Texas Local Scene recently caught up with forty-four year old, local Texas Country “Godfather,” Lance Wade Thomas, after he opened for the legendary Charlie Robison at Johnny’s Outback on a cool April evening. Leaning against his car as Robison’s band wrapped up their last song, Mr. Thomas answered a few questions:
TLS: Many musicians in the area call you the “Godfather.” How long have you been doing this?
Lance: Since 2006. It was the first time we cut a Texas Country record. We’re lucky, when they first started booking Texas country act in the area we got to play in front of a lot of people.
TLS: Do you like songwriting or performing more?
Lance: Honest to God, songwriting is cool. Everybody says it, and it’s true. There’s nothing like playing music in front of the fans. You write the songs that get the fans there. But, when they connect with you, it’s the best experience in the world. It’s the reason we don’t go out and do something else. That’s why we do what we do. I mean, I’m lucky to be here in Bell County. Eight years ago, there weren’t a lot of people playing Texas Country music. You’d be lucky to see a show every six months. We’re glad to be a part of that growth. That foundation that was built here. I’m not saying I’m the “Godfather” but it’s been fun.
TLS: What’s been the highlight of your career?
Lance: I’d have to say, one of the best writers I’ve ever heard is Chris Knight, and I got to play with him at Schoepfs Bar-B-Que in 2009. The second highlight is probably getting to play with Randy Rogers at Wild Country several times in Harker Heights. And I’ve talked to him several times. He told me, “Man Lance, the best song I’ve ever written is Lost and Found. All it takes is one. Just keep doing it. You’ll have a good time. You may not retire rich. You’ll get rich for a little while and you’ll spend all your money but that’s alright. It’ll be a good time.
TLS: What’s your “one” so far? What’s your go-to song?
Lance: I’ve got two. Off the first record it would be “Texas Vacation.” It’s a song a lot of people relate to. When you’ve been to Port A, you’ve been to Sharkies, you’ve been to San Antonio, you’ve been out to Acuna, you’ve been across the border…..everybody knows what it’s like to not have money and travel across Texas and find things you can do for free. That song people really relate to. That song is about a real experience in my life where we just grabbed the Texas Travel Guide and just literally started flipping to pages and went to wherever the guide said.
The newer songs we’ve written since? I hate to go to a tear-jerker but probably “Never Saw It Coming.” I think it’s my best work. I think if someone asked me what the best song I’ve ever written is, it’d probably be that one. At least out of the songs we currently play. That song, I feel like people really relate to. It’s got some cool lines. I love the line, “Even death row inmates get a little warning.” I won’t pat myself on the back, but that’s a good line. You know – never saw it coming. Nobody ever does. If they did then it wouldn’t be a heartbreak.
TLS: How much of your songwriting is true and how much is just stories?
Lance: It’s not all truth. Most songwriters will tell you that. Off our first record, eight of the ten songs are true. They are about real events. Not based on. They are about real events that happened to me. A couple of songs are loosely based – maybe a line somebody gave me that I thought was cool or a cool vibe or hook. And that’s usually the case. It’s hard to write something honest unless it’s really happened to you. And I think the best songwriters do that. Don’t get me wrong. You can get a top ten hit off a song with a good hook line.
TLS: What’s your favorite way to go about writing a song?
Lance: The best songs are not written on alcohol or substances. They’re written on emotion and usually not chemically induced. It’s really an emotional high, and the one thing I can say, at least for me, is when you are on the wave – ride it. For me, I have to finish the chorus in a couple of hours. If I don’t, I usually lose it. Not all the time, but 80% of the time you better finish it or else. What you are really doing is riding this emotion wave and these ideas really come to you. When they’re fresh and they are new, they turn you on. If you let them go too long, you can do it, but you have to work a lot harder to get to that place where they turn you on. That’s the deal. The verses? I can write those down the road. After all, a good song is just a chorus anyway.
TLS: What got you to pick up the guitar?
Lance: I’m kind of a late bloomer. I was nineteen years old before I learned how to play. My grandfather got me started by giving me a guitar, I believe just so we could go out and play in front of the guys and girls and kind of be the star to play in front of them out in the country. If I could do this in front of chicks, that’d be kind of cool! If it wasn’t for women, we’d all be living out by the lake in a tent. That’s why we do what we do. Every guy knows it, we’re all working for that. Don’t get me wrong, even without women, the poetry still touches you. It’s about real events, it’s about real heartaches, your mom and dad marrying, the woman who had your child, the first time you had a beer, the first time you strung a six-string, the first time you wrote a verse – that stuff is important to everybody. I guess I picked it up to be the coolest guy around.
TLS: Who are your influences?
Lance: As far at Texas-Country, Charlie Robison has a real certain sounds that touches a bunch of people. Randy Rogers is the best person I’ve ever seen turn a song on a simple phrase. The guy can simple arrange words that are magical. I’ll never forget the first time I ever heard his music – I was at Temple Lake Park and thought, “God! Who can write tunes like this?” Randy Rogers really changed the face of Texas Country music and has been a big influence on me. Before that, Charlie Robison. Before that, Robert Earl Keen because he’s such a narrative song-writer. He can tell a story like no one else can. I can’t write a song like Robert Earl Keen can. I’m more of a theme writer.
TLS: What are the pros and cons of living in a small town doing this job?
Lance: Pros are pretty cool. The good news is, we’ve got a lot of material to sing about. You don’t hear anybody singing about living in Downtown Houston and going to work in a skyscraper. It’s all about sitting around bonfires and taking our trucks out there. The beauty is in the simplicity. The simplicity is the farm-to-market road, the sun-sets, out where everybody lives. It’s the things that small town kids do that they all relate to. I think we have an edge there. One, you have to write your songs. Two, they better be real. Three, the chicks have got to go where you go, because the guys will follow.
TLS: How do you think you’ve survived for so long?
Lance: I’ve played over 500 gigs in Bell County for one reason – I’ve got some good songs. They’ve got to come from the heart. You can’t fake good songs. You’ve got to sing them like you believe in them. There’s something else you can’t do. You can’t come up thinking, “I’m going to be famous and I’ve got to act a certain way.” A line Marty Stuart says – “Tell those people out there the truth and you’re going to be fine.” I’ve done some things I’m not proud of and some things I’m real proud of. But the real truth is when it comes to Lance Wade Thomas, they’re getting the real deal. They may love me and they may hate me, but they can’t say I was fake. And for better or worse. Don’t get me wrong – when you are really really honest, you offend people. The difference is you make people feel SOMETHING. If you are playing across the board to please everybody, they won’t feel anything.