Renowned Singer and Songwriter Robert Earl Keen

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SP: You’re bringing your Merry Christmas From The Fam-O-Lee Tour to Chattanooga. Tell us about it.
REK: Yes we are! I think it’s kind of fun that it’s going to be the very first one of this year. It’s kind of a romp. It’s a full blown stage production with a different theme every year. This year’s is called Merry Christmas from the Fam-o-Lee Back to the Country Jamboree. We have costumes. The guys all pick a country or country-rock icon and they do a song or a mashup of songs—some real show stoppers. This our sixth year. I’ve been dying to really get out. We hit a few of the highlights as far as a few of my songs, but I would say most of it is about bringing the Christmas spirit to the people who come to the show.

SP: “Merry Christmas from the Family” is one of your most identifiable songs. Did you ever dream an entire tour would grow around it?
REK: How could anybody even figure that out! The song is the gift that keeps on giving. Every year more people know the song, more people have their story about the song and it still resonates.

I wrote the song out of the frustration of working on a record and realizing that Christmas was upon me. I was going to have to put down my pen and guitar and start buying presents and getting in the swing of things. I thought, you know, I’m going to have my own Christmas song. I came from a total Southern perspective. I don’t experience snow in Houston. Never heard sleigh bells, never saw a chestnut. So I wanted to capture that idea. I truly wrote the song to amuse myself. I played it for a producer that I was making this record for. He just went nuts over it. Then the first time I ever played it out everybody just grabbed onto it.

SP: You’ve played in Chattanooga a number of times. Looking forward to coming back?
REK: I love it! I always liked the town and felt real comfortable with the town. I just remember you ride that ragged edge with Chattanooga audiences. It might get out of hand on me here! You gotta be with it. You can’t be phoning your show in Chattanooga, I can tell you that!

REK: This show works best in a theater with a stage that’s big enough to hold all the stuff. ‘Cause it’s a big set. I’ve played all kinds of shows, everything from a garage sale to the Kennedy Center and so I know what I need. And this Christmas show does really need that kind of theater setting. It works so much better. And we’re up for it. We step up there.

SP: Early in your career you toured with legendary Texas songwriters Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. Those are some formidable role models for a young artist.
REK: To me, Guy and Townes hold such an incredible position. I always gave them my utmost respect and hold them in a giant place in my heart for their talent and their personalities and the time I spent with them. I’ve tried to emulate them in their incredible passion for great songs. I’m so glad I had those guys as mentors or just friends to be able to point me in the right direction as far as what you’ve got to bring to the party when you write songs.

SP: I hear your band is top-notch.
REK: I’ve kept a band together for 23 years, the same guys. The main thing people ever say about us is, “I never liked country, but I like you guys.” We do seem country but it crosses a boundary there. The other thing people say is “That’s the tightest band I’ve ever seen.” We’ve got a real thing going on. I’ve always just made sure that I continue to keep this band together.

SP: Ever want to give up the music business and just go fishing or play golf?
REK: I play golf and I go fishing! And I play a lot of shows! I was so driven for so long to just keep being in the music business. Because I never wanted anything else. And I just stayed and had good times and bad times but I hung on. Now it’s all about having as much fun as I can. As far as music goes, I enjoy every time we get on stage. I might have a terrible day, but I step on stage, it’s a whole different world to me. I’m lucky that I have a handful of songs that people really relate to. It’s not just the one hit that people are waiting to hear and then I play that and they are like “Oh great. Now let’s get a drink.” We’ve got a lot of tools in our toolbox.

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Scott Phillips is a certified beer judge and award-winning home-brewer. He is an avid gardener, an occasional hiker, and a perpetual dabbler. Scott's contributions include food & drink and outdoor excursions.

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