Nice guys rock
In “Letters to a Young Poet,” Rainer Maria Rilke writes, “Confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write. And look deep into your heart where it spreads its roots, the answer, and ask yourself, must I write?”
That is the sentiment that music producer Beau Bedford expresses to young musicians.
“You should only be a songwriter or an artist if you cannot help but do it. If you’d do anything else you’d die inside,” he says. “The money’s never good, and when it is, the fame sucks. If you don’t love it, then don’t do it.”
Bedford and business partner Jeff Saenz opened their studio, Modern Electric Sound Recorders, in East Dallas a few years ago. Bedford, who lives near the Belmont Hotel, is well known among local musicians as a songwriting coach, engineer and producer. But he’s more widely known as the ringleader of The Texas Gentlemen, which started as a backing band of Dallas-based musicians. They backed Kris Kristofferson at the Newport Folk Festival in 2016. And they played a private party behind George Strait.
The Gents put out their own album, “TX Jelly,” last year. It includes a hodgepodge of songs they recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and they’ve got another album’s worth of songs from that session ready to go.
The Newport Folk Festival put the Texas Gentlemen on the map. How did you get that gig?
We had never played outside the state before. And the Belmont hotel guys called us and said, “What are you doing July 26?” Well, we were going to be playing the West Coast with Paul Cauthen. And they were like, “What about Kris Kristofferson at the Newport Folk Festival?” The Belmont had done a whole concert series for a year that featured the Texas Gentlemen. They’ve been solid gold in helping define what we’re doing in the music business.
What was it like to play with Kris Kristofferson?
Kris and his wife, Lisa, are the most amazing people. They’re the kind of people that you’re like, “I hope I can be like them when I grow up.” They’re very influential to our whole scene. He did an acoustic set by himself, and it immediately became the favorite show I’ve ever seen. I was crying the whole time. It was very heavy. He’s such an American self-made man, but he’s so kind and genteel and he listens to anybody. He’s truly a legend.
How did the Texas Gentlemen come together?
We’ve all been making music together for almost 10 years. We just started calling ourselves that about four years ago. Daniel Creamer was 16 years old when I met him. I was making a record with his brother Philip Creamer of Dovetail. It really came about because as I was making records, I would just use these same musicians all the time.
Leon Bridges recorded at Modern Electric, and now he’s a worldwide super star.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard “Lisa Sawyer.” He came up and asked if he could play between our sets. When he played that song, it wrecked my world. He was like, “Someone gave me this guitar; do you mind if I play a song between your sets?” He was like a busboy at a restaurant nearby. And he was so inexperienced as a performer that when he finished his song, he would take his hand off the guitar and be like, “song over.” He’s such the real deal. It was like seeing Bill Withers show up and do a song between your sets. Leon, to me, just embodies so much of that spirit where it was just inside of him and he had to get it out. As a full music scene, that’s our favorite thing is finding authentic artists like that. They’re not trying to make music to please an audience. They’re making it because they have to.
Why did you record “TX Jelly” in Muscle Shoals?
We went into Muscle Shoals because I had an artist who fell through. We were going to be there for [Alabama-based designer] Billy Reid’s Shindig. We had just played the Kris Kristofferson show at Newport, so a lot of things were lining up for us. We didn’t try to make anything. We just made that record. We literally went into the studio with no ambition. It turned into something that none of us expected. We had 16 people working at once at one point. Cutting as many tracks as we could. It was so much fun. It was like our own little rock ‘n’ roll fantasy camp.
It seems like a lot of the good things that happen with the Gents is luck and timing.
That’s been a huge part of the Texas Gentlemen. There’s no master plan. When stuff comes up and we feel it’s right, it’s just like, “Yes, we’ll go do it.” It’s being willing and able to jump into the moment.
I’ve heard young songwriters credit you as an influence.
I love the songwriters because they’re the complete answer to art that is done for materialistic reasons. We have enough people making art for that reason. Let’s be the counterculture to that. Let’s make art for timeless reasons. Maybe you won’t win a platinum award. Maybe you will. Look at guys like Willie Nelson. Texas was one of the few places that people were willing to receive his music when he left Nashville. He touched people because he was writing songs about hurt and pain and triumph, and it revolutionized Texas music for sure. I think it’s a duty for people like myself to carry on that heritage and help young artists realize that they don’t have to go that way. You don’t have to make music just to make a living. You can do a bullshit job and still be a great artist.
What do you look for in an artist?
It doesn’t turn us on to hear someone who has a really catchy song and wants to make a record. If we’re interested, it’s because they have something special inside. The person behind the art is just as important to the art itself. If we build up terrible human beings because they know how to distort truth, then we’re hosed. We have to celebrate people because they’re a Kris Kristofferson. I want young writers to be inspired by those people. If Kris Kristofferson was a shit person, we probably wouldn’t give two shits about him. Be an artist and live it. Don’t put a façade up and be something else behind the scenes.
What local artists are you excited about right now?
Josh T. Pearson. We cut a record, and I’m not sure when it’s coming out. “The Straight Hits” is coming out now. He’s the perfect example of the real deal artist. Nobody is more committed than Josh. Kirby Brown has a new record; it’s the second one I’ve done with him. Paul Cauthen has recorded a lot of new stuff. We’ve got so much material coming out. We’re overly blessed in Dallas to have the artists we have.
Yes. One of our goals is to keep artists here. We have this unique identity that’s part of making music here that you don’t get anywhere else. When we go to Alabama or Nashville, there’s a special feeling about those places. Well, I’m here. I will not move because I feel the same thing for Dallas. I want to send the message that when we do things as a community, we can become better human beings and hopefully be agents of change on a more global scale.
What are your plans for this year?
Touring with the Gents. We’re playing Bonnaroo. Making records. Finishing up a bunch of Paul Cauthen songs. I’m really excited about all of that stuff. We’ll always be busy here.
Can anyone wear a Texas Gentlemen T-shirt?
Of course! Unless you suck. If you are not a gentleman or a gentle lady, get out of here. Do not associate yourself with us. It was actually created to be a fraternal order. We made music together, and we wanted to build a good culture. When I ordered the shirts, I was like, “I need this shirt in one week for SXSW. It just needs to say ‘Texas Gentlemen,’ just like that Shotgun Willie shirt.” It’s classic and iconic. It’s so cool seeing that shirt around. I love it. You can’t be an asshole when you’re wearing a shirt that says “gentlemen.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.