Durango's Ty Gummersall to play civic center
FARMINGTON – Tyller Gummersall tried for years to get Lloyd Maines interested enough in his music to agree to work with him. But once he succeeded in getting the legendary, Grammy-winning Texas musician and producer onboard, he realized his job was only beginning.
Gummersall, a Durango, Colo.-area native whose most recent disc “Long Ride Home” was released in January, was ecstatic last year when Maines — the father of Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines and producer for many of the biggest acts in the alt-country realm — agreed to oversee the new album. Gummersall had spent six years wooing Maines, finally succeeding in 2015 when he sent the producer some demos of his new material, with the songs apparently demonstrating the kind of artistic growth Maines had hoped to see from the young Coloradoan.
Shortly afterward, Gummersall — who opens for Cole Swindell Thursday, April 7 at the Farmington Civic Center — got those demos back, with Maines having added his arrangements to Gummersall’s work.
“I thought, ‘Holy crap, this is really good,’” Gummersall said, laughing, explaining his reaction to the reworked material. “It was definitely a moment of realizing, ‘Now I have to match this.’”
Rather than wilt from that challenge, Gummersall said he embraced it, rehearsing his new tunes every day for weeks before he headed to Texas to join Maines in his studio and begin laying down tracks. Nervous as he was about finally getting to work with someone he admired so much, Gummersall said he was delighted to find that Maines’ approach to recording put him immediately at ease.
“Once I got into the studio, it wasn’t stressful at all,” he said by phone from northern California two weeks ago, adding that among the many other gifts Maines offers as a producer, making the recording process fun is near the top.
“Long Ride Home,” the fourth album of Gummersall’s career, is by far his most ambitious. Not only does it showcase the artist’s most mature songwriting yet, it also features the talents of some of the more highly regarded sidemen on the Texas music scene. Of course, Maines’ trademark pedal steel is all over the recording, but it also spotlights the work of drummer and percussionist Pat Manske (Joe Ely, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Band of Heathens), keyboards player Riley Osbourne (Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Jerry Jeff Walker and Los Lonely Boys) and fiddler Dennis Ludiker (Asleep at the Wheel, Robert Earl Keen Jr. and Jason Boland). Rounding out Gummersall’s supporting cast on the disc are his mentor — mandolin and guitar player Gary Cook of the Bar D Wranglers — and harmony vocalist Kate Willyard.
Gummersall said he was grateful that Maines was able to line up an all-star cast as his backing band, but he said his opportunities to interact with those players in the studio were limited. Much of the disc was recorded at Maines’ home studio in Texas with the various players contributing their parts as their schedules allowed, and that rarely corresponded with Gummersall’s presence there, he said.
“It would have been great to mesh with Pat, to mesh with Lloyd,” Gummersall said. “And someday, I think it would be really fun to do a whole album of tracks absolutely live. But that’s becoming more and more rare.”
The beginning of Gummersall’s relationship with Maines goes back seven years to the aforementioned Robert Earl Keen Jr., who was performing a show in Durango. Gummersall, then in his late teens, admired many of the acts Maines had produced — beginning with his job at the helm of the seminal 1979 Terry Allen album “Lubbock on Everything” — and when Keen came through Durango, Gummersall used his mother’s connections as a concert photographer to arrange a brief consultation with Keen’s manager. He obtained Maines’ contact information and fired off an introductory email, hoping for the best, but not expecting much.
To his surprise, he quickly received a gracious, encouraging response from Maines, and that initial correspondence would evolve into a full-fledged relationship. Gummersall has been sending Maines his new songs for years, but it wasn’t until a year and a half ago, when he sent demos of 25 new tunes to Maines, that the acclaimed producer finally bit, responding that he had identified 11 songs from the group that he thought they could use for an album.
“I was humbled and happy he liked my songs enough to want to do something with them,” said Gummersall, who had been trying to incorporate Maines’ advice into his material for as long as he had known him. “He certainly got to see my growth in songwriting, and that was cool.”
Gummersall understood immediately how he would be upping the ante on his own career by working with someone as highly regarded as Maines.
“I had always wanted him to produce a record (of mine),” he said. “But I knew he’s been playing and recording with (Texas singer-songwriter) Terri (Hendrix) for years, and most of his attention is focused on her. It wasn’t like I was begging him on his doorstep, but I was being patient.”
What Gummersall got in return was a disc with a distinctly different tone than his older work. Maines eschews slickness in favor of subtlety and substance, and many who have worked under his stewardship in the past have marveled at how he brings out the best in them, even with a feather-light touch.
“That was definitely the same experience with me,” Gummersall said. “You don’t even notice it. It seemed like it took no effort, which was great.”
It comes as no surprise that the disc reflects Maines’ Texas sensibilities, a sonic quality that bears only a passing resemblance to what comes out of the country music capital of Nashville.
“I think that’s easier for you to say than me. But, to me, there’s definitely a flavor of Texas in there compared to a more national sound,” Gummersall said, explaining that Maines’ touch led “Long Way Home” to have more of a Guy Clark-Lyle Lovett feel to it than Gummersall’s previous work.
That approach appears to be working. Gummersall said he’s pleased with the reception the album has gotten so far, as it has been picking up airplay at stations across the United States, as well as some in France, New Zealand and Germany. Gummersall also has been interviewed on the “Texas Country Music Countdown,” a syndicated radio program that reaches approximately 40 markets throughout the Lone Star State.
“It’s been busy,” Gummersall said of the aftermath of the release of “Long Way Home.” “It’s been a lot of getting out there and meeting people and doing radio spots. We’ve got a big push going on, with hundreds of CDs going to radio stations around the country. Most of the people we’ve heard from seem to like it, and I’m happy about that.”
Since his early twenties, Gummersall has been commuting between Durango and Nashville while also maintaining a rigorous touring schedule, but he said he doesn’t ever want to be the type of artist who bangs out 200 road dates a year. He particularly enjoys staying close to home in the summer when the local music scene heats up and Gummersall can reconnect with his fans throughout Colorado.
“When you travel as much as I do, you don’t take it for granted,” he said of the quality of life in the Rocky Mountains.
If “Long Ride Home” opens as many doors as Gummersall hopes it does, he understands the pressure on him to spend more time in Nashville or even relocate there full time will only grow.
“That’s been an ongoing discussion in my life,” he said. “But Lyle (Lovett) told me once, ‘You don’t have to move to Nashville. You can make it on your own here.’”
Gummersall said the old model of becoming a success in the music business — which dictated that the artist had to be located where the music business infrastructure was — no longer applies. The digital age has rendered that approach obsolete, and Gummersall thinks the Four Corners is a fine place from which to build his career and develop a regional audience.
“With the new music model, (record companies) want to see you become viable before they get on board with the risk,” he said. “I love spending time in those other places ... but I don’t think that makes sense for me. There’s no set formula to make it anymore. You have to figure out what works for you.”
Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.
If you go
What: Cole Swindell concert with Tyller Gummersall opening
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, April 7
Where: Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St.
Tickets: $39.50 and $49.50 plus tax at the civic center box office, online at fmtn.org/195/Civic-Center or by phone at 505-599-1148
For more information: tyllermusic.wordpress.com