William Clark Green Talks Cotton Fest, a Sweet Moment With His Dad and Texas Tech

Williams Clark Green will play Billy Bob's on Nov. 23.
Williams Clark Green will play Billy Bob's on Nov. 23. courtesy William Clark Green

There is a myth that a handful of industry executives in Nashville are the sole arbiters and gatekeepers of country music. That is not said to diminish Nashville’s importance, or even the influence music industry bigwigs in Nashville have over country music, but rather, it is to point out that the genre is no monoculture.

One would be remiss to forget other country music hotbeds such as Lubbock, where revered names such as Waylon Jennings, The Flatlanders and The Maines Brothers Band came from. Even to this day, Lubbock boasts famed contemporary artists such as Pat Green and Josh Abbott, and beneath that veneer, a grassroots country music circuit is still thriving in the college town.

One of the most influential torchbearers of this thriving scene is William Clark Green, who initially achieved notoriety following the release of his 2012 breakthrough album Rose Queen. The album yielded three singles that would make the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, perhaps most notably “She Likes the Beatles.”

The country singer-songwriter is on tour in support of his 2018 full-length Hebert Island and will return to the stage at Billy Bob’s on Friday, Nov. 23. In anticipation of his Fort Worth stop, we had a chance to catch up with Green on the phone while he had a day off in California.

First off, congratulations for selling out Phoenix.
Thank you! Flatland Cavalry was a huge help in that, too. They have a lot of fans there as well, so that was awesome. We had a great show last night in San Diego. It’s kind of scary going out in the West Coast – this is our first time here by ourselves being the headliner. We’ve only been here once before with Josh Abbott, so we don’t really know what we’re getting into. You know, you play venues on weekdays, you just never know what’s going to happen.

You have said in previous interviews that [Lubbock is] not like Austin, where there are so many people tapping into it, but it’s also vibrant enough to where people like Pat Green and Lloyd Maines came from it.
Yeah man, there’s a plethora of great songwriters. Delbert McClinton, Wade Bowen, Waylon Jennings, Buddy Holly, The Maines Brothers (obviously), Joe Ely … It seems like everyone spent time in Lubbock. There’s something up there. Delbert McClinton always said my favorite quote when asked why so many songwriters came out of Lubbock. He said, “It was the DDT they sprayed in the alley.” I thought maybe that had some truth to it.

I don’t know what’s in the water up there, but Josh [Abbott] and Wade [Bowen] re-sparked the Pat Green thing. There’s this guy named Randall King – he is freaking unbelievable. Grant Gilbert is this young kid who is doing great things, and we will be hearing his name a bunch. Josh Abbott is actually managing him.

Oh, wow.
It’s a really cool brotherhood we have. We also do a Lubbock songwriting retreat every year, too. We bring guys like Josh [Abbott] and Wade [Bowen], as well as guys just starting out. Just getting that whole camaraderie going, and getting everybody to know each other, asking questions. If someone likes someone, maybe putting them on some shows ...

I put two songs on my record that were written at that retreat. “Drunk Again” was written with Brandon Adams, and “Poor” was written with Dalton Domino. You never know what’s going to happen at a retreat like that, you know?

I read somewhere that you went to school for about six years at Texas Tech.
Yeah. [Laughs]

Do you feel as though college was a bit of an impediment for your career at all?
My music career would have never happened if it wasn’t for college. I did not use my college degree for anything, but I was working at a feed lot in Amarillo after I graduated high school, and my goal was to not go to college. I was either going to be a cowboy or a diesel mechanic.

If it wasn’t for Lubbock and doing something I hate like college, I never would have found my passion. There’s no way. I would have ended up being a below-average citizen. [Laughs] Not knowing exactly what I wanted to do, not having a passion about it, and not being very good at it. College gave me the ability to work on my craft and learn from the School of Hard Knocks. If I went straight to work after high school like some of my buddies did, I would have never given this the dedication like I did in college. In college, it was an everyday thing. It wasn’t just a once-a-month hobby. Playing guitar was life. I hung out with people who played guitar, wrote songs and had the same musical interests. We didn’t give a shit about school, but I knew I needed to do it. I wanted to get the degree. I was stubborn enough to get that done, but if it wasn’t for Lubbock, I would not have found the path I found. There’s no way.

What was a moment in your career where you reflected and thought, “Wow, I’ve actually made a career out of this”?
[Laughs] Hasn’t happened yet.

It’s always been a temporary thing for me, because it’s a fucking ticking time bomb. Pardon my language, but no one knows. Tomorrow, I could literally lose my voice, everyone can quit caring, or I can get replaced. You just have no clue. I’ve got friends that have jumped from riches to rags, and from rags to riches. It’s not the end-all-be-all plan. However, it’s the plan I’m most passionate about, and I’m just riding the wave until it goes away, you know?

You recently announced the second annual Cotton Fest lineup. How did that festival come into fruition?
I did the Street Dance at Blue Light about seven or eight years ago. Last one we played, people were waiting in line for an hour or two, so we knew we'd kind of outgrown the Street Dance. I knew Lubbock never had a BYOB event. It never had a Larry Joe Taylor[‘s Texas Music Festival] atmosphere, where you’d bring your camper, a barbecue pit, and you can bring all the beer you want to for a cheap ticket price.

I mean, there’s farmers in Lubbock, you know? Every festival there seems like it’s really expensive. I knew if I did something that got a lot of farmers and said, “You can bring your own cooler,” they’re gonna show up whether they like the music or not.

The first year was scary, because it was a big risk. First-time festivals never do well, and they never make money either. We were lucky to have Koe Wetzel, [the festival] was about to blow up, and I think he was a big factor in that. I had a whole new respect for promoters after running my first festival for sure. I was working tickets at the gate, I was helping people park, I was trying to do as much as I possibly could.

It turned out to be great. Next year, we decided to do two nights instead of one, and we’re fired up about it. I’m hoping that will become something we can do for a very long time. Not just for me but for people in Lubbock. They had so much fun last year. We had a barbecue competition, have a washer tournament, chicken-shit bingo and the whole nine yards.

You can come for $50 for two days and have a ball.

I also understand there’s a bit of a charity component to it as well, kind of like Farm Aid. Is that right?
It’s nothing like Farm Aid, actually. We started a committee called The High Plains Cotton Relief Fund. We just named it the other day.

One of my good friends, Jordan Dorsett, brought us cotton strippers next to the stage [at Cotton Fest 2018] so we can have that kind of aesthetic. I thought, “You know what’d be really cool? If every year, we can get one guy that’s had a really shitty year in farming, and maybe make his tractor payment for the year.” You know, those tractors are $400,000 machines. It’s like buying a Ferrari. It ain’t no joke.

We kept thinking about it, and so I got this committee together with Ross Cooper’s dad. Ross Cooper’s a songwriter I’ve written a lot of songs with, and he came out with this fantastic album recently. His dad is a cotton ginner, and he knows every good dude in Lubbock, and Jordan Dorsett knows every good farmer in Lubbock, too. We got this committee of about 10 people. It’s all in the beginning stages, but every year, we’re going to find out who needs what and how much they need.

My dad asked Robert Earl Keen one time, “If you were on stage, and you were only able to play one last song ever, what would that song be?” I kind of wanted to twist that a little. This sounds morbid, but if you were on stage one last time, and you got to play two more songs (one original and one cover), what songs would you pick, and why?
That’s a damn good question.

The original would probably be the last song I wrote. I wouldn’t even know what that song would be, but it’d be the last song I wrote at that time that I truly loved because that’s how songwriting works for me. It’s typically the last song I’ve written or the last really good song I’m in love with that hasn’t been out yet. That’s when I love playing songs the most, whenever the first time you play them in front of a listening crowd.

Cover song? So many variables, man. If my dad was in the crowd, it would be a song that he loved. It’d be a song that affected someone I knew personally. I don’t know what song it would be, but it would be a very fun song, not a sad song. It also depends on where it’s at – are you in Corpus Christi, Lubbock, Amarillo, Fort Worth? I’d want it to be a lot of fun for sure.

Sorry I don’t have a definite answer.

No, that’s fine. I know that your dad was a really big fan of Guy Clark and a few others, and he got you into that kind of music.
Yeah, I thought he didn’t know shit about music when I was a kid, but the older I got, I realized my dad had a really good taste in music. I think that, for songwriters, is very important. You have to know what a good song is in order to write one.

My dad’s appreciation for good music was definitely a great foundation to start writing songs. I’m searching for Dad’s approval. [Laughs]

Since your dad is an adamant country music fan, was he stoked at the progress you made to where you played Gruene Hall?
My dad’s a doctor; I think he always wanted a different path for me. I wouldn’t wish this career on anybody. The first five years are unproven and full of doubt, a lot of alcohol, a lot of crazy things going on. You have to be tough mentally and physically to get through it.

I’ll never forget – we played Granada Theater one time, and we opened for Charlie Robison. This was before anybody gave a shit about us. I think my dad got it at that show. We were back in the parking lot, he started crying, and he said, “I’ve never seen you have so much fun in my life, and you’ve got to keep doing what you’re doing.” That was one of the coolest moments I’ve ever had with my dad. It was a validation of the last years that we struggled. And we weren’t even there yet – we’re still not there. We’ve got a long way to do.

If it ended tomorrow, I’d be fired up about what I’ve accomplished, the things I’ve done, the band I’ve gotten to play with every week, and we’re small potatoes. It’s been a hell of a ride for sure.

William Clark Green plays Friday, Nov. 23 at Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth. Tickets start at $18.
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Garrett Gravley was born and grew up in Dallas. He mostly writes about music, but veers into arts and culture, local news and politics. He is a graduate of the University of North Texas and has written for the Dallas Observer since October 2018.