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Wallace reaches hillbilly heights

By Jeffrey B. Remz, September 1999

Roger Wallace had little choice growing up in Knoxville, Tenn. what type of music heheard around the house. But that didn't mean he liked it.

"I was forced fed country music from birth to being old enough to make my parents change the station when I was 15,," says Wallace, now 28, based in Austin and the owner of a fine honky tonk-cum-traditional debut, "Hillbilly Heights" on the indy Texas Music Round Up label.

"Whether at the dinner table or in the car, it was always country music," says Wallace, "blaming" his parents. "They both had great good voices. My mom taught me harmony."

"It was all Willie Nelson, Conway," Wallace says, "but not so much like the other outlaw stuff, stuff like Waylon."

"it wasn't really an issue whether I liked it or not," he says, laughing. "I was listening to it. I was Willie Nelson for Halloween one year."

"It was still my parents' music, and I hated it for that reason," Wallace says.

Times have changed obviously.

Wallace's epiphany was really listening to Willie and Hank. "A couple of years before I moved here, I started listening to Willie. 'Red Headed Stranger' just turned me around. I had never listened to it musically or lyrically until then. It was like 'holy shit.'" That and listening to a bunch of Hank too. I had heard it all but hadn't really listened to it."

Wallace was familiar with Ray Charles' version, but Hank spoke to him.

"Your Cheatin' Heart' brought tears to my eyes," says Wallace of Williams' version. "That's what it's supposed to sound like. That was the kick in the ass for figuring out what I wanted to do."

Wallace headed for Austin five years ago after realizing that all the music he liked was made by Austin-based artists. He switched gears from singing blues and rockabilly in Knoxville to country.

"Until then, I hadn't heard the soul in country," he says of Nelson and Williams. "It was just the music that was on. I knew I wanted to write songs, and the songs that I was writing weren't fitting into the blues context as much. I was writing different stuff, and it all turned out to be country tunes."

Wallace started playing around Austin, getting to know the local honchos. Word started filtering out about an upcoming Wallace CD two years ago with Wallace eventually hooking up with the label owned by Dave Sanger, Asleep at the Wheel's drummer, and Matt Eskey, a musician and owner of Freedom Records.

Wallace says he was "frustrated" at the delay, but "I knew it was all for the better. Being patient really isn't one of my strongest virtues."

Wallace wrote 9 of the 13 songs. With his full-bodied, honky tonk of a voice, the songs sound like they could be from a different era. Wallace feels the album jumps around stylistically between sounds from the '40's and '50's to the rocking beat of the leadoff "Wishful Drinking."

He also tackles Faron Young's hit "Your Time's Coming," penned by Kris Kristofferson and Shel Silverstein, and Wynn Stewart's "I Don't Feel at Home."

"I liked what I heard on a lot of stuff that was coming out (of Austin)," Wallace says. "I wanted to make something that sounded a little different. I wanted to have something with a lot of space. I kind of liked the laid back sound with the ability to rock ass."

"Here, a lot of it is based on dancing," he says of the local music. "You have to keep those shuffle grooves going," Wallace says. "Tunes like 'Crazy Love.' The tune is a medium shuffle in E. Why bother (changing that)? It's a real standard kind of tune. That's just what I write and what I play."

Even if he did grow up with country.