Many fans of Texas country and red dirt music will recognize some key figures who give life to the music they love so dearly. The unmistakable voices of Jack Ingram, Robert Earl Keen and Randy Rogers are universally revered, and they've soundtracked our lives for over two decades now. But there’s another key voice out there who’s been ever-present in the musical lives of discerning Texas country fans, through the same two decades: Justin Frazell.
The co-host of the Ranch Morning Show on 95.9 The Ranch in Fort Worth has applied his trademark twang to a number of popular, influential outlets, each designed to highlight the best in the Texas country scene. Frazell has also hosted his own Sunday night radio show for the best part of 20 years, going back to his days working for 99.5 The Wolf in Dallas. From 2013 through 2015, he even showcased his brand of folksy music hosting as the star of the syndicated TV show Lone Star Roads.
As host of the annual Pickin’ For Preemies concert at Billy Bob’s, the father of two prematurely born children has led the way in raising over $2 million for Cook’s Children Hospital in Fort Worth while giving fans a highly anticipated, can’t-miss concert to look forward to every year. This isn’t simple résumé regurgitation, mind you. Understanding where Frazell has been means following him to new ventures and fresh concepts.
On Tuesday, Feb. 25, Frazell will host the first Back Road Conversation at Troy’s inside of Arlington’s Texas Live! Over the course of roughly two hours, Frazell and a single guest will sit in front of a crowd — one that’s likely far smaller than those they're accustomed to — and get down to discussion and storytelling. For now, this is a monthly event, but the possibility of a second Back Road Conversation added per month is in the air.
Frazell’s first Back Road Conversation guest will be Texas country titan Pat Green, someone he’s known a long time as both a friend and as someone who also spent his younger days building his career by scrapping and hustling to get heard by as many people as possible. Frazell’s excited to help fans find out who Green, and other stars like him, are “when the lights of the stage are off,” he says.
There’ll be some music, although Frazell estimates that’ll make up a tiny percentage of the event. The conversation will be the focal point, which makes sense given the inspiration that pushed Frazell into this direction.
“This format isn’t new, just new to us,” he says as he describes how David Letterman’s Netflix series, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, provided him with an inspirational jolt.
“I sat in my chair on a Saturday afternoon watching David [Letterman] talk to his other celebrity friends about life and careers. Then I thought about Jerry Seinfeld doing the same thing in cars with other comedians [in the Netflix series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee]. I looked at my wife and said, ‘That's it! That's what I'm doing in 2020; I'm calling all of our friends and we're going to visit about God knows what in front of a live audience!’ It’ll be limited access, but with full access ... all in a small room, intimate.
"I can see every eye and they can see ours. We’ll pull the curtain back and bring the audience in to who these folks that we’ve laughed, cried and sung along with for so long, really are.”
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The notion of doing something different in 2020 was the result of a combination of factors. The older Frazell gets, so do his children. His daughter Jaycie is a volleyball-playing sophomore in high school, while his sixth-grade son Castin is getting ready to start playing school football soon. The work schedule Frazell has kept up for so long is one that tends to get in the way of being around for such activities, and he’s ready to do something about that. Looking to alter not only his familial scenario, but the predictable grind of simply doing the same thing over and over again for decades, spurred Frazell into preemptive action.
“I'm always trying to stay one step ahead of myself in the creative process,” he says. “In the summer of 2019, I started pressing myself hard on how to change things up in 2020. I didn't want to go into 2020 looking at doing the same 40-plus Sunday shows all over again. I also realized that as my children grow older, time with them was more precious. I wanted to take some Sundays back after dedicating 95% of them to my career for the past 20 years. I was and still am willing to gamble on the success of this new idea in order to have a full weekend with them for the first time in their entire lives.”
As conducive to his family life as Back Road Conversations may be, beginning a series like this is also timely — and fitting, in terms of the timeline of the Texas country and red dirt music scenes. In the late ’90s, a nice, calm sit-down chat with forerunners such as Charlie Robison, Cory Morrow or Cody Canada would’ve been surely welcome, though it’s hard to believe any of them would’ve then had the depth of perspective they have now to really engage a crowd through conversation only. As veteran presences who have led the exploding of a hardscrabble gig circuit into a full-blown, mega-money industry, engrossing, in-depth discussions are sure to be readily available to Frazell and his audience.
“The timing just feels right,” he says. “There's another crop of artists that are slowly becoming the current batch of torch carriers in this scene, but the last 20 to 25 years has probably been the most successful time frame in Texas and red dirt music. Let's go find out how we got here, heck, let's go see how much we can remember.”