Garth Brooks, Clay Walker and Tracy Lawrence have two things in common; they all played a part in bringing country music back to life, propelling it to worldwide popularity in the 90s, and they’re Randall King’s heroes.
Just like those before him, King is determined to keep the gateway open for budding modern-traditional country artists.
A smooth crooner best known for his baritone Texan drawl and heartfelt honky tonk tracks; King didn’t always have the access to the wisdom of country stars that he does now. Starting out in college, he made his way playing in bars he struggled to fill, without a helping hand.
“There were times when I didn't get any help. For me, it's a matter of just sticking a hand out”, he tells me out on the veranda of London’s iconic Bush Hall. “I want to make sure that the artists that are coming up, and struggling, just get out there. They're working hard and being good guys. Those are the artists I want to give a hand to, always”.
Just like the breezy autumn afternoon, our conversation is light and free flowing as we soak up the last of the late afternoon rays.
Although to some it might seem like Randall King has popped out of nowhere, he tells me how it took over a decade of fine-tuning his sound and making a name for himself as a solo artist honouring country music’s traditional roots. “I was raised in Hereford and finished out in Amarillo. I spent 12 years down in Lubbock creating who I am as an artist, figuring out who I am really.”
Remembering his first gig took a few moments of reflection, but his eyes lit up as the flashback arrived, recalling a night that took place in a “terrible bar” in Lubbock that sold alcohol to minors. “It was to a bunch of high school kids that were in there drinking like they were in college.”
Now well-fed on a stage cowboy's diet of hundreds of shows a year, King reminisced on the time his current life was just a dream – which was ever since he could remember. He began singing as soon as he could talk and started playing the guitar at seven, marking the beginning of a life invested in three chords and the truth.
“I've always wanted to be an artist. This is it for me, so I've invested my entire life into it. Even during college, getting a degree in sound tech from South Plains College and learning how to produce records and run sound. Understanding those kinds of concepts and shaping myself as I went along, then starting out in the dive bars.”
King put in the groundwork, but if it weren’t for his heroes growing up, he may have had a very different sound. Inspired by Keith Whitley, Alan Jackson and, of course, George Strait, he mimicked their vocals before finding his own style - one, he claims, has changed and matured along with him.
“Singing as much as I do, I've just learned my voice. There's a little bit of Dierks Bentley in there, a little Jackson and Strait. I get compared to Strait a lot. I've even got some I've got some John Anderson and George Jones. So it depends, you know. I just do what my vocals do the best.”
King’s biggest song to date is ‘You in a Honkytonk’, a single he released in 2021. The music video was filmed at Cahoots Dancehall & Honkytonk, the home of his first headlining show in state of Tennessee.
Now signed by Warner Music Nashville, two full records and four EPs deep into his career as a country artist, King’s music strikes a delicate balance between traditional and new sounds, which will take an edgier form in his forthcoming album Neon, out mid-January of 2024.
“It's a little more smoke rings in the dark than the clean-cut that we were doing. It'll be nice to show off a different side of me that's been missing. This is this is sound that I was aiming for with my first record that I never felt like I quite nailed. I still love my self-titled record. This is just a different side that I've been trying to capture. And it's here.”
As King’s style continues to evolve, he confirms that one thing that stays the same throughout all his work is the inspiration of his late sister.
“I would write a new song and send it to her and get feedback on it. So, it's not necessarily that she's within the writing that you can hear. It's just the way that I think of things when I write.”
That inspiration has been fuelling King’s biggest year yet, following the release of his most recent record, Shot Glass, and the upcoming third instalment of his annual King Fest – a festival founded by King and his friend Josh Ward after noticing there were so few with honk tonk at their centre.
“We had that idea back in 2020. We wanted to do it in Luckenbach, because it's legendary and I wanted to bring in people that I love and admire. This year we're bringing in Gary P. Nunn, who is one of the biggest legends of Texas. There’s also a young guy coming up, John Stuart out of Houston. And then Braxton Keith, this kid who is just burning it up right now. So it’s gonna be a great year for King Fest.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a King Fest without King himself. He confirms he plans to play them all. “Eventually, while we do back-to-back nights, I would think one night off, one-night headlining, and let somebody else come in and take over the big spot.”
With all his success selling out shows across the States, it’s not a surprise he’s managed to make some noise over the pond, either. Relishing in his accomplishments so far in the UK, King grins as he takes in the moment.
“Man, it's unreal. Especially from where I came from. For a long time when we went out and toured Texas and across central US, we couldn't put 50 people in a bar. Even in my home state we'd struggle. But we built it and built it, and it's unreal to be able to come over here for my very first time and sell out a 600-cap venue. It’s just unbelievable.”
King’s commitment to country music and its traditions is not only deeply rooted in his work but his values, too. Extending a metaphorical hand to younger budding country music artists, his advice is as follows:
“Know who you are, don't let somebody else tell you who you are. And then keep your head down and go to work. Stay focused, be true to who you are and keep your nose clean.”
Randall King's forthcoming album will be released in January 2024 via Warner Nashville. For more on Randall King, see below: