In Austin’s exalted music scene, Shelley King ranks among the royals; in 2008, she even received a title: Official State Musician of Texas from the Texas Legislature. But she wouldn’t think of resting on her laurels — not when there are so many songs to sing and stages to conquer. With her new album, Building A Fire, releasing Aug. 26 on her own Lemonade Records label, she’s poised to reign over legions of roots music fans.
King co-produced Building A Fire with Subdudes John Magnie and Steve Amedee, with whom she also recorded her lauded 2009 release, Welcome Home. Together, they capture her warm, earthy Americana style via 10 originals, one traditional and one cover: a Larry Campbell-penned spiritual previously sung by Levon Helm. It’s a soulful sound, rooted in southern gospel-blues mixed with the Gulf-borne humidity of Louisiana, the river loam of Muscle Shoals and the hot springs of her native Arkansas, with a little Texas country bubbling underneath.
Tracked mainly at Magnie’s studio in Fort Collins, Colo., with additional recording in Austin and Muscle Shoals, Building A Fire features guest appearances by fellow Austin royals Carolyn Wonderland, Cindy Cashdollar and Warren Hood, along with sometime Subdude Tim Cook. The core band is King on vocals and guitar; Amedee on drums, percussion, mandolin and support vocals; Magnie on vocals, accordion and keyboards; Austin's heavy hitters Marvin Dykhuis on vocals, guitars, dobro and mandolin; and Sarah Brown on bass.
They perfectly capture the essence of King’s personality: a self-made woman who carries herself with strength and assurance, even a little swagger at times, but who also has a sensitive, vulnerable side, and a well of compassion — along with the ability to still find wonder in the world. All of which make for powerful songwriting, the kind that gets noticed by artists such as Lee Hazlewood, who recorded King’s “Texas Blue Moon” with Nancy Sinatra after he heard King’s version on the radio while driving through the state.
King also has appeared with Wonderland on the world-renowned PBS series “Austin City Limits,” as well as on stages throughout the United States, Europe and Japan. Since quitting a sales job to pursue music full time in 1998, she’s had many magical career moments, including befriending the Subdudes, one of her favorite bands, by arranging to open for them around the country.
The tension between spirituality and sexuality — both major aspects of the human condition, she observes — is almost a theme permeating the album, played out amid her gospel influences and rootsier renderings.The stage for that duality was set when she began singing as a toddler. Following her parents’ split and her mom’s remarriage, King wound up in Houston, then Amarillo, where she landed in the children's choir at her grandmother’s church. After another stint in Houston, her mother divorced again, and King wound up with her other grandmother back in Arkansas. She found salvation — literally — in a one-room country church, where she built a social life, gained solace from familial turmoil and soloed weekly. Sometimes her uncles accompanied her on guitar. That’s when she started writing songs, inspired by her beloved Caddo River and a teenager’s hopes and dreams.
King returned to Texas for college, self-financed via her own business. She planned on law school, but after working for a lawyer and starting her own band, she realized music, not law, was her passion. She gigged around Houston for a couple of years, then moved to Austin. By day, she worked as a sales rep; the rest of the time, she lived for music. One day she realized she would forever regret it if she didn’t at least try to follow her heart.She quit her job, went home and booked 11 gigs that day. She also formed her label, Lemonade Records. “I always liked that saying, ‘If life hands you lemons, make lemonade,’” King says. “And I felt like my corporate gig was a lemon and I split and I made lemonade.”
She certainly has. In addition to being the first woman to hold the State Musician title (she preceded Willie Nelson), her accolades include several Austin Music Awards. But she values opportunities to collaborate with musical heroes — and friends — as much as any award. Her co-producers, of course, offer special inspiration. “They really care about doing what’s right for the song,” she says. “When I work with them, I feel like I’ve really found myself.”
Building a Fire (Lemonade 2014)
Welcome Home (Lemonade 2009)
Armadillo Bootleg #1 (Lemonade 2008)
Rockin' the Dancehall (Lemonade 2004)
The Highway (Lemonade 2002)Call of My Heart, (Lemonade 1998)Shelley King, (EP Lemonade 1996)Riverchild, self release (EP 1994)Invictus, self released (EP 1992)
Happy Holidays From Austin, Texas, Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau
Lost Pines Texas, Hyatt Regency Music Project, 2007
Keep Punching, George Foreman Project for MD Anderson, 2007
A Hill Country Christmas, Candlelight Ranch Project 2005
Don't Mess With Texas Music Vol. 3, Texas Music Project 2005
Travelling Texas, Texas Music Herritage Foundation 2002
All I want for Christmas, Dusty Records, 2002 Sweden
Mixed Grill, Texas Music Round Up 2000
Rockin' at the Barn, Dusty Records, 1999 Sweden
Recordings of Shelley King's songs by other artists:
Call of My Heart, Toni Price (Antone's 2001)
Who Needs Tears, Toni Price (Antone's 2001
Tennessee Whiskey, Toni Price (Antone's 2004)
Texas Blue Moon, Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood (Warner International 2004)
Who Needs Tears, Heather Moon (indy 2003)
Who Needs Tears, Deb Reimer (Vancouver 2005)
Robyn's Song, Nicole Gilbert, Butterfly Wine (indy 2004)
Running Out of Blue, Karen Mal & Chris Irwin (The Orchard 2001)
Open Up To Me, co-write Sara Hickman & Shelley King 2007
One Way Ticket to Austin, Jessica Shepherd (Skylark 2000)
The Getaway, Floramay Holliday co-write w/ Shelley(Roseneath 2005)
Out on the Town, Floramay Holliday co-write w/ Shelley (Roseneath 2005)
Walk On, Jameylee, Heirloom (Chattanooga 2008)
Set length varies.
90 minute set preferred, however, longer sets can be accommodated. She doesn't usually do many cover songs but if the mood strikes she may toss in some CCR, Fleetwood Mac, Willie Nelson, Buddy Holly or even Hank Williams Sr.