Robert Earl Keen
|Robert Earl Keen, Jr.|
|Born||January 11, 1956|
|Origin||Houston, Texas, United States|
|Genres||Americana, country music, Texas Country|
|Labels||Arista, Sugar Hill, KOCH, Lost Highway, Rosetta|
Robert Earl Keen (born January 11, 1956) is an American singer-songwriter and entertainer living in the central Texas hill country. Debuting with 1984's No Kinda Dancer, the Houston native has recorded 18 full-length albums for both independent and major record labels, while his songs have also been covered by several different artists from the country, folk and Texas country music scenes (including George Strait, Joe Ely, Lyle Lovett, The Highwaymen, Nanci Griffith, and the Dixie Chicks). Although both his albums and live performances span many different styles, from folk, country, and bluegrass to rock, he is most commonly affiliated with the Americana movements. In fact, he was the first "Americana" artist to appear on the cover of Gavin magazine when the style was officially recognized as its own genre in 1998. Additionally, although Keen has toured extensively both nationally and internationally throughout his career, he has long been heralded as one of the Lone Star State's most popular and consistently acclaimed musical ambassadors, leading to his induction into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012 along with Lovett and the late Townes Van Zandt.
Keen grew up in southwest Houston. His father was a geologist and his mother an attorney. He has an older brother and a younger sister. He attended Sharpstown High School, graduating in 1974. As a teenager, Keen was an avid reader who excelled in writing and literature classes, and a fan of both the English rock band Cream and, thanks to the influence of his older brother, country music by artists like Willie Nelson. But it was his younger sister, Kathy, who introduced him to the Houston music scene in the early seventies. "My sister was a couple years younger than I was, and she was like the world-champion Foosball player of downtown Houston," Keen explained in a 2011 cover story for LoneStarMusic Magazine. Keen would accompany his sister to the bars where she played, many of which featured singer-songwriters playing both covers and original tunes. He started playing guitar himself shortly thereafter, teaching himself to play classic country covers out of a song book the summer before starting college at Texas A&M.
Keen attended Texas A&M University in College Station, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1980 and began writing songs and playing bluegrass and folk music with friends including his childhood running buddy (and a future longtime fiddle player in his band), Bryan Duckworth. It was during his college years that Keen also became friends with fellow Aggie student and neighbor Lyle Lovett. The two spent many an afternoon and evening jamming together on the front porch of the house at 302 Church Street that Keen rented from landlord Jack Boyett, which eventually inspired a song they wrote together entitled “The Front Porch Song.” Both artists would later record the song on their respective debut albums.
In 1980, Keen graduated from Texas A&M and moved to Austin, Texas. Soon he was performing in Austin's nightclubs and live music venues like the Cactus Cafe and Gruene Hall in nearby New Braunfels, building a solid regional following. In 1983, Keen won the prestigious New Folk competition at the Kerrville Folk Festival. That same year, he began making his self-produced first album, No Kinda Dancer, with the help of his bandmates and the up-and-coming talents of Lovett and Nanci Griffith. He leased the album to Rounder Records, which released on its Philo Records imprint in 1984. Keen began touring outside of Texas and moved with his wife, Kathleen, to Nashville, Tennessee in 1986 — at the encouragement of Steve Earle. Keen returned to Texas 22 months later after failing to find mainstream success, though his time in Nashville did net him a publishing deal, a new independent label deal and a national booking agent (Keith Case). All three would pay tremendous dividends after the release of his second and third albums, 1988’s The Live Album and 1989’s West Textures (both produced by Jim Rooney and released on Sugar Hill Records) expanded his fan base both in Texas and in the rest of the country. Keen’s tour dates around that time included a triple-bill run with Texas songwriting legends Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. West Textures featured the first recording of what would soon become Keen’s signature anthem, “The Road Goes on Forever.” Fellow Texan Joe Ely recorded the song on his 1993 album Love and Danger, along with another Keen song, “Whenever Kindness Fails.” Keen’s own version of “Whenever Kindness Fails” appeared on his fourth album, 1993’s Garry Velletri-produced A Bigger Piece Of Sky, which, along with the following year’s Gringo Honeymoon (whose title track and light-hearted “Merry Christmas from the Family” also became fan favorites and live staples) and 1996’s No. 2 Live Dinner, cemented Keen’s reputation as one of the Americana scene’s most popular live draws. Building on the success of those albums, Keen has continued to write, record, and tour across the nation. His 1997 album, Picnic, marked the beginning of his on-again, off-again relationship with major labels (both that album and 1998’s Walking Distance were issued on Arista Records, and 2001’s Gravitational Forces, 2009’s The Rose Hotel and 2011’s Ready for Confetti were released on Lost Highway Records.) Keen’s other albums include 2003’s Farm Fresh Onions (Audium/Koch Records) and 2005’s What I Really Mean and 2006’s Live at the Ryman (both on E1 Music). The producers he’s worked on those albums have included John Keane, Gurf Morlix, Lloyd Maines, and his longtime lead guitarist, Rich Brotherton. Keen continues to tour throughout the United States.
- Rich Brotherton - guitar
- Bill Whitbeck - bass
- Tom Van Schaik - drums
- Marty Muse - steel guitar
|Title||Album details||Peak chart positions|
|No Kinda Dancer||—||—||—||—||—|
|A Bigger Piece of Sky||
|Farm Fresh Onions||
|What I Really Mean||21||122||1||5||—|
|The Rose Hotel||
|Ready for Confetti||
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart|
|Title||Album details||Peak positions|
|The Live Album||
|No. 2 Live Dinner||
|The Party Never Ends||
|Live from Austin TX||
|Live at the Ryman||
|Marfa After Dark||
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart|
|1984||"No Kinda Dancer"||No Kinda Dancer|
|"The Armadillo Jackal"|
|1997||"Over the Waterfall"||Picnic|
|1998||"Down That Dusty Trail"||Walking Distance|
|1999||"That Buckin' Song"|
|2001||"Hello New Orleans"||Gravitational Forces|
|"Not A Drop of Rain"|
|2002||"High Plains Jamboree"|
|2003||"Furnace"||Farm Fresh Onions|
|"All I Have Is Today"|
|2005||"What I Really Mean"||What I Really Mean|
|"The Great Hank"|
|2009||"The Rose Hotel"||The Rose Hotel|
|2010||"The Man Behind the Drums"|
|2011||"I Gotta Go"||Ready for Confetti|
|1997||"Over the Waterfall"||Steven T. Miller/R. Brad Murano|
|2004||"Merry Christmas from the Family"||David McClister|
|2005||"What I Really Mean"|
- Henkle, Doug, "FolkLib Index"
- Davis, John T. "Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame will induct Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen and Townes Van Zandt". Austin American Statesman. Retrieved January 4, 2012.
- Skanse, Richard. "Robert Earl Keen: A Man Apart". Lone Star Music Magazine. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
- Davis, John T. "Robert Earl Keen: Can you patch together a feeling that’s going to stick with somebody ten years from now?". No Depression. Retrieved January 5, 2013.
- McLeese, Don. "Straight outta Bandera: For Robert Earl Keen, music and business coexist at home, deep in the heart of Texas". No Depression. Retrieved January 5, 2013.
- "Robert Earl Keen, Jr. Album & Song Chart History - Country Albums". Billboard. Retrieved July 13, 2011.
- "Robert Earl Keen, Jr. Album & Song Chart History - Billboard 200". Billboard. Retrieved July 13, 2011.
- "Robert Earl Keen, Jr. Album & Song Chart History - Heatseekers Albums". Billboard. Retrieved July 13, 2011.
- "Robert Earl Keen, Jr. Album & Song Chart History - Independent Albums". Billboard. Retrieved July 13, 2011.
- "Robert Earl Keen, Jr. Album & Song Chart History - Folk Albums". Billboard. Retrieved July 13, 2011.
- http://www.robertearlkeen.com - Official Site
- http://www.texasheritagesongwriters.com/inductee/robert-earl-keen/ - Texas Heritage Songwriters Association