Gary James' Interview With Duane Propes Of
Their debut album, "First Time For Everything" went Gold. The single, "Some Guys Have All The Love" off that album went to #8 on Billboard's Hot Country And Tracks chart. They also saw their record, "Big Time" go Double Platinum and "Kick A Little" go Platinum. Their single, "My Love" went all the way to #1, followed by six Top Ten hits. The group we are talking about is Little Texas. Duane Propes of Little Texas spoke with us about his group.
Q - Duane, you call the band Little Texas. ZZ Top refers to themselves as that "Little Ole Band From Texas." There's nothing little about Texas. So, where did you come up with the name Little Texas?
A - It's funny, it actually has nothing to do with Texas. There's a place outside Nashville that we used to rehearse at. Our A&R guy at Warner Bros. had a bunch of farm land out there and had a little house on it. So we just kind of moved into it. That's where we did all our pre-production and just kind of geling the band. It was on a street called Little Texas Lane. We were out there cutting demos for Warner Bros. trying to figure out what we were gonna do. One working title was Band X. We'd go on the pit sheets as Band X. One of 'em was Possum Flat. (laughs) We couldn't come up with something decent. We kept going by that street sign every day and said, "That's kind of an oxymoron. That's an interesting thing. Little Texas. Why not?" That's where it came from. But really, there's Little Texas areas all over the United States, New Mexico, South Caroline. You look it up on Google, there's Little Texas everywhere. Basically it's an area that feels like Texas outside Texas. This is a little holler and it actually had a fun story to it. This is a little holler and they called it The Holler Little Texas because it was well known for moonshining back in the Prohibition days. They said when the law would go in they wouldn't come out. That was one story. And there was another story that they told us that there was a little short guy from Texas that went down there, shooting his mouth off. They filled him with so much lead that it took five guys to carry Little Texas out of the holler. (laughs) I don't know which story to believe. Either way, it makes for a different name that's kind of memorable.
Q - Little Texas is a catchy name for sure.
A - It's odd.
Q - You went to Belmont University. That is one of the few colleges in the U.S. with a college degree offered in the music business. What did they teach you about the music business?
A - I grew up in Longview, Texas. Our guitar player and lead singer, now Porter Howell, also grew up in Longview. We played together from when I was fifteen years old. He graduated two years earlier than I did and he went to Belmont. A bunch of my other friends from Longview went to Belmont. One of 'em was Russell Terrell, who is now the number one session singer in Nashville. He sings on everybody's stuff. So I just kind of followed suit. That seems to be where everybody needs to go. Somehow I lucked out and got a full scholarship. So that made my parents happy. I went to Nashville right out of high school. That's kind of how that worked. As far as the music business, it just kind of made sense. I wanted to get into recording and producing. It's just kind of an obvious major to go to.
Q - So, you graduated from Belmont then?
A - I did not. This silly band came along and got a record deal and I never got to graduate. (laughs)
Q - How long were you there for?
A - I was there for three years.
Q - Did they have a song writing course there?
A - No. They didn't have song writing courses back then. This is before it was Belmont University. It was Belmont College. We only had 2,500 people in the whole school. You had a management class. You had marketing classes. You had studio engineering, studio production. There was a studio singing class. Publicity class. Anything that really pertained to the music business. I kind of blew off the Biology, P.E., Algebra. (laughs) I kind of had a feeling that I was probably not going to make it through the whole four year journey. So, I managed to take all the classes I knew I needed to get out in the real world.
Q - Smart move!
A - (laughs) To this day I still can't do algebra.
Q - You were in a Fifties show band with Porter that you guys took on the road. Did you do the Holiday Inn circuit with that group?
A - We did a cruise ship from time to time. This is all really in the span of a year and a half. It sounds like it was really a long time, but it really wasn't. I'll tell you how that came to be. We are originally a six piece band. Porter and I were doing the Rock 'n' Roll show at Opryland Theme Park. The season ended in October. We were suddenly going, "We probably need some work." We had met these two other guys from the Country Music USA Show, Tim Rushlow and Dwayne O'Brien. The four of us put together a band with Porter's wife and Tim's wife, a drummer and a keyboard player and played the Holiday Inn close to Opryland. Then we got a house gig at a big sea food restaurant. It was known to have show bands. That's when we kind of put the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s thing together. It's kind of what they wanted. (laughs) That was fun. It was grueling. It was four, one hour sets. It was all show. It was a tough thing to do, but it was a blast. It really got your chops up, I'll tell you that much.
Q - And you found out what material got people up and dancing!
A - Absolutely.
Q - You were working how many days a week?
A - I believe it was five days a week.
Q - Is this show band the same band that traveled the U.S. or are we talking about the band you put together after the show band that we now know as Little Texas?
A - Yes and no. They kind of feathered in together. The Varsities were playing in Springfield, Massachusetts at the Big E Fair. We were sharing the stage for a week with a lady named Sandy Powell. She used to be the Mac Truck poster girl. They had a young drummer and a young keyboard player in the band. That was Del Gray on drums and Brady Seals on keyboards. We met them during that week. We'd get together in the evenings and hang around the hot tub and sing Eagles songs together. After that we didn't really think about anything. It wasn't three weeks later we were sitting in Birmingham, Alabama and one of our friends from college who was working at Warner Bros. called us up and said, "Hey, we're interested in doing a band project and you guys are perfect for what we want, but you gotta lose that drummer and you gotta lose that keyboard player and you gotta lose the girls." I said, "Okay." I said, "If you want to try that, that's fine." Porter looks at me and says, "Who do we know? Who are we gonna get?" "Call Del and Brady. See if they'll come do this," and they did. So we had a few more dates on The Varsities' calendar in Beckley, West Virginia where we had a week there and the place was open all day. So we started rehearsing during the day that week, trying to do the Country thing and then we'd do the show band thing at night. Then we had six weeks on a cruise ship coming up, so we were able to do the same thing on the cruise ship 'cause we only had to play twice a week. Their show room was open during the day so we'd go in and rehearse all day instead of going diving and everything else. So, that's kind of how that all dove-tailed together.
Q - You weren't doing the Country band on the cruise ship, were you?
A - We were hired to do the show band, but we actually talked them into throwing us some extra money to do a Country show once a week.
Q - Where'd you go on that cruise ship?
A - The Caribbean. They had three routes that they would do. One of 'em we did a little bit more than the others. It was a little, bitty boat. It was a tiny, little thing, but we thought it was huge. We enjoyed it.
Q - With the Country band performing in your home turf, I can see people coming out to see you, but you get out on the road, nobody's heard of you. So, how do you make any money?
A - Well, I'll tell you, it was really interesting. In 1989 there were a lot of Country bars. They were everywhere. We somehow just kind of found our way into basically three different circuits. We had the North Carolina/South Carolina circuit. We'd do that and we'd go down to Texas and we could do a month and a half just in Texas. Then we'd go from there over to Arizona and play in Phoenix for awhile and up in Las Vegas. When that got finished we'd just bounce back to Texas and bounce back to the Carolinas. Just kind of go back and fourth. By doing that we just built a huge fan base.
Q - How long were you doing that?
A - Basically two years. A little over a year and a half.
Q - In 1989 Warner Bros. signed you?
A - Right. In '89 we got a development deal with Warner Bros. basically meaning, "We'll pay for you to come in and do demos. We promise you nothing." (laughs) So, that's what we were doing. We were going out and building this fan base. We were writing songs. We were slipping original material into the sets to see what would work and we'd gauge the crowd. Okay, this song worked. This one didn't. We were just building up our portfolio of songs, watching the crowd. We always let the fans kind of pick what we do. We'd try it out on them before we'd record it. Even now. So, we got up this batch of songs. One of 'em was "Some Guys Have All The Love". Warner Bros. said, "Let's try a single." And that's all they said. At this point we didn't have a contract with them. There was nothing on paper. They said, "Okay. We're going to do this. We'll try a single and see what happens." Now before that happened, this is really interesting: While we were in Texas we were in a place called The Crystal Chandelier in Lancaster, Texas, and we just happened to open up for Freddy Fender one night. Got to meet Freddy. He was wonderful. Very gracious. At the time he was working on the Texas Tornadoes project. We didn't know that. There was an A&R meeting at Warner Bros. where everyone was looking at us, saying these guys are too young. When we were signed we were the youngest band that had ever been signed to a major deal in Nashville, average age being 23. "They're too young. They look like Heavy Metal guys. We don't know how to market them. We don't know what to do. Let's just drop 'em." One of the A&R people stood up and said, "I just talked to Freddy Fender the other day and he said this band, Little Texas had just opened for him and it was the best band he had ever seen in his life. I think we should do something with 'em." (laughs) So, that's how Freddy Fender saved our career.
Q - And if that person hadn't stood up at the A&R meeting we might not be talking today. Is that what you're saying?
A - That's exactly what I'm saying.
Q - All these twists and turns that you really have no control over.
A - It's one hundred percent Divine Intervention. It's God looking out for you.
Q - How did life change for you when "Some Guys Have All The Love" became such a big hit?
A - That was the year I believe we did 310 shows in one year. It was crazy. We had done Star Search at the end of '89 and it was aired in 1990. They brought the band category back for half a year. We got to be finalists on that, so we were on TV a little bit. Now during that time we were just slamming radio and doing every show everywhere. We were doing some opening stuff here and there, but it was mainly us going out there doing our thing. Then Clint Black asked us to be on his arena tour as an opening act. So, it was us, Aaron Tippin and Clint Black for a year. So, that really got us into a great place.
Q - Was there a follow-up to "Some Guys Have All The Love"?
A - We already had it. The second song was "First Time For Everything". So, that was already recorded, but when "First Time For Everything" came out, it just jumped. It flew off the charts. I think it took "Some Guys" almost nine months to finally hit Top 5. It took forever. We called it the little song that could. It just kept creeping up and creeping up. We kept thinking, "Okay, it's finally gonna die." Nope. It got three more stations. Keep going. (laughs) We had "First Time For Everything". Problem was we didn't have an album. We still didn't have a contract with Warner Bros. We had to take a break in the Clint Black tour for a week. We ran into the studio in Memphis and recorded the "First Time For Everything" album, the rest of the record. There were a couple of songs on that record that were literally written during lunch. Finished out the lyrics 'cause we already had the tracks. The lyrics weren't finished. So, the guys would run in there during lunch time and finish up a song. It was like, "Go, go, go, go, go. We gotta get this out." So then that album came out in the Spring of 1991.
Q - I didn't realize you could record an album in a week back in 1990. I'd heard about that sort of thing in the 1960s.
A - (laughs) They're not supposed to be done that way.
Q - And so you have the hit records and the momentum going and Brady Seals leaves. How come?
A - To this day we're still not a hundred percent sure. At that time we were past the "Big Time" album. "Big Time" was huge. Second album was Double Platinum. It had the three number ones on it, "What Might Have Been", "God Bless" and "My Love". And of course Brady sang "My Love" and was the star of the video. We were going through some manager problems at the time. It was split down the middle, who liked him and who wanted to get rid of him. Brady couldn't take it anymore. He kind of knew we were getting the short end of the stick and he said, "I can do this on my own." He knew he could do it 'cause he was the heartthrob of the band. It was pretty obvious. So, he said, "I'm not gonna do this." We had our first headlining tour set up. Everything was ready to go, the video for "Kick A Little" was done. It was already out and goin' up the charts and he just said, "Okay, I'm done." (laughs) "That's it. Okay."
Q - And that's what he's still doing?
A - That's pretty much what he's still doing. We still talk to him. It's not a big deal anymore. We're still friends.
Q - In 1998 Little Texas broke up and you put the band back together in 2004 with some new members. Tim (Rushlow) and Jeff (Huskins) tried to stop you. I take it they were unsuccessful because here were are talking about Little Texas. To me, that means you must own the name Little Texas, correct?
A - We do. The four of us completely own it.
Q - So that brings us up to date. I was told you can no longer make money with radio play. It's all about placing a song on a TV show or a film. Is that true?
A - That's true. You can get lucky and write something. If you have a radio hit it's still a pretty good chunk of change. I was never really much of a writer, so I'm not seeing exactly where the struggle is as much as the ones that do it all the time. It's not anything like it was. The internet has basically killed album sales. The only money you're gonna get is on airplay. Everything else is free to anybody on the internet. You just take it. It's a shame.
Q - Little Texas does quite a bit of work, don't you?
A - Absolutely.
Q - What kind of venues are you performing in?
A - You know, it varies. It could be a honky tonk to an arena. I call it, "Chase the check." (laughs) We're basically in a place where we can do as much work or as little work as we want to. So, we try to keep it to weekends 'cause Dwayne O'Brien is a professor at Belmont. Poetic justice isn't it? So, he's teaching there. We just kind of like being home during the week with our kids and then we go play Rock stars on weekends and come back home and cook supper. The best of both worlds. It makes it a lot easier. It keeps it fun. It keeps it from being a job.