Willy Braun began playing music with his brothers and father in central Idaho in their childhoods. Braun points out that the relative isolation of their home state was a good environment for the budding musicians to learn their craft.
“A lot of people couldn’t point to Idaho on a map,” he says. “They kind of assume that there’s no culture of music or anything. But it’s actually kind of the opposite. Mostly because people up there are starved for entertainment. Down in Austin, and a lot of other big cities, there’s all kinds of entertainment, so people get spoiled. In smaller towns and smaller states there’s usually a cool music scene because if you come up to play, they’ll come out to see you.”
Braun and his brother Cody formed Reckless Kelly in the mid-1990s, arriving in Austin, Texas, just as the dominant musical tastes of the state’s capital were changing.
“A lot of blues was still going on. It was kind of right after the Stevie Ray Vaughan/Austin blues scene was fading out,” Braun says. “There weren’t a lot of people doing country here. We were one of the only bands in town doing it. We were on the forefront of that second wave of country-rock here in Texas. A lot of the guys up in Stillwater and Oklahoma City like Cross Canadian Ragweed and Jason Boland and Stoney LaRue, cats like that, started moving down here.”
With those players in place, the Austin scene soon flourished.
“We weren’t doing exactly the same thing, but our own version of a country rock thing," Braun says. "I think a lot of people latched onto it down here because it reminded them of the Waylons and Willies and that first wave of the outlaw country thing. A lot of it has to do with the camaraderie of all the bands: We scratch each other’s backs, try to help promote each other and we tour together. For the most part we’re all friends. It helps spread the word pretty quick.”
By 2000, Reckless Kelly's audience outside Austin was growing, in part thanks to “Crazy Eddie’s Last Hurrah,” a song from the group’s second studio album, The Day.
“I wrote that song in probably 20 to 30 minutes, and it was a little bit tongue-in-cheek, almost an exercise. The band liked it, so we recorded. Then Cross Canadian Ragweed recorded it, and it became really popular with their crowd,” Braun says. “I don’t dislike the song but it’s not the one in a million years I thought would be the big hit.”
The group's latest album, Sunset Motel, appeared in late 2016 and made Top 20 on Billboard's country charts. At a time when some veteran acts are reluctant to record and release new music, Braun and the rest of Reckless Kelly are content to continue presenting new music to fans, even if record sales, for all artists, are in decline.
“I’ve talked to a bunch of people who say, ‘Why would you make a new record? Nobody’s gonna buy it, you don’t make any money on them,’” he says. “But part of our thing is kind of self-serving: We really like making records. It’s fun for us. We have enough of a following where people are going to get it somehow. It’s just kind of figuring out how to pay for it because it still costs the same amount of money to make a record. You just don’t get much of it back.”
Reckless Kelly performs at Salina’s Stiefel Theatre Thursday evening.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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