for Faulkner, borne of countless hoops jumped through at the whims of sundry record company suitors and advisors.

A former philosophy major at Washington & Lee, Faulkner courted major-label fame as a member of immensely popular Dallas bands the Coconuts ('70s) and Flyer (early '80s). When none of the deals they were offered worked out, Faulkner fell into the jingle business by accident. A friend asked him to write a jingle--and dangled a thousand-dollar fee.

Fast-forward through 13 years of such national advertising anthems for Coors Light, Motel 6 (yes, that's Faulkner behind Tom Bodett), J.C. Penney, and Southwest Airlines. Faulkner stockpiled equipment and contacts, garnered a shelf full of Clio awards, got married, and lives an ecstatic family life with his wife and two kids.

But those developments and his original musical musings have never been mutually exclusive. Faulkner continued to compose, perform, and shop original rock music. At one point, Jimmy Iovine strung him along for a year and a half before calling to say he wanted Faulkner on his A&M Records label and would be down the next week to sign him. Faulkner never spoke to him again.

"It seems Jimmy got a call the next day," Faulkner says with a laugh. "U2 wanted him to go on the road with them to document a 'year in the life' sort of thing."

By that point, Faulkner was beginning to think he was best off pursuing and producing his own vision. "I'd had producers tell me to rough my songs up--that they were too pop. So I'd do that, and the next guy would say, 'Hey, these are great songs but they sound a little rough. Let's pop 'em up a bit.'"

Still, though he'd already decided to make his own album, it wasn't until Faulkner heard Bonnie Raitt's Nick of Time album that he heard what was, in his mind, the spiritual predecessor to Lost in the Land of Texico.

"I'd never listened to Bonnie's music," he remembers. "And I just happened to hear Redbeard interview her on my car radio one day--and it was so great, I just had to pull over and listen. They were talking about her career and Nick of Time, which at that point was a new record.

"I didn't really relate to her sort of rough and tough past, but I definitely related to her melodies, and I related to every song on that album. Every song has its own character--but it's all her, and it has that unifying thread of bottleneck. That really stayed with me."

Meanwhile, Faulkner had unconsciously chosen a thematic direction for his then-formless record through three songs he'd already recorded for film soundtracks. Faulkner wrote "When You Call Upon the Heart" for Sam Shepard's Curse of the Starving Class, working from a set of lyrics by California gospel writer Patrick Henderson. A second tune, "Lost in the Land of Texico," was solicited, and a third song ("Sign of Love") was used in an original HBO motion picture, Annie-O.

Reflecting on those songs, as well as the implications of his past and the conclusions he drew from hearing Raitt, it all came together for Faulkner.

"I chased major-label rainbows for a decade," he recalls. "And when I heard Nick of Time, I said, 'It doesn't have to be one way or the other; Bonnie had pop and blues and funk. I'm gonna do my best on each song and not worry about the implications of them individually."

And, though Faulkner was "unaware and completely ignorant" of the machinations of marketing or independent labels, the completed album took on a life of its own. Hand-picked by Borders' promotions magnate Bill Steenbergen from the piles of indie releases he receives daily, Lost in the Land of Texico roared like a freight train through the chain. Word-of-mouth began creeping across the country, followed by the phone calls of support and enthusiasm from Olsen and Crowell.

After Kaigan jumped aboard, Faulkner was summoned by the label to help on a collaborative tribute album honoring the songs of Lowell George. Just returned from Nashville, Faulkner contributed lead and slide guitar and vocals (with Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris) on George's classic "Willin'." It was there that Harris heard Texico and exulted effusively.

Live performances, of course, have been another inevitable extension of the album's groundswell. To that end, Faulkner--who played many of the instruments in the studio--has assembled an amazing band: drummer Wojochieski, bassist Bob Gentry, lead guitarist Jamey Perrenot, accordionist Adrian Cabello, and background vocalist-percussionist Pat Peterson, a group able to replicate the nuances of Texico with the aplomb and effortlessness of 10-year veteran tour guides.

Without question, the potential for the boundaries of Texico to expand are enormous. And for sure, in an age of despots and dictators, Faulkner is proving to be quite the philosopher king.

"This release of the album," he says, "in and of itself, is fulfillment of a lifelong dream. The reward of the general public embracing it is truly a secondary dream--but no less important. You want to create and be accepted. I admire the artist who creates and doesn't care what everybody else thinks, but I don't embrace that. I like to play my music and see people's faces light up. It's a gratifying feeling, and it's one I want to see grow."

Tom Faulkner will open for Storyville on Friday, August 29, at the Bedford Blues Festival and then play at the Pepsi KidAround on Sunday, August 31.

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