Ask any singer-songwriter from Texas (and beyond) who their favorite songwriters are and Bruce Robison is bound to be on the list. The Bandera, Texas-born artist, who's penned songs cut by Lee Ann Womack ("Lonely Too"), The Dixie Chicks ("Travelin' Soldier"), Tim McGraw ("Angry All the Time") and more, is one of the most revered songwriters the state has produced. After all, it's not every songwriter who ends up with two future cuts by the King of Country on the same album.
That album is Robison's influential 1998 record Wrapped, which will be re-released on vinyl on March 22. The album's title track was later recorded by Robison's wife, singer-songwriter Kelly Willis, and none other than George Strait, who took the song to No. 2 on the charts in 2007. But Robison says the album was far from a smash success upon its release and he had no idea he'd be talking about it 20 years later.
"I knew I wanted to do something that had a little more life to it -- a little more up-tempo songs, a little more fun to listen to. It wasn't like it took off or anything when it came out. It's been such a defining thing in my life, that record, but it was a lot of things that happened over time as well," Robison tells Wide Open Country. "It really wasn't any big huge reaction. At the time, both my wife and my brother (Charlie Robison) were having records that were doing really well. (Those albums were) way bigger deals comparatively and so it didn't feel like that at the time...It was a slow burn."
The album may have been a slow burn, but its songs eventually made their way to one of the most iconic voices in country music. While Strait initially passed over "Wrapped" in favor of "Desperately," which he recorded for 2003's Honkytonkville, Robison says he always had a feeling that the song was meant for the country legend.
"("Wrapped") is about the only song I've ever had that I really had that artist in mind. I always thought George Strait would be great on that song. Normally I don't really have a great instinct for that," Robison says.
Since then, the song has become a staple of Strait shows.
"He's got so many songs, so I take that to mean he likes it," Robison says, laughing.
For someone who grew up in small town Texas, Robison says getting a song cut by Strait was just about the greatest accomplishment you could achieve.
"Everybody in Bandera, they dressed like him. He was the hero. I never could've imagined that he would record one of my songs," Robison says. "When it did happen, it was such a big deal and it was a big deal to my family too. It made them look at me different as a songwriter that George Strait had recorded one of my songs. I think that really was validating in everybody's eyes."
Like Jerry Jeff Walker's Viva Terlingua before it, Wrapped reached a new generation of country troubadours, many who've gone on to collaborate with Robison. Songs like "My Brother and Me," an autobiographical tune written about Robison's experience growing up in Bandera, Texas with his brother Charlie, became an essential part of the Texas music scene.
"A bunch of artists like Randy Rogers and William Clark Green and Wade Bowen and Evan Felker from the Turnpike Troubadours -- those guys were really young in 1999 or whenever it was. They heard those songs and it feels really great," Robison says. "Where I was coming from and trying to live up to was Willie Nelson and Guy Clark, so I'm proud of those songs. They were influenced really heavily by those other songwriters. If those were the songs that these other writers heard at the time, I'm really proud that that's what they were."
When he isn't writing, Robison is keeping busy with The Next Waltz, a web series and multiplatform music delivery concept operated out of his analog studio in Lockhart, Texas. The series has featured Jerry Jeff Walker, Lee Ann Womack, Turnpike Troubadours and more.
"It kind of can be just as gratifying to be part of somebody else making a great song as it is for me to write it myself," Robison says. "The Next Waltz is for me to try and pair a great song with a great artist and to always be trying to raise the bar on doing great songs. Because it's magic when you put those two things together."
Robison is also putting the finishing touches on an upcoming duets album with his wife Kelly Willis. The album, which is slated to come out this summer, follows 2013's Cheater's Game and 2014's Our Year.
"The work I do with Kelly is the best work that I do. Even on my solo records -- like Wrapped -- she's singing on every one of those songs," Robison says. "It's a real band effort when I do the work with her. It's a way to really let the music find its own way."
Bruce Robison Wrapped Tour Dates:
March 22 -- Brauntex Theater -- New Braunfels, Texas
March 28 -- The Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe -- Galveston, Texas
March 29 -- McGonigel's Mucky Duck -- Houston, Texas
March 30 -- The Cactus Cafe -- Austin, Texas
"Rayne, Louisiana" (Duet with Charlie Robison)
"When I Loved You" (Duet with Kelly Willis)
"12 Bar Blues"
"Angry All The Time"
"My Brother and Me"
"Go To Your Heart"
"I Dream Too"
"End Like That"
"See Your Around"