A Conversation With Stoney LaRue
From his roots in Oklahoma red dirt music to his 2011 CD, Velvet.
Photo courtesy Glen Rose Photography
Born in Taft, Texas, and raised in southeastern Oklahoma, Stoney LaRue started playing country music at an early age. His first major release was The Red Dirt Album in 2005, followed in 2007 by Live at Billy Bob’s Texas, both of which got the attention of critics and grew his devoted fan base. We talked with the red dirt artist on the eve of his August release of Velvet.
Cowboys & Indians: Why do you make music?
Stoney LaRue: I make music to get these damn voices outta my head. Seriously, though, I feel it is something I couldn’t imagine not doing. I make music for people. To help in some way that maybe will make a difference in this world of trickery.
C&I: LaRue sounds like a French name — maybe Cajun. What’s your family heritage?
LaRue: Osage, Cherokee, and German. That’s what I was told. I’d like to get on Ancestry.com or something. LaRue is an old family middle name that goes back at least four generations. My last name is Phillips.
C&I: You were picking up a Mr. Microphone and singing “Swingin’ ” when you were just a toddler. Where do you think your talent comes from?
LaRue: I think it came at first from DNA — Dad and Mom’s sides of the family. Dad played bass. I didn’t know Mom until recently and I found out there was a family band on her side. That would have been cool.
C&I: After that John Anderson song, what were some of your early influences? Do you remember particular songs and artists that knocked you out?
LaRue: Oh yeah, I was raised pretty sheltered by the grandparents, and all we listened to was country radio, but the first time I heard Ray Charles it blew me away — “Seven Spanish Angels” [with Willie Nelson]. From then on I wanted more.
C&I: When did you first pick up a guitar? What kind was it and how did you learn to play?
LaRue: My cousin Robbie gave me a Harmony electric guitar when I was 10. My dad came to visit and he taught me the eight chords — then I was hooked. I just visited my brother Bo and after my grandpa died he “procured” some of our stuff. I found my first Bible and my first guitar.
C&I: What do you play now?
LaRue: I play a Gibson onstage. It’s a Gibson J-45 aka “Texas Music Starter Kit.” [Laughs.]
C&I: You were born in Taft, Texas, but later moved north of the Red River to Oklahoma, where the dirt is literally red. What does the term red dirt music mean to you?
LaRue: Red dirt music means sit (or stand) by the fire with no ego and write and sing what your heart says ... only! Most compare it with country or folk. It’s a mantra genre. It’s more diluted now than it was, as goes everything, but at its point of creation it is sacred.
C&I: What was the music scene like in Stillwater, Oklahoma, when you were coming up? Who were you hanging with and learning from?
LaRue: It was riddled with sages and hipsters and I hung with all of ’em. Please allow me to name-drop for a moment. Bob Childers, Tom Skinner, The Red Dirt Rangers, Randy Crouch, Travis Linville, Cody Canada, Jason Boland, Watermelon Slim, Steve Rice, Mike Shannon, etc. Some names you’ll know and some you won’t, but they all left lasting impressions on my soul. Still do.
C&I: Tell me about the Yellow House and what went on there ...
LaRue: I could tell you about the Yellow House, but then I’d have to kill you. Maybe over a beer someday.
C&I: Get back to Oklahoma much? What do you miss? Where do you make sure to go?
LaRue: I live in Edmond, Oklahoma, when I’m not touring. My spots are Stillwater, of course. Eischen’s in Okarche. The Deli in Norman. And back home every now and again. I’d like to build a house where I grew up as a child around Buffalo Valley.
C&I: Not that we’re going to try to label your country-soul-rock-roots-blues music, but there’s Texas red dirt music, too, and you lived for a while in New Braunfels, Texas, and were part of the Texas music scene. What attracted you to that particular town and that area and what was the music scene like?
LaRue: My buddy Cody moved down and so did Boland. I visited once and made it my home. It just had the vibe at the time. The people, the music, the food — oh man, the food! I miss it. And let’s not forget KNBT Radio New Braunfels and Gruene Harley-Davidson.
C&I: Tell me about the early days — recording your 2002 Downtown live at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa with the Organic Boogie Band and mixing it in a trailer on a bluff outside Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Kind of crazy that less than 10 years later you’re on the Billboard charts and touring the world?
LaRue: I have big dreams. Seems like after Downtown those dreams started happening. I’m very blessed to be put in such an important role as singer-songwriter-role model-father-husband-friend. I’m not one of those things; I am all of them. I appreciate people and they motivate me to keep it up.
C&I: Every album since then, you’ve taken it up a notch. In 2005 there was The Red Dirt Album, your first studio album, and then in 2007, you released Live at Billy Bob’s Texas, a second live set recorded in 2006 at the famous Fort Worth mega honky-tonk. What stands out to you about those first records?
LaRue: The experience. For The Red Dirt Album I had Mike McClure producing it and that was awesome to me. I also made that album with friends from Texas and Oklahoma. It was what red dirt was to me. Live at Billy Bob’s Texas was one of those big dreams I was talking about. After that I said, “Well, here we go.”
C&I: Tell me about your latest CD, Velvet. What was the songwriting process? The recording process?
LaRue: Frank Liddell and Mike McCarthy produced Velvet. Enzo, my manager, introduced me to Frank. I wrote many (most) of the songs with Mando Saenz. We are both from Corpus Christi [Texas]. He would come out on the road with us or I would fly to Nashville to write. We recorded it ’70s style all open in a room together — where Elvis and Johnny Cash recorded! Another big dream come true.
C&I: Your lyrics have a sincere truth-telling quality and an earthy spirituality — from the heart but no holds barred. Is there a certain message or theme you’re trying to communicate?
LaRue: Absolutely. I think if people could learn that what they feel is okay, and what they express is okay, then there will be more understanding because they will begin speaking from the heart instead of from pride or ego. Pride makes wars.
C&I: You’re known as a vocalist, songwriter, guitar player, and also a kickin’ live performer. Your shows are becoming legendary for their uplifting power. What’s the energy the audience is picking up on?
LaRue: An energy that is life. For one and a half to two hours we are living life to and through that audience. I try to saturate my thoughts with that idea.
C&I: Who’s in the band?
LaRue: The band is Alan Orebaugh (guitar), Casey Twist (bass), Jeremy Bryant (drums), and yours truly on vocals, guitar, etc.
C&I: What do your fans want to know most?
LaRue: I think my fans want to know “how.” I mean that there is uncertainty everywhere we look and always we attach ourselves to what motivates us or what we want to represent us at some level. I’m a person just like everyone else — I think that resonates with folks.
C&I: For people who might not know your music, what playlist would you make for them?
LaRue: As follows, the playlist would read: “Downtown,” “Love You For Loving Me,” “Shot Full of Holes,” “Oklahoma Breakdown,” “Velvet,” “Way Too Long,” “Idabel Blues,” “Forever Young.” Some cliché choices from my camp but effective.
C&I: What’s your playlist of songs by other artists that have really meant a lot to you?
LaRue: Anything Dylan, Bob Childers’ “Close to Home,” Grateful Dead’s “He’s Gone.” Those are some.
C&I: What do you do in your free time. Hobbies? Pets? Horses?
LaRue: My hobbies are working out, riding motorcycles as often as I can, writing, reading, traveling, fishing, hunting. I really enjoy my family life. I have two dogs, Austin (Jack Russell terrier) and Lucy (miniature schnauzer). I really want a Doberman.
C&I: What's your idea of a great day off?
LaRue: Anywhere with my kids. I love rain and thunderstorms/snow/weather ... preferably in the woods.
C&I: Would you like to share anything about your family life?
LaRue: I would like people to know that having children is the single best thing I’ve ever done in my life. They teach me so much about how to view the world.
C&I: Is there someplace in the West you particularly dig or want to travel to?
LaRue: I’d like to live in Cali, or Colorado, or Seattle. Very laid-back, very different. I’m open for anywhere anytime, really! I love to travel and I always will!
C&I: How would you describe your lifestyle (besides being on a tour bus)?
LaRue: Multifaceted. Really quiet. Really noisy. Always busy. I’m livin’ life, you know. I see people who don’t and I think to myself, Not me!
C&I: Any venues in the West you really love playing?
LaRue: I love California venues — all of ’em: San Diego, San Luis Obispo, L.A. Colorado, Denver, [the] Grizzly Rose. I’m sure I’ll remember more when I play them again; I’ll be like, I shoulda said this one! [Laughs.]
C&I: If I didn’t have music, I’d ...
LaRue: If I didn’t have music, I’d be a very bored, misunderstood individual. I’d probably paint or something. Live with some weird roommate and get kicked out because my rent is always late. Gosh, ya know, I’d hate to think about that.
C&I: What do you see on the horizon?
LaRue: I see always traveling. More music, some painting, good books, healthy family. I see hope, and it makes me smile.
- Read the C&I review of Stoney LaRue’s Velvet in the December issue.