Jason Boland & The Stragglers: Road Tested
When you’ve spent as many days out on the road as Jason Boland & The Stragglers have, strange things are bound to happen. It could be a major show-stopping event, such as the a drunk fan stumbling on stage and taking out half the drum kit in the process, or it could just be the random day-to-day weirdness that anyone who lives out of motels will witness.
“It just becomes where our ‘normal’ is a little skewed,” says the Oklahoma-born, Texas-based singer, calling while the band is (where else?) on the road, supporting its new album, High in the Rockies: A Live Album, released April 20 of this year. The songs were recorded over four nights of performances this January in Wyoming and Colorado.
The drum-destroying incident at least became fodder for a song, “Something You Don’t See Every Day,” that appeared on the band’s last studio release, Comal County Blue. “The drummer would up with a broken foot,” Boland sang, “And the roadie, he got a raise.”
The band’s latest adventure occurred shortly before the release of the live album. Perhaps releasing High in the Rockies on 4-20 was inviting trouble, because the band’s bus was pulled over in south Texas, and several of the members were arrested for marijuana possession. True to its road warrior status, however, the band didn’t miss its show later that night.
“The same thing that happened to us happens to everybody,” Boland says. “You get pulled over and hassled and run in. We’re not criminals, we’re a band. Therefore, we’re not really any trouble.”
A picture in time
High in the Rockies is the band’s second live album, having recorded a set at the legendary Billy Bob’s in 2002. With a couple of studio albums out since the last live album, and a new fiddle player in the band, Boland views this recording as a snapshot of where the band is and what it’s been doing. All of the songs on the album, down to the covers (including Don Williams’ “Tulsa Time” and Merle Haggard’s “Rainbow Stew”) are representative of the band’s recent live shows.
The album, like many of the band’s recent concerts, opens with “Hank,” with Boland boldly declaring that Hank Williams couldn’t make it now in Nashville. Also included in the set are some crowd-pleasers from the most recent albums, including “No Reason Being Late,” “Bourbon Legend” and “The Party’s Not Over.”
Boland & The Stragglers also do their version of Tom Russell’s “Gallo Del Cielo,” which he calls the greatest song ever written about cock-fighting. The first single from the album is “Tulsa Time,” and Boland explains that he’s been on a Don Williams kick for the last couple of years.
“I’m sure I’m not much different from everyone else, where I’ll see a greatest hits CD and think ‘I’m gonna pop that in,’ and it’ll end up staying in the rotation,” Boland says. “Once we started covering it we got a really good response.”
Boland has always liked “Rainbow Stew,” so adding that to the set list was a natural idea.
“When you weigh it all out, pound for pound—longevity, the voice, the songwriting, the guitar picking and overall musicianship—people would always have to listen to your arguments about Merle Haggard being the greatest,” he points out.
Boland and the original Stragglers—guitarist Roger Ray, bassist Grant Tracy and drummer Brad Rice—have played together since September, 1998. Even the “new guy,” fiddler Noah Jeffries, has been with the band for six years. Boland says that cohesion has been a major factor in the band’s success.
“There are certain things we can do that even a lot better musicians can’t, and that’s be us,” he explains. “Everyone’s personality can permeate the tunes we write and play.”
He adds that the longevity has created a mutual respect among the band, and everyone’s musical taste complements instead of clashes. Any differences in ideas for a particular song or musical direction can get road-tested.
“One way to work them out is just to get out on the road and play them over and over, night after night, and they’ll work or they won’t. It’s a constant social experiment,” he says.
Unlike many other Texas bands, Boland & the Stragglers have found success outside of the Lone Star State, selling more than 200,000 records while averaging more than 200 shows a year. Boland adamantly says that he has no interest in getting a record deal in Nashville; his albums have been released on his own Proud Souls Entertainment label.
“People are really starved for a more classic country-formatted band that’s not trying to be novelty,” he says. “Most of [country music] today is leaning more toward urban pop music. I think rural America is getting left out.”
Positives and negatives of the road
Having spent more than a decade on the road, Boland’s live on the road has gone through some major upheavals.
“The mode of travel definitely changes,” he says of how life on the road has changed. “You go from everybody in separate vehicles, and then everybody in one big vehicle like a Suburban, and then one more comfortable, sleep-worthy vehicle. Once your attorney can provide it, and it makes sense, a bus.” While he admits it’s hard to justify the expense, having a spot on the bus where he can shut the curtain and get some sleep while traveling helps maintain sanity.
Along with the day-to-day grind of traveling, Boland has also gone through some difficult personal trials, including a career-threatening through surgery right around the time Comal County Blue. He’s also been forthright about his struggles with alcoholism, which also became the basis of one of his best-known songs, “Bottle By My Bed.”
“When times get hard, I know in my life that those have been the things that have deepened me as a person,” Boland says. “It’s funny, because you find yourself saying ‘Now I want to become more in tune with or more enlightened by something’ and you catch yourself wondering ‘Am I asking for this?’”
Just like he’s gone through phases of transportation, Boland adds, “you go through your phases with whatever partying lifestyle anybody gets into. Unless you’re the legends we hear about in the big rock & roll magazines that can do it all their lives, hopefully you get wise. Hopefully, we all gain some form of wisdom.”
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