Dan Colehour
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Dan Colehour

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Three years ago, Dan Colehour seemed set to arrive on the national music scene much like Chris Knight had. With a DreamWorks deal in hand and a searing roots-rock album recorded, Colehour was ready to hit the road hard. He heard opportunity knocking, saw his shot at hand. One for the Old Man had a lot going for it: smart heartland lyrics that appealed equally to the Farm Aid crowd and urban alt-country hipsters, Colehour's somewhere-between-Mellencamp-and-Springsteen voice, David Grissom's monster guitar and no-nonsense production by Houstonian Frank Liddell, who, along with Grissom, had been instrumental in igniting Knight's career.

In a music business story as old as the hooker with the heart of gold, just when it looked like Colehour's long years in the trenches were about to pay off, Universal absorbed DreamWorks and Colehour's record got lost in the chaos.

"It was a roots-rock Americana-type deal for DreamWorks, and once they were onboard we got the green light. We jumped on it and finished it pretty quickly, and then it just sat there. They kept pushing our date back, and within six months Universal bought DreamWorks. After a few months in limbo, they just cut us loose. It was pretty devastating."

Colehour and Liddell took it hard. According to a friend, "Dan and Frank were in a heap of depression." But Liddell continued to contact Universal and make it plain that if they didn't want the record, his Carnival label did. Colehour, who was going through a divorce and just needed to make a living, got a day job and continued to write and play. Covers of his songs by Trisha Yearwood and Montgomery Gentry helped out. The worst of it for Colehour was that he had a killer record but he couldn't sell a single one. Time dragged on.

Enter Luke Lewis, the executive responsible for bringing last year's Americana sensation Mary Gauthier onto Universal's Lost Highway label. When Lewis finally worked his way through the pile of projects left over from the merger and heard the Colehour record, he liked it and worked out a deal with Liddell to release it in October.

Cut from the same American hybrid stalk of Midwest corn as John Mellencamp, the 40-year-old Colehour's musical vision is anchored in diesel tractors roaring to life in bitter predawn cold, endless sky, endless work, a mortgage on the farm and a stubborn bow-your-neck pride in the futile fight against the march of time. Although Colehour's work is more melodic, Texas music fans will likely hear echoes of another Grissom-powered project, James McMurtry's Too Long in the Wasteland, lurking in there. And just when we think Colehour is simply a well-produced roots rocker, he drops a cover of the honky-tonk classic "She Thinks I Still Care" that is equal parts sensitivity and testosterone. Under Grissom's hand, this old nugget finds new life and power.

Lyrically, Colehour is often up to his boot tops in Fred Eaglesmith's terrain, nostalgic about old ways fading slowly, and like Bruce Springsteen, Colehour frequently recalls the streets of stolid Norman Rockwell American villages that are the backbone of the Midwest, the Great Plains and the nation. In "Quarrytown," he enunciates the blind faith and unquestioning patriotism of a prototypical American heartlander when he sings, "Back in '62 round the start of Viet Nam / some of us quarry boys who were of fighting age made a deal with Uncle Sam / in the name of God and country we buried our friends in the ground / we never knew any better in a quarry town." It is an innocent, pre-Nixon image of the country.

While Carnival is "trying to focus on the farming/blue-collar crowd," Colehour is anything but a farm boy, although he is proudly Iowan. "By the time I came along, all my family had gotten out of farming, but it's just the way of life up there. It's in the genetic code. Strong, quiet, persevering, graceful people."

With the record release still several months off, Colehour is testing the waters outside the Midwest strongholds of Indianapolis and Cincinnati by playing Texas, which he's always thought of as a second home.

For now, Colehour is just trying to keep his head above water until his shot comes around again in October. He's made peace with his career misfortunes, just like those farmers in his songs who rise before daylight to fire up the engines again.

For now, Colehour is just trying to keep his head above water until his shot comes around again in October. He's made peace with his career misfortunes, just like those farmers in his songs who rise before daylight to fire up the engines again.

By William Michael Smith
June 15, 2006 - Houston Press


Discography

Dan Colehour Self Titled EP-2005
Straight to the Highway-2007

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Bio

Dan Colehour
Straight To The Highway
Street Date: September 18, 2007
(MCA/Carnival Recording Co.)

Born smack-dab in the heart of America, singer/songwriter Dan Colehour grew up on the very same pastoral, Eastern Iowa turf that inspired and harbored iconic Americana painter Grant Wood.

It’s an evocative, serene layout of easy rolling hills stamped by patchwork-quilt fields dotted by farms, sporadically tacked-down by humble towns, which in turn are laced together by a network of two-lane blacktops that not only provide connection, but also offer a way out.

Straight To The Highway, Colehour’s debut on Nashville-based Carnival Recording Co./Universal, is a poignant, heart-thumping collection of heartland rock and earnest, down-home balladry that explores the restlessness and desires that not only make a young man venture out into the large world, but can also bring him back, full circle, to find a big part of the solution parked right where he left it—in his family and home.

Steeped in the tried-and-true populist rock of Springsteen and Mellencamp with long, strong threads of Jackson Browne and the Eagles snaking through, Colehour has arrived at a slightly more rural-oriented, western approach to an amalgam of the signature styles of all the aforementioned, informed—of course—by personal experience.

Growing up in Mt. Vernon, Iowa provided Colehour with a balanced, blue-collar upbringing rooted in hard work, family and an abiding notion that events play out across the globe, but it’s how they shake down on the home front that ultimately drives hearts and minds.

“I was raised in the Midwest work ethic,” Colehour emphasizes. I’ve never been afraid of a job or a hard days work—that’s one of the things that my mother and father gave me.”

During those formative years, Colehour played drums in several country, rock and polka cover bands before he started to sing and write his own songs.

“Singing was something I enjoyed as much as anything and the idea of writing songs seemed like a natural progression for me,” Colehour says. “So I was drawn to learn a more melodic instrument that I could write on, and when I was 12, my sister gave me a few guitar lessons—both my sister and mother were taking guitar lessons at the time. My older sister, Amanda, is responsible for most of my musical influences. Her room was directly below mine in our old house and she had an exceptional stereo. Consequently, whatever she was listening to, I was listening to as well. When I was 13, she got me Springsteen’s The River, and it floored me. It wasn’t so over my head that I couldn’t figure it out, but at the same time it challenged me. The vast and varying lyrical landscape and sonic quality of the recording almost overwhelmed me. It was an epiphany to me…a very pivotal moment to say the least. To this day, it is THE record that I go back to consistently.”

At age 21, Colehour packed up his guitar and songbook and hit the highway, settling briefly in Southern California. “I lived in the Valley for a couple of years, and it was like a suit of clothes that never fit me. After a couple of years there, his parents relocated to San Antonio Texas and he followed them. It was there that Colehour seemed to find the musical community that he was looking for.

“I had been in Texas for about a month and a friend of mine suggested I check out Joe Ely at the Southwest Craft Center in downtown San Antonio,” Colehour says. “Butch Hancock opened for Joe that night. I had no idea what I was in for. They practically blew the doors off the place. I spent the next seven years in Texas working on my songwriting and playing singer/songwriter rooms. I was a Kerrville New Folk finalist in ’93 and ‘94. I moved up to Austin in ‘90 after singing with a publisher, Bitsy Rice of Lighthouse Music. Bitsy got me hooked in to Austin and shortly there after began sending me to Nashville to get my feet wet.”

At 29 Colehour arrived in Nashville, where he quickly became friends with Frank Liddell and Travis Hill of Carnival Music Publishing and Carnival Recording Company. A publishing deal with them followed shortly and the opportunity was a godsend for the fledgling artist, providing work, guidance and friendship all in one fell swoop.

The singer/songwriter’s music steadily garnered support in the industry, and a recording deal with DreamWorks jump-started the making of what would eventually become Straight To The Highway. When Universal bought DreamWorks, priorities shuffled, and the record biz’s same-old-long-story-short…the record was set aside. All of that changed when a co-venture agreement was reached between Carnival and Universal to release the record.

Recorded with a stellar core band of electric guitarists David Grissom and Kenny Greenberg, bassist Glenn Worff and drummer Chad Cromwell, Straight To The Highway presents ten muscular tracks, all written or co-written by Colehour, t