Red dirt do-si-do 

Country musician Thom Shepherd dances solo

He jokes that most of his songs are "pretty shallow" — and with hits under his songwriter's belt such as "Cheaper to Keep Her" and "Redneck Yacht Club," there's probably some truth to that. But true or not, it's in direct contrast to the trajectory of the past 10 years of Thom Shepherd's life.

After surviving cancer twice, then going through a divorce, and deciding to make a 2011 move from his long-time home in Nashville to Austin, Shepherd is finally on the path he has always wanted to pursue — that of a touring country artist.

"It's really cool, 'cause when I lived in Nashville, and I wrote songs, always in the back of your mind, you're thinking ... 'I've gotta write something that somebody else is gonna record if I want to keep my day job.'"

Not that it wasn't successful. Shepherd has placed more than 90 songs, including 10 singles, onto albums by the likes of George Jones, Montgomery Gentry and Kevin Fowler. He says it's "still a thrill, every time" when someone records something he's authored, but he's much happier where he is now.

"I moved to Nashville to pursue a touring career and make CDs. ... I ended up becoming more of a songwriter for a day job. I started going down to Texas to write with some people, back a few years ago, and I saw what their music scene was like. I saw that you could tour. You could make your own CDs. You could be an independent artist and own everything relating to your career. And you could do that in Texas."

Why is that? He explains that Austin thrives on a live music scene while Nashville's scene centers on music publishing and record labels. Nashville radio caters to country artists who already have major deals. Texas as a state has its own charts, and because of that, radio stations there take more chances on independent artists and albums — including Shepherd's December release Simplify — that might sit a little outside the mainstream.

"What I like about Texas, with their red dirt music genre, is that it's so broad. It's everything from bands that kinda sound like alternative rock, to bands that are like 'cowboy hat, fiddle and steel guitar' country. There's some kinda blues bands in there. It's such a wide open genre and the fans come out for all of it. They don't care. They come see everybody."

And ultimately, it's time on stage sharing his music with those fans that drives Shepherd. "That connection is just priceless. That's why I do it. ... Even if it's three people, or a concert hall of people."

Or sometimes, a throng of military personnel on one of the nine Armed Forces tours in which Shepherd's participated.

"Everybody's kinda missing home, and to bring a little bit of home to them, it's just the best thing," he says. "I play 'Riding With Private Malone' for people when they're overseas, away from their families, and you see 'em crying, and people stand up and hold their hand up in the air like they're in church or something. It's almost like a religious experience, and it's the power of music to do that with folks.

"To be able to be the person that brings that feeling to a crowd of people is pretty awesome."



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