In artistry, growth is essential. Whether it be personal or professional growth, if you’re not growing, your act may begin to get stale.
Weldon Henson has spent more than a decade perfecting his craft, and is reaping the rewards of that work on his newest album “Texas Made Honky Tonk.”
Featuring a variety of different topics, ranging from good, up-tempo country songs to songs that he previously felt were too deep and personal to release, Henson’s fifth album captures Henson at his best.
Hear from Henson about growing up in a musical family, what lead him to release some of his most personal songs on his newest release, the stories behind some of the standout tracks in his catalog, and more!
Pro Country: Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?
Weldon Henson: I would say my biggest influences were my family. Growing up around them and having our all night southern gospel singings. Southern gospel and old, traditional country are so closely intertwined. We would sit around and play in churches. My sisters and cousins would play the fiddles, organs, and pianos, and my uncles were phenomenal southern gospel singers. We would stay up all night at church. They were my earliest influences.
As far as other artists, some of the earliest stuff I remember hearing was Bob Wills. My grandpa was a humongous Bob Wills fan. Other than that, George Strait was becoming the biggest superstar in country music when I was a kid. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing “Marina Del Rey” or “Amarillo By Morning;” all that good early 80s George Strait, especially being here in Texas.
PC: Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted to make music for a living?
WH: There was a moment, but it wasn’t when I was a kid. The moment I wanted to do this for a living, I was about 21. I was in the Air Force, and I had just started playing in the first bands I had ever been in. Once I was at the level of, “Oh gosh, I’m actually making money with this,” I knew that is what I wanted to do. When I got out of the Air Force, I moved to Austin, and said I was going to do it.
PC: You picked up the guitar at about 20 years old. What was it about the guitar and music in general that spoke to you the way it did?
WH: I was always a singer; I was in every choir you could imagine growing up. I picked up the guitar and taught myself, and there was something about being able to accompany myself properly, all of a sudden, everything became clear. It felt like a thousand pounds were off me and that I could fly.
PC: Were you feeling any type of pressure, internally or externally, as you were preparing to release music for the first time with the release of “Trying to Get By” in 2007?
WH: I was. Nowadays, I’m a rare dinosaur that releases a full record these days. Everyone else is doing EPs, but back then, you really weren’t considered established until you had some kind of release under your belt. You need a full-length CD that wasn’t done in your friend’s basement. So I felt a little pressure; I knew I was going to need some money. I knew I wasn’t going to go the route of doing it in a friend’s basement for 500 bucks or so, you needed quite a substantial amount more to get it done right. I remember selling off my four-wheeler, cashing out both of my retirement plans I had set up in the Air Force, and I still had a friend lend me some money, so the pressure was on.
PC: “Trying to Get By” is one of the standout tracks on its album. Why did you decide to name your first album after that song?
WH: There’s realistic approaches to it, but I also like to take things that maybe may not be funny and turn it into something satirical. It felt like everywhere I went, I was just trying to get by. I wasn’t able to save up a lot of money, but I’m making enough to get by. That was how I was living my life. I figured that I might as well try to make a song and make it sound kind of funny, instead of making it about your depressing situation (laughs).
PC: “I Tried the Hard Way” is one of my favorite tracks in your catalog. Can you talk a little bit about the writing process of that song?
WH: It’s hardcore. It’s your standard sad, super hardcore, country bar room, drunk song. When I was writing it- one of my favorite things to do in my 20s was to set up shop in a small bar, and just feed the jukebox with quarters, and play Gary Stewart songs or whatever you could find in it. I mixed that in it and a little bit of heartbreak. I tried to paint that atmosphere of sitting in a bar, sad and lonely, and the only way you’re ever happy is the more beers you drink, and the more of your favorite songs you listen to.
PC: “Hey, Bottle of Whiskey” has become one of your signature songs. Why do you think that song has struck a chord with people the way it has?
WH: First, I think it’s the story behind it. Of my first four records, it’s the only song I didn’t write. Maybe that’s why everybody liked it more (laughs). It was a song that Gary Stewart released, but it didn’t do anything for him. No one knows that’s a Gary Stewart song. Hell, I could have just lied from the beginning and said that was my song (laughs), but that’s not me. Everybody likes that song’s story. I always joke around and say that it was number 78 on the country charts in 1984, but it made its way to number one on my new CD.
Another reason I think it spoke to me and others is kind of like “I Tried the Hard Way;” I thought it really painted a good picture, and twenty seconds into the song, you feel what the song wants you to feel, and I think that’s what a song is supposed to do.
PC: “Love’s Little Lies” from “Texas Made Honky Tonk” has gotten off to a good start. After 10 years of releasing music, how validating is it for you to see people still taking an interest in the new music you are releasing?
WH: Absolutely. I think the new album is my best work so far. I’m not just saying that because it’s the newest one. I know how it is when you listen to artists; I have my favorite artists, and I can tell you which record of theirs is my favorite, and it’s usually never their newest one. For me, I think this is my best one.
PC: “My State of Mind” is my favorite song in your catalog. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song?
WH: “Love’s Little Lies” and “My State of Mind” were written within about a six-month period in 2005. I wrote them before I got out of the Air Force. I wrote them before I had ever recorded anything. That was a time in my life when I was the most troubled. They were written in the deepest parts of my life, and a lot of times, Johnny Cash would say that’s when you get your best music. They didn’t make it on the first few records because I thought they were too dark. I didn’t want to put out those kinds of songs that early on; songs that were to deep or too personal. I learned later on that is what people really want. People want the deep, inside dark stuff from you.
PC: What was it about those songs that stuck with you from 2005 all the way up to the time you were putting “Texas Made Honky Tonk” together?
WH: “Love’s Little Lies” portrayed a message that was where I was at in my life at the time, and I thought that it was something that a lot of people could relate to. I think it gets its message across without coming out and saying, “I got screwed over” or “I made a mistake in my life,” it put it into a “Maybe it’s just love’s little lies” mindset. I think that makes it a little more poetic.
“My State of Mind” is just a knock-down, drunk, depressing song. I never wanted to release it, because I thought it was just too hardcore. But I play my wife songs that I have written, and I remember playing that song for her way back in 2010, and she told me it was my best song. Every time a new CD would come up, she would tell me that I needed to record that song. Finally, I said that I wasn’t going to record the song, I was just going to take it to the band, have them learn it, play it live, and see how it shook out. If it ended up not catching on quick with everyone in the band, then I would scrap it, but we instantly had something worked up, and it really came together. We started playing it, and people really dug it, so we finally recorded it (laughs).
PC: What do you hope people take away from the “Texas Made Honky Tonk” album after listening all the way through?
WH: I really hope that they take away that I am a 100% developed artist/singer-songwriter, and I hope they take away that this a true, authentic, hardcore, “Texas Made Honky Tonk” record. I hope they’re proud to own it, proud to tell people about it, tell people about me, and spread it around to their friends.
PC: It’s been more than ten years since you released “Trying to Get By.” Where do you sense that you’ve grown the most since that time?
WH: I think in that time, I’ve learned how to be myself; learning not to shy away from things, learning to be an open book, and be comfortable about who I am as a man and what I have grown in to.
PC: What does it mean to you to have the city of Austin honor the years of work you have put into music in the city with Weldon Henson Day?
WH: It helped validate something that I always wanted, and that was for people to recognize my music. For them to recognize that I have actually contributed to Austin really makes me feel special because this is where I wanted to move to play music. This is what I gave up everything for and changed my whole life for. I wanted to get involved in the Austin scene and branch out from there. To have the first place I dug my heels into to play music recognize me in that way, it made me feel validated and special.
PC: What are your plans for 2019?
WH: I’m trying to play as much as I can, and really trying to establish more places I can count on as I branch out further and further from the normal spots I play. I’m really hoping this record gets out as far as it can, because it’s the first one that I walked away from when it was all said and done and didn’t feel like I left anything on the table. Sometimes I get done with other records and say, “I should have done this,” or “I should have done that,” but with this one, once we closed the book, I knew that I didn’t leave anything on the table, and I’m very proud of that. So my main goal this year is to get it spread as far and wide as I can, and if I do that, opportunities will present themselves.
PC: Is there anything else that you would want to add?
WH: If people are looking for the most authentic, “Texas Made Honky Tonk” music, I think they won’t be disappointed from start to finish on this record. I have no plans or desires to change what I’m doing. I have no plans or desires to do what the industry may want me to do; I’ve come this far doing it my way. I’m very happy where my music is right now, and I feel like this is the best representation of who I am as a person. I’ve got another baby on the way, and a real need for more people to attend my shows and purchase the music (laughs).