When Stoney LaRue first headed out on the road 18 years ago, Texas country was in an entirely different place. It was a relatively insular scene, free of Nashville interlopers and incredibly tight knit. Today the scene has since expanded and plenty of Texas artists have moved on to Nashville, but LaRue has long been Texas’ hardest working road warrior, playing more than 200 days a year to bring tracks like “Oklahoma Breakdown” and “Feet Don’t Touch the Ground” to dance halls and honky tonks across Texas and beyond.
But even LaRue’s most devoted fans might be surprised to learn that LaRue has never actually recorded those tracks. They’ve appeared on LaRue’s live albums, taped at places like Billy Bob’s Texas, but have never actually seen the slicked-up studio treatment. That is, of course, until this year, when LaRue released Us Time, a collection of fan-chosen favorites, unreleased songs and popular covers.
If it seems a bit shocking that LaRue has never actually laid down his two most popular tracks, that’s because it is. But it’s important to remember that LaRue has always been an entirely independent artist, at least until signing with entertainment One quite recently, and that’s meant that he hasn’t always been able to release everything he’s wanted to. “I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have a label — that’s who has the money to make records,” he says. “No label picked us up. There were some that didn’t fit with what we were trying to do.”
He was also somewhat skeptical of recording these songs that he’d long wanted to stop playing on the road. “I thought that these songs had already had their day in the sun and I was moving on. We wanted to get some of these songs back out there to reignite the passion that people had for them,” he says. "It was weird at first thinking that people wanted me to record 'Oklahoma Breakdown' or 'Feet Don’t Touch the Ground.' Whenever they started to take form, it’s almost like they had a rebirth in the way that we conceptualized that in the studio.”
LaRue has had his own sort of rebirth this year. In July, he was arrested in Oklahoma City for (allegedly) pushing his girlfriend down a flight of stairs. LaRue declined to comment on the issue, citing ongoing legal proceedings, but does acknowledge that he’s cleaned up his act, and that his hard-partying days on the road have since ended. “I used to smoke two packs of cigarettes a day and drink copious amounts of alcohol before a show, but I’m taking a lot better care of myself now,” he says.
The resulting album, Us Time, is a sort of collection of fan favorites and oft-requested covers, like Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” and Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.” If you remember live versions of “Oklahoma Breakdown” and “Feet Don’t Touch the Ground,” you’ll notice that this record has a decidedly more modern feel than the grimy, gritty traditional country songs you remember from the show. “I was using class A musicians in Nashville instead of a bunch of Texas road dogs,” he says. “You don’t go in there to make something pretty, but that’s what these people do for a living.”
LaRue acknowledges, though, that pretty much all of the songs on Us Time were written “four or more years ago,” even if not released to the public. “There are songs that didn’t really fit on Velvet or Aviator,” says LaRue, referencing his two most recent, somewhat folk-inspired albums. “Us Time is really the theme for this album, and it worked out perfectly. I was able to get these songs out without sacrificing the theme on those [previous] albums.”
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The album also gave LaRue an opportunity to both satisfy old fans who have followed his rise and present his newer fans, those who fell in love with Velvet or Aviator, with a sort of musical history. “When Us Time came out, I wanted to appease people who have helped me make my living for the last 18 years,” he says. “For the newer fans, it gives them a peer back through my career in a studio quality recording. If you’re at dinner or at a wedding and you want to hear, say, 'Oklahoma Breakdown' without people yelling in the background, you couldn’t.”
Despite the fact that LaRue’s most recent release is of quite old material, he’s constantly writing and scrolling through the proverbial Rolodex of old songs that he’s never had the opportunity to record. “I’d like to tell you a date, I’d like to tell you when that was going to happen, but there’s no telling how many songs will be on the next record,” he says. “I have a ton of songs that I’ve never recorded before, these songs that you just kind of forget about until you’re looking at them again.”
And of course, LaRue is still perpetually on the road. This week, he’ll play an acoustic show at Lewisville’s Hat Tricks, owned by longtime friend Tony Avezzano, son of former Dallas Cowboys special teams coach Joe Avezzano. LaRue always makes it a point to stop through Avezzano’s bar, and not only because it belongs to his dear friend. “Hat Tricks is a great place to watch music because you can hear a lot of different styles,” says LaRue. “I play there because Tony treats his artists very well.”
LaRue’s setlist on Thursday at Hat Tricks is still yet to be determined. “I never write a setlist for acoustic settings,” he says. “If the crowd is cool, they can request every song. Otherwise, I’ve gotta be there in the venue and feel it first to decide what I’m going to play.” After 18 years of being constantly on the road, there’s likely no Texas artist who is better at feeling out a crowd and playing them what they want to hear.