Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Cor­co­ran

In a 2004 in­ter­view with the Amer­icanStatesman, rau­cous coun­try singer Kevin Fowler as­sessed his ca­reer at the time — reg­u­larly sell­ing out 5,000-ca­pac­ity venues, hav­ing his songs cov­ered by Sammy Ker­shaw (“Beer Bait & Ammo”) and Mark Ch­es­nutt (“The Lord Loves a Drink­ing Man”) and sell­ing 35,000 copies of his al­bums, with­out the help of a la­bel. “If this is as good as it gets,” he said, “then that’s great.”

But the Amar­illo na­tive, who has lived in Austin since 1990, also burned deep in­side for more main­stream suc­cess. Which is why he re­cently spent the bet­ter part of a week driv­ing up and down the West Coast vis­it­ing coun­try ra­dio sta­tions. More than 10 years af­ter chuck­ing life as a hard rock gui­tar slinger to play the mu­sic he grew up on, Fowler has a record­ing on the Bill­board Top 40 coun­try sin­gle chart. With the op­por­tu­nity to cross over with the han­gover ode “Pound Sign (#?*!),” Fowler’s out to make the most of it.

“I feel like, for the first time, we’ve got the right team in place,” he says of his Dis­ney­owned Nashville la­bel, Lyric Street Records, his Austin-based man­ager Ge­orge Couri and the var­i­ous in­de­pen­dent ra­dio pro­mot­ers push­ing “Pound Sign” (cho­rus: “I feel like pound sign, ques­tion mark, star, ex­cla­ma­tion point”).

“No­body’s telling me I’ve got to change this or change that,” says Fowler. “No­body’s sug- gest­ing I get a per­sonal trainer.” The fo­cus is firmly on the sin­gle, cur­rently at No. 35, and the new al­bum (work­ing ti­tle: “Songs In the Key of Beer”), which is look­ing at an Oc­to­ber re­lease.

“I’ll tell you the ex­act point where I thought I might have a win­ner,” Fowler says, from his car hurtling up the in­ter­state to­ward Bak­ers­field, Calif. “It was this past spring break and I was driv­ing with my three girls (ages 3, 9 and 15) and when I played ‘Pound Sign’, they all went ‘Yeah!’ and started sing­ing along on the cho­rus.”

The tune was Fowler’s first sin­gle that he didn’t write him­self; it was penned by his pro­ducer David Lee Mur­phy, who’s served up No. 1 hits with “Big Green Trac­tor” for Ja­son Aldean and “Liv­ing In Fast For­ward” for Kenny Ch­es­ney. But Fowler had to won­der if this out­side ma­te­rial was right for him. The re­ac­tion on that drive made him re­al­ize the la­bel was right. “My girls didn’t know any­thing about who wrote it or who had pub­lish­ing or any of that. The song just con­nected with them.”

Who needs a fo­cus group when you have part of the tar­get au­di­ence in the back seat of your pickup?

One area in which Fowler is fully con­fi­dent is on­stage, where ev­ery song be­comes a red­neck an­them and the beer sales go through the roof. He’s the lat­est in the line of Texas col­le­giate coun­try crowd-pleasers that can be traced back

to Jerry Jeff Walker, then Robert Earl Keen and Pat Green.

“It’s re­ally about pro­mot­ing a life­style,” says Fowler, who traded sex and drugs and rock n’ roll for beer, bait and ammo in the mid-’90s. “I and most of our fan base en­joy the same things — drink­ing beer, hunt­ing and fish­ing, tub­ing on the river. Any ex­cuse to get to­gether and drink beer and lis­ten to coun­try mu­sic.”

The singer’s an­nual Fowler Fest is a cel­e­bra­tion of that Texas coun­try state of mind Satur­day at the Nutty Brown Cafe’s 4,000-ca­pac­ity am­phithe­ater on the county line.

“I love the Nutty Brown,” says Fowler, 44, who launched Fowler Fest in San An­to­nio three years ago. “It’s, let’s see, two lefts and one right turn from my house.”

You could say that Fowler’s ca­reer as a coun­try singer­song­writer be­gan on the out­skirts of Austin. He was mak- ing money as the gui­tarist of Dan­ger­ous Toys, a hard rock out­fit on Columbia Records which had a gold al­bum, but when grunge came along and swal­lowed up bands like the Toys, Fowler had to get a job to help pay the bills. For eight years, he de­liv­ered the Austin Chron­i­cle ev­ery Thurs­day, and to make the time pass, he wrote a new song each week on his route. One day, at a con­ve­nience store in ru­ral Hays County, Fowler saw a sign that said “Beer, Bait & Ammo,” thought to him­self, “Well, they’ve got it all,” and be­fore too long he had a re­gional ra­dio hit.

In con­cert, Fowler ap­plied his blaz­ing pas­sion as a rocker to his honky-tonk odes and be­came a bit of a sen­sa­tion to au­di­ences raised on U2, but dig­ging the es­capism pro­vided by Texas coun­try.

Out on the road, Fowler still makes most of his money in five states — Texas, Ok­la­homa, Louisiana, New Mex­ico and Kansas — but there are dis­placed Tex­ans all over the coun­try who come out to his shows for a taste of home. “We re­cently played in Akron, Ohio, and it was like play­ing in Waco or some­thing,” he says. “I was won­der­ing, ‘How did all these Tex­ans get to Akron?’”

If “Pound Sign” keeps climb­ing up the charts, Fowler soon might be at­tract­ing fans whose only ex­pe­ri­ence with Texas was a four-hour lay­over at DFW.

todd v. Wolf­son

An Aus­ti­nite since 1990, Kevin Fowler has a strong in­de­pen­dent fan base, and now he has a Bill­board hit to go with it: His ‘Pound Sign (#?*!)” is a Top 40 coun­try sin­gle.

Freddy Martinez

Kevin Fowler loves the Nutty Brown Cafe, south of Austin on U.S. 290, and fans there love him right back. The Nutty Brown is, ‘let’s see, two lefts and one right turn from my house,’ he says.

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