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Brandon Rhyder: Songwriters Sojourn

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It’s gotta be about the music. It can’t be about the box and fitting into the box.
– Brandon Rhyder

About two years ago, young country singer/songwriter Brandon Rhyder made a decision not to stray too far from the Central Texas home he shares with his wife Kelli and their two children, Dusty and Mahala Grace.

“I had spent so much time in Nashville,” the Carthage native said during a telephone interview from his bus on the way to a gig. “I had come to the end of the road in Nashville and I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to stay close to home and I’m going to record my new record here.’”

On his last two records, Rhyder used Nashville studio musicians. When he got ready to record his sixth album, “Head Above Water,”  Rhyder turned to the members of his band.

“We have a really, really, really great band,” Rhyder said. “There was no sense in using anybody but my guys on this project. When you play as many shows as we play, you’re bound to get tight or [you] replace people.”

When they sat down to choose songs for the new record, Rhyder and his producer Walt Wilkins had “30 something” songs to choose from. They narrowed it down to 10 of Rhyder’s songs and three covers from Keith Gaddis, Matt Powell and Wilkins.

But, after two days of recording, Wilkins said Rhyder didn’t need the other songwriters to make the project work, so they ended up with 13 of Rhyder’s songs on the record.

“Walt and I agreed  we wanted to make a record that we could sing for 30 years – and that’s what we did,” Rhyder said. “We weren’t thinking radio. We weren’t thinking hits. We really caught magic. It was the first time in six records that I was just like, ‘Wow! This was easy.’”




Although Rhyder didn’t write  the CD’s first cut, “Rock Angel,” to be a hit, it was number 16 on the Texas Country charts last week.

Rhyder has always been drawn to singer/songwriters.

“I liked guys who were on the fringe of what was considered mainstream, but got away with it,” Rhyder explained. “I liked Alabama, John Denver and Buck Owens. Those guys did their own thing.”

Rhyder says his parents were “stone cold” country music fans. The only exception was Elvis Presley.

“My mother was an uber Elvis fan,” Rhyder said. “He really was one of the greatest entertainers and even though I never saw him live, he did influence me.”

Rhyder didn’t start out to be a country singer, but he has been writing lyrics since he was a kid.

“I always wrote things down and called them songs, but I didn’t pick up the guitar until after I graduated from the University of Texas at Tyler,” Rhyder said.

Rhyder graduated from UT Tyler in 1998 with a degree in industrial technology and political science and was working as a safety and environmental manager for Brookshire Brothers’ manufacturing group.

Rhyder married his high school sweetheart, Kelli, when he was 21 and she was 19. Kelli worked as a nurse at East Texas Medical Center.

The couple bought a spec house on Lake Palestine and were settled into the lives and their “30-year jobs” when the music bug bit.

“I hope I don’t bore you with this,” Rhyder said. “But, I started writing and it was really a magical time.”

Rhyder put together a little band that he says was “horrible,” but they got a gig playing in Austin for a group of dentists.

“We played about three songs when the bottom fell out of the sky and we got rained out,” Rhyder said. “They put us up in a nice hotel on Sixth Street. We were on the balcony, 30 floors up, drinking beer and eating pizza, and I said to Kelli, ‘I want to move to Austin.’ She said, ‘Okay.’”

Rhyder knew his wife thought he was kidding, but she must have realized how serious he was when she came home from work on Monday and there was a “For Sale” sign in the front yard.

Three months later, the young couple was  in Austin, with Rhyder pursuing his dream.

“I was so green,” Rhyder said. “I had no idea. It really was a pipe dream. I can understand now why her parents and my parents were freaking out.”

Now settled near San Marcos, Rhyder is enjoying the good life.

“I’ve been able to live the dream,” he said. “I mean this from the bottom of my heart: I feel so lucky and so blessed to have the things in my life – my wife, my kids, my friends and my music. It’s never a job. It might be more difficult sometimes, but this is what I’m supposed to be doing for the rest of my life.”

This is the eighth in a series
“A Songwriter’s Sojourn,”
featuring songwriters from Texas - or with close ties to Texas - who stayed true to their craft,  lived up to their gifts and
left their mark on the world of music.
For more about Brandon Rhyder,
visit www.brandonrhyder.com

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