Small-Town Boy Looking for Big-Time Success

“It sounds like the Texas Panhandle looks. Sometimes it’s really ugly. Sometimes it’s wide-open space and beautiful. Sometimes it’s too dirty to make out what is going on.”

That’s how Ryan Culwell, a 1998 graduate of Perryton High School and son of Robert and Rhonda Culwell, describes his music. The Perryton native—now a professional musician in Nashville—recently released his second record, “Winter Wheat,” which is available at Perryton Office Supply & RadioShack.

Elements of home are not only found in Ryan’s sound and inspiration, but also in one of his music videos. For his recent song “Golden on the Plains,” Ryan wanted to feature Perryton and the Texas Panhandle. He called his friends in the Panhandle and asked them to shoot footage using the 8mm app on their iPhones. “We edited together and came up with something I love,” Ryan says. (You can view it here.)

After seeing the video, we had to catch up with Ryan and learn more about his career in music. Here’s what he had to say.

How did you get into music, singing, and songwriting?
Writing has been part of my life since I was a kid. My dad is really into guitar, so I fell into songwriting by default. My dad taught me how to play “Midnight Special,” and I didn’t want to bother with memorizing the words so I just made up my own verses.

What was your music involvement when you lived in Perryton?
I played drums for Jim Nance in the junior high band, but I bet he wishes I hadn’t. The percussion kids always sit in the back of the room, and it is a really great place to get in trouble. I couldn’t read a bar of music for a million dollars. All I really did was hit people with the drum mallet. I tried to start a rock-’n’-roll band a few times, but it never took.

How would you describe your style of music?
Technically, it’s an Americana sound with a lot of folk influences. People like to think I sing country, but I don’t think that is correct. Imagine the difference in West Texas and the South. They have something in common, but they are all together different. That’s where I sit in relation to “country”—about 1,000 miles to the west but nowhere near California.

Who/what are your inspirations?
[Bob] Dylan, John Lee Hooker, Townes [Van Zandt]

I have been reading Grapes of Wrath over the last year. I can only read a little bit at a time because it’s such a close subject to me. I read the same sections over and over again. Everyone you will ever meet in Perryton was written into that book. It took reading that book to understand a lot of things about myself and about the place I grew up in.

What types of music do you like to listen to?
I have about 72 hours of Bob Dylan on my computer that I cycle through as much as possible. Also Josh Ritter, Joe Pug, Springsteen’s Nebraska album. I like stuff that sounds rural, and I like narrative. There are a lot of good writers out there that you won’t find on the radio. People like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt.

When did you decide to go to Nashville? Why did you decide to go there?
If you were a fisherman you would be foolish to live in or around Amarillo. The same holds true for music. In that metaphor, I moved to the ocean. The Internet has made it possible to make music from anywhere, but I needed to be surrounded by other people doing what I do. It has been about two years, and we love it, but it’ll never be what Texas is to me.

How is Nashville going?
Things seem to be going great, but generally, I try to keep my head down and just keep working. That said, I am really pleased with what is happening with my career. I have made a lot of friends who are down in the trenches with me working on what we hope is great music. It has generated a good amount of interest from certain corners of the music industry. For the most part, I am writing and recording. I have recorded 18 songs in the last year or so. I will release a full-length album early 2014, and my Winter Wheat EP just came out.

How did you come up with the idea for the music video for “Golden on the Plains?”
I think about home a lot. That stretch of land between Perryton and Pampa is one of my favorite places on the earth. I was out on some of T. Boone [Pickens]’s land not long ago, and it seems like one of those places the whole world is missing out on. I just got some of my friends to take videos around the Panhandle with their phones and send them to me. I think it worked out really well.

Did receiving the videos make you miss home?
It really worked the other way around. I missed home, so I made the video.

Do you have a tour schedule, or will you be playing in Perryton any time soon?
I am playing in Canyon on May 17th at Palace Coffee at 8 p.m. If anyone decides to drive over, they should get there a little early, because last time it sold out pretty quickly. Hopefully, I will bring a band to Perryton later this year. To stay in the loop, just head to my website and sign up for my e-mail list.

If people are interested in listening to your music, where’s the best place for them to buy it?
Perryton Office Supply & RadioShack has my new EP, “Winter Wheat.” I hope everyone will swing by and pick it up. Otherwise, check my website (www.ryanculwell.com) for the digital release coming soon. My previous record, “Heroes on the Radio” is available on iTunes and Spotify.

What are your future plans?
Hopefully, I will be touring full time by this fall and preparing to release a new record early 2014.

Anything to add?
It’s great that so many people from home have been so supportive. Thanks, everyone.

2 Comments

  1. Janet Slaughter 05.18.13

    Ryan,

    I am so proud of you! Continue to follow your dreams!

    Love you!

    Mrs. Slaughter

  2. Patricia McNully 05.18.13

    I’ve known Rhonda Bradsher Culwell since she was 4 yrs. old. WOW! I’m so impressed that she has a son that is so talented. I hope you keep climbing the ladder of success! Congratulations! Looks like great things are in store for you!


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