Randy Rogers, Wade Bowen: Behind Their Waylon Jennings Duet
Collaboration is at the very heart of Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen’s partnership under the “Hold My Beer” name, refined over 15 years or so of live performances and expertly distilled on the friendly duo’s 2015 debut album. But there’s an entirely new type of collaboration on the Texas singer-songwriters’ Hold My Beer, Vol. 2 — one that stretches back across a generation of country-music history and includes the iconic voice of Waylon Jennings.
Midway through the album, released on Friday, “Ode to Ben Dorcy (Lovey’s Song)” gets underway with a scratchy acoustic guitar strum, followed by the unmistakable sound of Jennings singing the praises of the titular Dorcy. A legendary roadie who spent time in the orbits of numerous country greats up until his death in 2017, Dorcy “had a heart as big as Texas and a country soul to boot,” Jennings sings. Rogers, Bowen, and the rest of their studio musicians jump in with him, right on time.
Rogers and Bowen got to know Dorcy through the vibrant Texas country community, where he’d been touring with Willie Nelson, Kevin Fowler, and others for years. When they were able to afford to touring on buses, they and many of their Lone Star compatriots started taking Dorcy (who went by the nickname of “Lovey”) on the road with them.
“He didn’t have any family alive and he needed people like us in his life, so he came on the road,” Rogers says on a Zoom call with Bowen while they are quarantined at their respective homes in Texas. “He never showed up without an offering. He would go over to Willie’s bus and take a stash and show up with it — ‘Willie wanted you to have this!’ Of course Willie would have no clue this was going on, or maybe he did and didn’t care. He had sticky fingers. He wasn’t really stealing; he was surviving. And Ben gave to us just as much as we gave to him.”
“When he first started coming out with us, he was always telling these crazy stories of Johnny Cash or Waylon,” Bowen says. “A lot of people at first are like, ‘There’s no way. There’s no way this really happened. This old man is full of shit. He’s just making shit up.’ But he’d tell the story the same every time, over and over.”
One of Dorcy’s calling cards was a burned CD with a demo of a song that Jennings had written about him. He would play it for whichever artist he happened to be riding with, giving some weight to all those crazy stories.
“The people that met Lovey for the first time, or the first time they had him on the bus, they’d pop it in and when you hear it you’re like, ‘Holy shit, this is awesome,’” Rogers says. “I think for Ben, in his mind, it legitimized him to whoever he just met.”
While the song was known to many Texas performers, Rogers and Bowen had the idea to make their own recording. Jennings’ widow Jessi Colter and son Shooter Jennings gave their blessing to using a piece of the original worktape, and Shooter added harmony vocals.
“We put that [worktape] in our ears. All of a sudden Waylon starts singing, coming through your headphones,” Bowen says. “It gave me chills. It’s still to this day one of my favorite things I’ve had in the studio because it was like he was there with us and it’s like we were recording a duet with Waylon. It was a very magical moment. Waylon played in perfect rhythm, perfect timing.”
Beyond their once-in-a-lifetime collaboration with Jennings, Rogers and Bowen put forth a celebration of country music’s many traditions on Hold My Beer, Vol. 2. The lively Tex-Mex swing tune “Mi Amigo” features Asleep at the Wheel and its leader Ray Benson, while “Rhinestoned” depicts a night of country-music reverie and “Rodeo Clown” hilariously depicts a woman leaving her partner for guy in big shoes, suspenders, and makeup. On “Let Merle Be Merle,” guitarist John Carroll runs through a repertoire of sizzling Roy Nichols-style licks with élan.
“You just hear that traditional thing that very few people nowadays can play and play it that well,” Rogers says. “Him being on this project — the musicians don’t get talked about enough, to be honest — and his catalog of those traditional licks and tones and sounds that he can recreate, it props up something that is long gone.”
Bowen cites producer Lloyd Maines and his deep connections to Texas music as being another irreplaceable country influence on the album.
“For him to revisit some of that, I think that’s a huge part of why the traditional part of it stays relevant in the songs,” he says. “He’s like us — it’s got nothing to do with the modern state of country music, but I think people really crave, over the last couple years especially, that traditional sound.”
It’s not ideal, of course, that the album’s arriving smack in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, but between the two men’s individual careers — Bowen released Solid Ground in 2018 and Randy Rogers Band put out Hellbent in 2019 — it was the only time that made sense. So as the two longtime friends tend to do, they just headed into the chaos together, side by side.
“This release will probably be the most challenging release either of us will have in our entire careers,” Rogers says. “It’s nice that we have each other to go through it with. We’re never gonna forget this time and the fact that we’re putting this really goofy record out during this thing, it’s what makes it special.”