A fifth generation Texan, Rusty Reid was born in West Texas and raised on the same sun-burnt caliche that produced such stellar singer-songwriters as Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Larry Gatlin, Joe Ely, Guy Clark, Butch Hancock, Waylon Jennings, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Amanda Shires, Delbert McClinton, Jon Dee Graham, among others. For an expanse of cactus and mesquite with more rattlesnakes than people, that's a pretty strong roster. Rusty moves in that tradition.
Rusty's mom made sure there was always plenty of music in the home. Her side of the family was quite musical; it seemed everyone played an instrument and/or could belt a tune. She had a diverse record collection. In 1964, she came home from work with a new album with a strange title, "Meet the Beatles," later claiming it was the worst mistake of her life. As with so many American boys of that "British Invasion" era, Rusty's life was changed forever. Suddenly, music became the way forward.
After a few years of childhood piano lessons, having met the Beatles, Rusty switched to the guitar at the age of 12, first on a cheap Stella, then on a 1938 Gibson his singing cowboy uncle had handed down. It didn't take long for Rusty to want an electric guitar, the first being a Silvertone 1450 out of the Sears catalogue and a tiny Airline amp from Montgomery Wards. Rusty started writing original songs less than a year after starting on guitar. That effort was helped along when Rusty finally got a higher quality guitar, a 1968 Gibson Southern Jumbo acoustic. Like most of his songwriting peers, Rusty dreamed of exchanging tumbleweed country for verdant landscapes, towns for big cities, wide open spaces for wider opportunities. After high school graduation, following an intermediate stop in Austin (which was not, at the time, the music hotspot it would soon become), he made a bee-line for the biggest city in Texas, Houston.
A year and a half at the University of Houston proved daunting. Rusty's mind was on music, not studies, so after his third semester, Rusty decided he was ready for Nashville. In the cold winter of his 19th year, he packed up his '66 Chevelle with a change of clothes, stereo system, two guitars (the Gibson acoustic and an electric Gretsch Country Gentleman) and drove solo to Music City. At first it seemed a charmed decision. He met with famed guitarist Chet Atkins within hours of arrival, and found quick, initial success, signed as a staff songwriter for prestigious Peer-Southerm Music. Peer provided the opportunity of recording some of his songs in legendary RCA Studio B. "See, this is easy," he wrote home to his worried parents. But the fast start was ephemeral; it was a naive and premature move, though not without its experiential value. Anyway, that early material was sub-par, as well as too rock and pop influenced for the direction Nashville was enamored with at the time (this being before Nashville was as friendly with other genres as it is now). "Your style is more L.A.," became the consensus.
Nashville songwriter, 19 years old, 1972.
Houston, early 1980s.
After college, Rusty put his degree in communications to work, making money working for the public relations departments of the Houston Hurricane professional soccer team, then with the Houston Oilers pro football organization, and by writing articles for local and regional publications. It was fun and exciting and sometimes, with the investigative journalism, was important work. But Rusty's mind was still on music. In Houston he played in several bands, and continued working on song crafting and finally, after a decade of practicing, came up with some numbers he still likes today. With not enough happening fast enough, musically, in Houston, Rusty heard the siren call of Los Angeles once again, and relocated in 1984, determined to not make the same mistakes (like living in the Valley) this time around. He settled near the beach and got busy... not doing music.
In L.A., Rusty landed what would surely be the typical American guy's dream job with the largest magazine publisher on the West Coast. His job was to write and edit the company's sports mags, with the attendant requirement of having to attend the World Series and Super Bowl each year. Yep, somebody had to do it. It was a glorious state of affairs... for a while. Rusty's mind was not on music.
L.A. sports magazine writer/editor, 1987.
His diminishing regard for his "dream" career was reflected most visibly by his hair getting longer, a not so subtle freak flag flying in the face of his staid working milieu (this was prior to the players, themselves, embracing flowing locks and dreds). The only redeeming factor of the ongoing job was the travel, which eventually placed Rusty at the third game of the 1989 World Series at Candlestick Park during the Loma Prieta earthquake. No serious journalist could retreat from that scene. As Rusty wandered and pondered the wrecked town over the next few days, two songs were inspired: "Earthquake City," and "Key to the City."
Devil's Den, Gettysburg, 1990.
It was time to get back to music, and finally do something. The clock was ticking and he had already long missed the sweet timeframe for any kind of pop music splash. At home in Manhattan Beach, Rusty assembled a studio to work with. A few good songs were written and recorded. In accordance with his emergent worldview, the themes of Rusty's songs had taken a decided turn toward more substantive: a lot fewer silly love songs or personal songs of angst, more social commentary and musical activism.
Bored with the sports business and with L.A. (can you imagine?), Rusty wanted to be some place more organic, more real, some place with seasons. In 1995, after 11 years in Los Angeles, Rusty piled his belongings plus four goldfish, three chinchillas, and three parrots into a van, his Honda sedan towed behind, and made the 1,100 mile trip north up Interstate 5 to the Puget Sound.
In the move, Rusty traded one "Earthquake City" for another, but also one music city for another. Rusty settled outside of town in an idyllic spot on the waterfront a year or so after Grunge had died. Nevertheless, the Seattle-Tacoma area remained a vibrant place for live and original music. The plan was to tap into that energy.
As ever, distractions had other intentions. Just making a living was all consuming. The music would have to wait. And so it did until the dawn of the new millennium when Rusty released his first album, NWXSW (Northwest by Southwest, Rusty's personal journey). This album was conceived as something of a "best-of" sampler, as Rusty thought it could be the one and only album he would ever release. The tracks are arranged in a quasi chrono-philosophical order, with the lead songs on the album, mostly earlier songs, bouncy and chimey, while the mood/theme trends edgier and more philosophical as the CD continues with more recent tunes. The last two songs on the album, "Where Do We Go From Now" and "Barbarians," both featuring sharp social commentary, were the latest written, and would become a harbinger of Rusty's Head to Heart album in tenor and tone.
NWXSW Photo Shoot, Seattle, 2001.
Following the quick demise of NWXSW, Rusty drifted back into a musical netherland, writing only a smattering of songs over the next decade and a half. Getting his groove back proved difficult. His voice was weak from inaction, his guitar skills had slipped a bit and his analog home recording setup was clunky and hopelessly outdated. It certainly seemed as if the muse had been lost.
Technology to the rescue. In 2013, Rusty asked a friend to orchestrate an instrumental arrangement of one of his songs, and watched over the friend's shoulder as he manipulated a modern digital audio workstation (DAW). Inspired by the possibilities, Rusty dove head-first into the digital music realm, first playing with his old tracks dating back to Houston. A short time later, he was driving down the highway, looking at mountains in the distance, and a line popped into his head: "Had to leave the old state to find me."
"It may be the single best line I've ever written," Rusty says. "It works on several levels. I had to leave my beloved Texas, so there's a 'state' right there. But it actually refers to a state of being, and that's where it goes deep, and mystical, because the mystic journey is all about losing and finding yourself."
Head to Heart Photo Shoot, 2018.
In 2019, Head to Heart is released, preceded by videos for "Eldorado," "Dismaland," and "Too Many Poor." Rusty is now in his sixties. Imagine that! But he is still in reasonably good shape for an authentic child of the 60s, one who never lost the idealism and revolutionary spirit that decade is remembered for. Maybe things will be different this time around. Maybe not.
"I'm not sure it matters." Rusty says. "Besides, I did all of this for me. Any artist has to do their art, first and foremost, for themself, and that should be enough. If others like it or are moved or informed or provoked or disturbed by it, that's a plus. But you, if you are an honest artist, know better than anyone if you succeeded or failed or hit somewhere in between. And even if you judge the project a failure, you still learn something through the process and, hopefully, get better. In the end, my art project has been myself. That's actually true for everyone. I'm still trying to get that project right. These songs are just my bangles."
Rusty has written over 200 "bangles" to date. This is part of the story. There is much more. But that's a different tale for a different time.
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