From the Vault: Randy Houser Couldn’t Believe He Was Booked on ‘David Letterman’
Randy Houser is one of the biggest up-and-coming stars in country music right now, but a few short years ago he was a songwriter looking for his first shot as a recording artist.
In the following interview in support of his debut album, 'Anything Goes,' Houser expressed his disbelief that he was getting to perform on 'The Late Show With David Letterman.' He also talked about his long road to stardom, his friends in the business, and how strange it was that strangers were beginning to recognize him.
Houser must be getting used to the recognition by now. He has just earned his second consecutive Gold single, for 'Runnin' Outta Monlight,' the second single from his current album, 'How Country Feels.'
This interview was first published on Nov. 18, 2008 by Beville Darden.
This is your first album, but you've been in the business a long time.
It's almost like 25 years in the making for me. I started playing guitar before I can really remember, and I started writing really early, too. So it's neat for me, after all this time, to have my first record come out. It's a collection of songs I've written over the past four or five years, and it spans things that I've gone through as a kid up until now. It's a very personal record.
Speaking of personal, tell us the story behind 'I'll Sleep,' the song about your dad.
I was 21 years old when my dad passed away. He called me, and we hadn't spoken for about a year and a half, because we'd been pissed off at each other. But he called me, because he was going through a divorce, and he also thought he had a tumor. But actually what he had was a vessel that was in the wrong place on his brain stem.
So he calls me and tells me he has to have surgery and there's a chance he may not live. So I flew out to Denver to take care of him. And I didn't know this, but he'd started drinking really bad, because he was depressed. And his anesthesiologist said to me, 'So, how long has your dad had cirrhosis of the liver?' And I said, 'What are you talking about?' And he realized he'd just told me something I wasn't supposed to know.
So I started to make plans for him to move back home, so I could take care of him. But then two days later, his doctor called me and said that his kidneys and liver had shut down, and he wasn't going to make it. So I flew right back out there. So the song is about the time that I flew back out there. He was unconscious, but the only thing he'd respond to was me singing to him. He'd smile.
When I was a kid, he was the one who taught me chords on the guitar, and sometimes I'd fall asleep to him still playing that guitar, singing me to sleep. And then that whole thing just turned around to me, sitting on the edge of his bed, singing to him.
The first single, 'Anything Goes,' is one of the few songs on the record you didn't write, but you sing it like you've been there.
Oh yeah I have! I started playing in bars when I was about 15 years old, and there are things that I saw early on that really shaped who I am. And I've lived! I've had my heart broken and then gone out and done dumb things. That's what this song is about -- that guy who's out there doing whatever it is to mask their true feelings. It's the same thing when people do drugs or stay drunk to keep from facing reality. I think it shows a side of people that's never really been described in a song.
Have you ever gotten in trouble for writing about a lady in your life?
No, because I just don't put her name in the song. [Laughs.] Then she can't prove it!
When the royalties started coming in for 'Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,' did you splurge on anything?
I splurged on a lot of things! [Laughs.] But seriously, we were here for three years before we had that big check come in. So we'd all accumulated a lot of bills. So that song got us back up to even. And with the money leftover after that, I didn't really splurge on anything in particular, I just had a lot of fun! [Laughs.]
Where were you when you got the call that David Letterman wanted you to sing on his show?
I actually got an email from my manager, Nick. All it said was, 'You're confirmed for David Letterman on Aug. 28.' And I just looked at it and thought, 'This is bulls---.' I thought he was playing a joke on me. I mean, I didn't even have a song on the Top 40 and never had. There was no reason for me to be on the show. Besides, Letterman rarely has country artists on that show. So for me, this unheard of artist, I couldn't fathom it. I even felt guilty about it. But I wouldn't have felt confident about it had he (Letterman) himself not asked me to come do the show.
Who impressed you on the CMA Awards show last week?
Shania [Twain]'s dress. [laughs] No, I thought Carrie Underwood looked fantastic -- those legs! And she sang her butt off, too. That was a stand-out moment, her performance. And I loved the opening with Keith [Urban] and Brad [Paisley]. I love those rockin' guitars.
My buddy Dallas Davidson wrote that song ('Start a Band'). I was sitting on the second row right behind Luke Bryan, and Dallas texted me right before the show started and said, 'Ask Luke where I'm sitting.' So Dallas is sitting to my right up in the stands, and Luke showed me where he was. And during that first song, I saw Dallas standing up with his arms up in the air. It's always good to see your buddies get a song on an awards show.
James Otto's performance was another highlight for me, because he's a good friend, and we all kinda came up in Nashville around the same time. It's fun to watch buddies succeed.
What's your favorite album of 2008?
Jamey Johnson's. He's the closest thing I have to a brother. And to be that proud of his record, too ... I know people think I preach about his record because he's my buddy, but hell no -- I don't care who he is, it's the best record of the year to me. It's the most different sounding record I've heard in a long time. It's a throwback to the Willie, Waylon, old-school sound. And it's a timepiece of his life -- what I saw him go through and helped him go through.
As someone who gravitates towards traditional country music like Jamey's, what's your opinion on the recent wave of pop acts crossing over to country?
There are a few of them who I dig. I love Darius Rucker. He's a true artist, a great songwriter who can play his instrument, sing and write about his life. I think his music fits country today. But sometimes I feel like people that aren't successful in their own genre come here like we're the B-team.
That pisses me off! I'm open to everybody, but sometimes when we open-arm everybody like we do all the time, it looks like we're the soft place to fall. We should be the place to start. If country's what you intended to do all your life, then why the hell didn't you do it?
Whose career would you like to emulate?
Toby Keith is a big example of someone I admire. For a lot of years, he made records that he had to make to keep the bill. And eventually he decided, 'The hell with this. I wanna do what I wanna do.' And I think he's been real smart business wise.
Being able to take ownership of what you have is something I definitely want to do later on. He's good at connecting with his fans, too. He can put something silly out that people can laugh at. He'll do that, and then cut a song that grabs your heart.
Where was the first place you were recognized by a fan?
I flew into Las Vegas, and the skycap was the first person to ever recognize me. I had a couple of friends with me, and we were running late for a flight. This guy asked me my name, and I told him and he said, 'I thought that was you!' So he rushed us up there and helped us catch the flight. It was so nice, but I'll admit I was a little freaked out -- it's strange to me, coming from the anonymous songwriter world.
What do you miss most about your anonymous days back home in Lake, Mississippi?
The still. I went home about three weeks ago to shoot some video, and everywhere we stopped had a porch swing. I went to my mom's, and I'd just sit there on the swing and watch cars go by.