Reckless Kelly Biography
Last updated: 09/09/2006
It's more than a little instructive to take a look at the faces of the crowd that showed up to watch Reckless Kelly record their first full-on concert album and DVD last March at La Zona Rosa in their hometown of Austin, Texas...The Lone Star audience is a crossover sampling of head-banging rockers, boot-scooting cowboys (and cowboy wannabes), cooler-than-thou college kids and lifelong club-hoppers in Austin's world-famous live music scene. And, oh, yeah, pretty girls. Lots of pretty girls.
It was, in other words, a perfect audience for a band that has made a lucrative and long-lasting career out of mixing rock, country, folk and Americana into a potent, high-octane package which can only be properly experienced live and onstage.
And that, precisely, is the guiding principle behind Reckless Kelly's new CD/DVD release on Sugar Hill, Reckless Kelly Was Here. The idea was not only to chronicle the band's incendiary live show, but also to summarize and celebrate the band's first decade of music making.
Recorded on March 31, 2006 in Austin, the DVD was directed by award-winning video director Peter Zavadil (an Austin resident who worked with the band on a previous music video, “Stick Around,” as well as numerous hit videos for others) and mixed by the Grammy award-winning Elliot Scheiner, who started under the tutelage of Phil Ramone and went on to work with Sting, Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles and many others.
The two-CD concert set expands on the DVD set list by including Reckless' careening, jam-band take on the Beatles' "Revolution," as well as bonus studio versions of a couple of brand-new RK songs, the plaintive "Break My Heart Tonight" and the tongue-in-cheek rocker "Wiggles and Ritalin."
Ten years together is a milestone for any band, let alone one that tours and plays with the burn-down-the-house intensity of Reckless Kelly, a fact not lost on the band. "Oh, yeah!" says Cody Braun with a mock groan. "Some days it feels like 20 years, some days it feels like two. Looking back at everything we've crammed into the last ten years has been amazing."
With lead singer and songwriter Willy Braun and brother Cody Braun, who swaps between fiddle, mandolin, harmonica and vocals, Reckless Kelly is rounded out with lead guitarist David Abeyta, bassist Jimmy McFeeley and drummer Jay Nazz.
"I feel like this (project) really puts the period at the end of ten years," said David Abeyta. "This will let us retain a lot of the stuff that people love about Reckless Kelly, but will also enable us to move on.
"We've produced quite a few records, but never anything of this scope. It was a big bear to wrestle, and at times it was a little overwhelming-we won't do another one for another ten years! But I learned so much and I got to work with some great people I'd always wanted to work with. We put our wish list together and we kind of got it."
Reckless Kelly Was Here is a kaleidoscopic blend of rock and country that melds crowd-pleasing RK originals like "Motel Cowboy Show," "I Still Do" and "Nobody’s Girl" with a piquant mix of covers that includes songs by Richard Thompson ("1952 Vincent Black Lightning"), the Texas Tornados ("Guacamole"), the Beatles ("Revolution") and Alejandro Escovedo ("Castanets").
From the sledgehammer opening of "Sixgun" to the tipsy Celtic reel of "Seven Nights in Erie" to the lonesome vocal of "Baby's Gone Blues," it's clear that the evening captured a performance that captured the band at the top of their game.
Watching their performance on film for the first time was a revelation to Cody Braun in that he could see where the Braun siblings early influences colluded with what they discovered musically in Austin with their new bandmates.
"We started out as a country band trying to be a little edgier with the rock 'n' roll stuff, like Son Volt and Billy Joe Shaver's Unshaven album. That was the direction we wanted to go, and we did, and we've almost gotten beyond that point now, where we have to rein it in to keep some of the country in there.
"It's been fun, because I grew up playing a lot of country and western music, Bob Wills and Gene Autry, a bunch of the old, old Western stuff. So when we started this band, I started listening to rock 'n' roll for the first time. My last ten years has been being introduced to the rock 'n' roll side.
"Musically right now, we're sitting at a place where we really want to try to build on the songs and set the bar a little bit higher with every record."
David Abeyta adds, "On this live record there's songs like 'Hey Say May' and things that people associate with the fun, party side of the band, but you've also got songs like 'Break My Heart Tonight' that are a little darker, with a more somber theme. That sort of sums up Reckless Kelly in a way, from the material standpoint-from 'Break My Heart Tonight' to 'Wiggles and Ritalin,' which is party/fuck-you-if-you-don't-get-it side of Reckless Kelly.
"I think what draws people in is that there's more to discover as you go. That's what I felt before I joined the band. I was with the band six and a half years, and I was a fan before I got involved."
Reckless Kelly is the 21st century culmination of a family tradition of music. Willy and Cody Braun grew up touring and playing with their father's band, Muzzie Braun and the Boys, all across the Big Sky country of Montana and Idaho. They opened for the likes of Merle Haggard, played the Grand Ole Opry and even appeared twice on The Tonight Show in the Johnny Carson Era. Family friends like singer-songwriter Chris Wall (who would later introduce the boys around Austin release their first record "Millican") and Pinto Bennett (whose band, The Famous Motel Cowboys, would prove a huge influence) watched Willy and Cody learn about life from a rolling motor home as their love for music and performing blossomed.
Forming their own band, the Prairie Mutts, the boys wound up in Bend, Oregon in 1996, in the fading twilight of the grunge era. Their effervescent take on rock and country made them a poor fit for the local scene.
Austin, where they arrived in 1996 (now billing themselves as Reckless Kelly) proved far more compatible. From playing Monday night pass-the-hat acoustic gigs on the downtown Sixth St. entertainment strip to being named Best Roots-Rock Band six years running in the prestigious Austin Chronicle Reader's Poll, the band grew to be one of the most popular attractions in a city bristling with top-shelf bands and musicians.
Joe Ely, who should know, lauded Reckless Kelly as "...my kind of band: Hell-raising, hard-playing, kick-ass songwriting, feet firmly in the present, but with an amazing knowledge of where it has all come from. What else is there?"
Reckless Kelly Was Here is the band's sixth album, following on the heels of Millican (1997), Acoustic: Live At Stubb's and The Day (2000), Under the Table and Above the Sun (2003) and Wicked Twisted Road (2005). In that time, the band has opened shows for Willie Nelson, ZZ Top, Robert Earl Keen and a host of others. They have also headlined at showcase venues across the country and recorded with Steve Earle and Joe Ely for critically acclaimed tribute records.
"It's kind of bizarre to be where we're at right now and look around and say, gosh, this is everything we ever wanted to do!" marvels Cody Braun. "Is this for real?"
It's a long way from the very first Reckless Kelly show which, as Willy recalls, took place at a county fair in Yreka, CA a decade ago.
"The Prairie Mutts had broken up, but we still had these gigs on the books and our manager at the time said, well, if you wanna play 'em you can play 'em," Willy said.
"So our first gig as Reckless Kelly was either at the Yreka County Fair or a tiny, tiny bar in Millican, Oregon for about two people. At the fair, we played on a stage outside the rodeo grounds, and we had a bunch of hippie kids down front and then a busload of kids from Georgia showed up. So they were over there doing their thing, stage-diving and moshing, and the hippie kids were doing the hippie shuffle. And then the rodeo let out and we had cowboys swing dancing and line dancing on either side of the hippies and the moshing Georgia kids! It was bizarre, wild...but we were on our way to Texas, and we thought, this is gonna be all right!"
Ten years later, it still is.