Barstool Stories isn’t just the name of an album for Kevin Fowler; he’s made it the calling-card theme of his music over the last two decades.
From his breakout hit “Beer, Bait & Ammo” to the rowdy “Loose, Loud & Crazy” to his newest number one single “Better With Beer,” Fowler has released countless honky tonkin’, drinking anthems throughout his career.
Barstool Stories, released in August of 2019, comes 19 years after his breakout album Beer, Bait & Ammo, and over those 19 years, Fowler has risen to superstardom in the Texas country music scene, and his live performances have become one of the signature aspects of his artistry.
However, Fowler’s roots trace back to a melting pot of influences while growing up in north Texas.
“I grew up trying to listen to music that would piss my parents off,” Fowler says with a laugh. “I liked a lot of heavy metal growing up. I was into Van Halen, AC/DC, and Judas Priest. Around my dad’s house, it was always country music on the radio and in the truck, and Hee Haw on Saturday nights.”
Fowler began to show interest in music at an early age, something that his mother took notice of very early.
“I’ve always loved music. I think my mom saw that. When I was 9, she dragged me to piano lessons,” says Fowler. “I didn’t want to do it at the time, but she kind of forced me into it. It stuck from there.”
As his love of music continued to grow, Fowler took up the guitar and played with a few bands in Texas. In his early 20s, Fowler attended the Texas Jam concert in Dallas, which fueled him to pursue a career in music.
“Aerosmith and Van Halen were playing that show. I watched the show and thought ‘That’s what I want to do,’” says Fowler. “I had never seen a hundred thousand people before. I always loved music and I had always played it, but I was a junior in college, and I told myself if I kept up that pace, I’d graduate and have to get a real job. Music sounded like a hell of a lot more fun!”
After playing in several bands, Fowler landed a slot as a guitar player for the sleaze rock band Dangerous Toys in 1992, who had previously had two successful singles and videos on MTV in 1989, and were just off the heels of a record deal with Columbia Records.
“The singer in a band I was in was roommates with the singer in Dangerous Toys. They needed a guitar player, and they were looking for somebody, and I fit the bill,” says Fowler. “I spent about 13 months playing with those guys. It was my first time on a tour bus and on a national tour. I learned a lot of lessons during that time.”
After spending just over a year with Dangerous Toys, Fowler left the band and formed a southern-hard rock band called Thunderfoot, where he took on fronting the band as well as playing guitar.
“When I came out of Dangerous Toys, I decided I didn’t want to deal with singers anymore,” says Fowler. “I decided I wanted to try it on my own. I was writing all the songs, and I just decided I was going to start singing them myself.”
After Thunderfoot released their debut album Southern Discomfort in 1995, his band members began to realize a shift in Fowler’s songwriting.
“As I got really heavy into songwriting, the stuff I was writing was more country. The band kept telling me that the songs I was writing were country songs, and we couldn’t play them in a rock band,” says Fowler. “The songs I was writing were going in a totally different direction. I wanted fiddle and steel, and I wasn’t going to have that sound playing in a rock band. I fired myself from the band, started my country band after that, and decided I was going to go for it.”
Fowler released his debut country album One for the Road, recorded in the closet of his house, in 1997. However, it would be his sophomore album, Beer, Bait & Ammo that would take off and give him his big break.
“I took every credit card I had; there was a $10,000 limit between all of them; and I cashed them all in to make the Beer, Bait & Ammo record,” says Fowler. “I made that record for under $10,000, and it ended up selling over a hundred thousand copies. I was hoping to sell a thousand just to break even, and we did that in the first week. The single “Beer, Bait & Ammo” organically took off. We didn’t spend any money promoting that song. We didn’t have a radio promoter or anything. I hired a girl to go to record stores every week and replenish the CDs, because they would sell out every week.”
“It was a huge boost to get those cuts. It afforded me a lot of great opportunities,” says Fowler. “It definitely gave my songwriting some validity.”
Fowler released his next album High on the Hog in 2002; admittedly feeling some pressure to match or surpass the success Beer, Bait & Ammo earned. However, those pressures were soon brushed away after the album spawned a handful of hits, including “The Lord Loves the Drinkin’ Man” and “Senorita Mas Fina.”
However, Fowler reached a new level with 2004’s Loose, Loud and Crazy, released on Clint Black’s Equity Music Group. For the first time, Fowler was getting exposure outside of Texas as well.
“That was amazing. You can’t explain it, it just feels like you’re on a rocket ship and hanging on,” says Fowler. “I went from barely being able to pay the bills to being able to buy a house. I was able to hire a driver and not have to drive the bus anymore. It was a great time for us!”
The great times kept coming when Montgomery Gentry cut “Long Line of Losers,” originally released on Fowler’s 2007 album Bring It On, charting their version at number 25 on the Billboard country chart in 2009.
“The biggest compliment to me as a songwriter is when somebody risks their career on something that you wrote while you were driving around in your pickup truck,” says Fowler. “When somebody’s willing to record your song and put it out as a single, that’s pretty awesome. Those guys took a great stab at it. I was good buddies with those guys, and it was a huge honor for me.”
Just one year later, Fowler was on the chart himself with “Pound Sign,” a single from his first greatest hits album called Best Of… So Far. The same month “Pound Sign” was released as a single, his new label, Lyric Street Records, a Walt Disney company, closed down.
“I finally thought we were going to get a huge push with ‘Pound Sign,’” says Fowler. “During the middle of that single’s life, the label shut down. That took all of the steam out of it.
“I’d say that I killed more record labels than anybody on the planet. I might be the kiss of death. Equity was the first real label we were with, and we ran them out of business. Anybody who can kill a Walt Disney label, you’re pretty much bad luck!” Fowler says with a laugh.
After releasing his next album Chippin’ Away on Colt Ford’s label Average Joes Entertainment, Fowler decided to pursue the next chapter of his career as an independent artist.
“I felt like it was the right move for me at the time. There’s no reason to sign with a major label unless you’re trying to chase national radio play,” says Fowler. “We have a distribution chain now with online services; there’s hardly any physical products sold anymore, so we don’t have to go kiss anybody’s ass to get on the shelves. The musical world is your oyster as an artist now. If you’ve got the goods, you can do it.”
Fowler is not only proving that he has the goods, but he is thriving. How Country Are Ya? And Coming to a Honky Tonk Near You produced several hit singles, including a handful of number ones.
Fowler looked to continue his momentum while putting together his newest album Barstool Stories, released in August of 2019. Released more than two decades after One for the Road, Fowler has changed his formula for the songs that make up his albums.
“I wanted to take the time and make the best record I could. I took about six months to write and find songs. I wrote or co-wrote about half of the songs on the album, and the other half was outside material,” says Fowler. “I think to grow as an artist, you have to be honest with yourself. I wrote about 20 songs for the record. We found a lot of outside stuff we really liked, and some of those songs beat out my songs. That’s the hardest thing as a songwriter; to knock one of your songs off for another one. In the early days, I didn’t really record any outside material, I just wrote 12 to 14 songs, and that was the record. Now, it’s looking for the best song, whether I wrote it or my friend wrote it or whoever else wrote it.”
Fowler hopes that his fans and listeners can appreciate the process that went in to the album, and can appreciate all of the material collectively.
“I hope people listen to it and think that it’s a good record to listen to. I think every song on the album is really catchy, well-written, well-crafted, and well-produced. I can’t think of anything I would change on the record,” says Fowler. “Usually when I finish a record, I don’t listen to it for a while, but with this one, I’m able to just sit down and press play and listen to the whole record. There’s the fun, tongue-in-cheek songs that I’ve always been known for like ‘Fake ID,’ and there’s heartfelt songs like ‘Heaven,’ which is my favorite song on the album. There’s a little bit of everything. It hits all of the different notes and styles and songs that I’ve been known for. There’s dancing songs, there’s ballads, silly and funny stuff, and everything in between.”
On October 7, 2019, the single “Better With Beer” reached number one in Texas, further validating the effort he put in to the album.
But even with the success he’s already earned with Barstool Stories, Fowler has no plans to coast through the rest of 2019. Less than one month after he released his newest album, Fowler announced a new project, Dos Borrachos, with Roger Creagor. The album’s lead single, “Barroom Buddies” was released in September, with the rest of the album, which Fowler says will be a record full of fun, drinking songs, set for release November 15.
“Roger and I do a trip every year down to Cabo. We were on a songwriting getaway with a lot of songwriters, and we were closing down the bars and having tacos one night, and we decided that we should do this record,” says Fowler. “From the time we said we were going to make the record to the time we finished it was about a month and a half. It’s just a fun, barroom, drinking record.”
“Fun” is a perfect adjective to describe the success Fowler has had in his 20+ years in country music. He attributes his staying power to his live show and how he interacts with his fans.
“I think my career is fueled by my live show. You’re not always going to be the shiny new penny. You’re not always going to be the guy with the hit single on the radio. I can’t control a lot of stuff. I can’t control what press says about me, or what radio plays or doesn’t play. The one thing I can control is that every single night, my band and I go out and put on a badass show. That’s always been our calling card,” says Fowler. “I think that’s what’s kept us going for all these years. You can either go out and get hungover and put on a crappy show, or go out every night and be ready to kill it. I love playing live, that’s why I got into this, and that is the reward in all of this. I love getting on that bus and smelling that diesel. When I smell that, I’m ready to go!”
Though Fowler sees no end in sight, he has remained grateful to God and to his fans for allowing him the opportunity to live his dream for more than two decades.
“If it ended tomorrow, I couldn’t complain,” says Fowler. “We’ve had one hell of a ride. For 20 years, I haven’t had a real job. I’ve gotten to make a great living doing this. I thank God for it every day.”
*All images by Natalie Rhea*