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Raised on Cash, Texan plays "loud music," while offering "strong wine"

By Tom Geddie, May 2000

Justin Trevino is skeptical of the claim that he was singing Johnny Cash songs when he was a baby in his crib. Perhaps that's only because his memory doesn't go quite that far back.

"From the time as far back as I can remember - two and three and four - my dad was an avid record collector, and he used to sit me down and play Ernest Tubb and Johnny Cash records for me. That's what we did for entertainment," Trevino says. "There's never been a time when music hasn't been part of my life. I've always been trying to sing."

Today, at 26, Trevino is living his childhood dream. He just released his second solo album, "Loud Music and Strong Wine," has his own recording studio in the Texas Hill Country and has steady touring dates as bass player for both Johnny Bush and Cornell Hurd.

His love for traditional country is deep and passionate.

He got his first guitar at age 7, and at 12, he played his first professional gigs - for tips - at the Red Onion in Manchaca and Longhorn Barbecue in Austin.

In 1990, when he was 16, he got his first big break at the tiny Red-Eye Saloon inside the Eisenhauer Road Flea Market in northern San Antonio. Trevino used to go to the flea market to hear Johnny Bush, who wrote "Whiskey River" and other honky-tonk hits.

Owner, Harry Weiss, called Trevino on the stage to sing a couple of songs. Blind since shortly after his birth, Trevino didn't see his hero standing nearby.

"Then they introduced Johnny Bush, and this scared the hell out of me," Trevino says. "For the next 45 minutes, I stood up there and sang Johnny Bush songs. I'm meeting my hero and getting to visit with him."

Soon, Bush began calling Trevino onstage to do duets, then to fill in on bass.

"For the past eight or nine years, I've played bass with him on and off," Trevino says. "Now, as of the first of the year, I am the official bass player for Johnny Bush and the Bandoleros. It's a dream come true."

On both his new album and 1998's "Texas Honky Tonk," Trevino mixes cover songs with originals and duets with solos.

Most of his favorite country music comes from the late 1950's into the early 1970's.

In choosing material, he looks for genuine, "not necessarily profound," lyrics.

"I like either a story or a song about lost love or loneliness," he says. "People say I sing a lot of drinking songs, but if you listen a little deeper you understand why those people are drinking. I'm an upbeat person, but I love sad country songs. If it can bring a tear to your eye, it's a hell of a song."

Bush introduced Trevino to Tracy Pitcox, a DJ in Brady, Texas, who books traditional country music into the Brady Civic Center and other venues. Through Pitcox, Trevino met many of his idols, including Leona Williams and Dave Kirby, who contribute to "Loud Music and Strong Wine."

Williams has written hits for several country stars, including her second husband Merle Haggard, and with Kirby, her third husband. She sang a duet with Trevino and added back-up vocals.

In addition to bass, Trevino plays lead and rhythm guitar, mandolin and some fiddle.

His dedication attracted the attention of Aaron Fox, an assistant professor of music at New York's Columbia University who, as a graduate student at the University of Texas, did his dissertation on rural Texas country music.

"Justin is steeped in the working-class tradition of hard country music in South Texas in a way very few alt.-country acts can claim," Fox says. "He has played in the honky tonks, for demanding blue-collar audiences since he was 12. He has diligently mastered a wide range of canonical styles and apprenticed himself personally and directly to several of the best."

Fox says "great old masters" like Bush, Williams, and Kirby "regard him as the truest bearer of their legacy and routinely come by his house to record and pick."Trevino considers himself fortunate.

"I heard 'Whiskey River' on the radio when I was seven, and I aspired to make music in that tradition - not necessarily to imitate, but it's a style of music I really love. I hope there are enough young people to carry it on," he says.