Based in Fort Worth, Texas singer-songwriter Tommy Luke’s songs recall the dusty, well-worn sounds of western music. His earthy voice drives the narrative of songs such as “The Ground,” “I Don’t Know (I Had It All)” and “Oklahoma Hula Hoopin’ Angel” with a confidence and honesty that recalls Kris Kristofferson’s best, early work.
You might be forgiven for thinking that his work emerged from an earlier time in music. It’s unencumbered by the trappings of contemporary music and free of the irony that some bring to traditional music. This is to say that there’s an undeniable appeal to the songs that populate his album Life Ain’t Hard and his live shows.
Speaking from his Texas home, Luke, who performs at Barleycorn’s on Thursday, June 14, says that he’s looking forward to returning to Wichita for the concert.
Your songs combine elements of traditional Texas music with some more contemporary sensibilities. There’s also this sense of humor throughout.
Some of the songs are serious, some of the songs are funny. I like the traditional bluegrass sound.
Did you grow up listening to that music?
Somebody turned me on to Jerry Jeff Walker when I was a teenager. I really loved him. That got me into country music, singer-songwriter music. Some of his songs are funny, maybe that rubbed off on me. Since then I’ve dug into bluegrass, old singer-songwriter stuff. I love Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson. Stuff like that.
Did you cut your teeth at open mic nights?
When I turned 21 I started going to open mics and realized I could play gigs. Then I started doing it fulltime. I’m 27 now.
At what point did you start leaving the state and going out to other places?
In Forth Worth there’s a whole bunch of places to play so I don’t have to get out of town that often. This is maybe only the third time I’ve played out of the state. Texas is so big, I can go up and play Austin if I’m not at home. But I am starting to get out on the road more. I booked this tour on my own. It seemed easy enough. I keep finding places that are farther away. Maybe next year I’ll go on a two or three week run.
Texas is big enough that you could basically do a lifetime tour of the state.
You probably could. I think it’s 11 hours wide.
How did you go about assembling the band that you have with you?
Over the years I’ve handpicked some of the best musicians I could find. Luckily they liked my music enough to record some stuff and play some shows. I’ve got some talented friends who like to play with me. We’re just going as a trio, fiddle, harmonica and me playing guitar.
You have such a distinct singing voice. Was singing something you did early on?
I always liked music, always liked singing. I think I’ve gotten better at it. I don’t think I was all that good when I was younger. I was probably trying too hard.