A Mueller Hay freightliner truck cruises down an empty interstate highway across the grassy plains. It’s early in the morning. The sun has barely broken over the horizon. The headlights illuminate the road.

A young boy rides shotgun next to his father. With steady precision, the dad turns the dial on the FM radio to bring the crackling music into clarity. A melancholy song rises from the static, a soft voice sings of loneliness and love.
“What about this one?”

The boy answers without a pause. “‘Hello Darlin’,’ Conway Twitty.”

The dad nods his head, smiles. They enjoy the silence and the song. It is a perfect moment with no distractions, no obligations, and no complications. Over the radio, Twitty strums his guitar and gently appeals to his darling: Forgive me and please come back.

The game continues for hours. What’s this song? Can you name this one? How about this? The boy names John Anderson, Bob Miller, David Frizzell, and so on.

The boy looks out the window to the fields that stretch for miles in every direction. He savors these trips with his dad, a tradition that connects the men of his family from generation to generation. His dad is a trucker, just like his grandfather and his great-grandfather. The country music they listen to on the road ties the generations together.

Now Randall King reflects on that time with his father.

“It got me into really listening to the songs,” King says. “I became a big fan of country music at that point. I knew probably by about middle school that that was my dream. That was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a big country music star. I wanted to get out there and play in front of thousands of people.”

Throwback Kid

King would not follow in his father’s footsteps, but that love of country music, formed on those long road trips, would shape him into the musician and performer he has become today.

King’s influences are wide-ranging. As a result, his music takes on a timeless quality. He’s been compared to Keith Whitley and Alan Jackson, but most often to George Strait. You can hear these enduring influences in the young performer’s plaintive songs. But it may be more appropriate to say that King’s music continues where these giants have left off, still familiar but wholly original. It’s country music in its purest, most ideal form, emblematic of a common rural experience and the blue-collar tradition he grew up with.

King’s sound is very guitar-forward. He loves the steel slide guitar, with a good amount of no-fuss rock and twang. He’s comfortable with an up-tempo rolling melody, or indulging in the occasional slow ballad. His music displays the mischievous lyricism and honesty of 1960s outlaw country.

But it’s his voice that really stands out, smooth and strong with a good range. His well-honed vocals do not lack in personality — a little sly, always sincere, much like the music itself.

King started writing music during his freshman year of college. Soon after, he started playing at local bars. Like his father, he knew how to put a lot of miles into his work, touring and performing wherever he could. He built a fan base that way — traveling from venue to venue, performing until the bar closed, and staying up until 2 a.m. or even 4 a.m., then repeating the process all over again. King honed his craft the hard way, and it’s paid off.

Western Roots

This year, he released his first full-length, self-titled album. It’s a confident debut filled with contrasts — the maturity of a much older artist and the energy of someone who has just stepped onto the scene. His songs mix deep insights about life and family with playful tunes of the country standards: pickup trucks and fistfights. This is the culmination of those many late nights and his freightliner work ethic.

“The record was recorded in a very short amount of time, but, as you know, everything that leads up to a record takes a long time. I never stopped writing,” King says. “You can’t stop writing and wait until it’s time for another record. You can’t do that. You have to write constantly. I also wanted to make sure this record represented where I’m from. This record, 100 percent, from the top to the bottom, reflects who I am.”

His experience recording in Nashville taught him to ask questions and listen to those who have been in his shoes before him.

“If you go around thinking you know it all, you’re never gonna grow,” King says. “You’re just gonna be stuck at the point you’re at, thinking you know it all. For me, it would be immature to go in with that standpoint. I always make sure to ask someone what they thought. Then I would mull it over, and kick it around. If I didn’t agree with them, I didn’t agree with them. I would do it my way; but with a lot of songs, you just toss the best lines you can toss at them, and listen to what they have to say, and listen to what they create.”

The Road Ahead

The album alone doesn’t assure his dream of becoming a big country music star. If anything, the album marks a new beginning with more of the same — more touring, more late nights, more miles on an empty road to ensure that his music finds its audience.

“I like to connect to people. If you’re not writing to connect to more people than yourself, if you’re writing the whole record just for yourself, then that’s a problem. I always want to make sure I was not writing just for me, but for other people out there.”

The country music industry is fickle. It’s hard to say how Randall King will ultimately be received. He’s created an album that’s worthy of greater attention. He’s building an audience one show at a time. And a day will come, in the not too distant future, when someone will stumble across his music on Spotify or some other music streaming app. The song will cause that person to pause and smile. No distractions, no obligations, and no complications, just great country music.

Who’s this?

It’s Randall King.

(Originally published in Texas Heritage for Living, © 2018 Texas Farm Bureau Insurance)