There's a rich history of buddy albums in country music: Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings' 1978 duets album Waylon & Willie, George Jones and Merle Haggard's A Taste of Yesterday's Wine and Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt's Trio project are just a few of the albums that have paired the genre's most gifted performers and close friends. Texas singer-songwriters Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen continue that tradition with Hold My Beer Vol. 2 (out on May 8), the Lloyd Maines-produced follow-up to 2015's Hold My Beer Vol. 1. Born out of a longtime touring partnership, the project showcases Rogers and Bowen's sense of humor and genuine friendship.
"There's a natural friendship that's always been there with us. We didn't know each other before music and music is what brought us together," Bowen tells Wide Open Country. "When we started playing shows, we started noticing not only the camaraderie that we have with each other, but how much the people really love us together. I play a lot of shows with a lot of different artists and there's just always been something special about playing shows together -- the two of us."
Rogers said he and Bowen set out to capture the honesty and humor showcased during their shows.
"In the shows, there was this comedy of back and forth kind of ribbing, like me making fun of his golf swing or him making fun of me over drinking. So we already had that kind of back and forth banter and it was going on in between songs that we recorded on our own projects. That's through like 18 years of touring together. We took what really existed and then we just created these almost alter egos for ourselves for Hold My Beer and Watch This [tour]," Rogers says. "It works because it's genuine."
That humor is never more prevalent than on the hilarious breakup song "Rodeo Clown."
"I think it captures really what we're trying to do the best on the record, which is being a little silly and a little goofy and fun, instead of what we typically do, which is love songs and drinking songs and cheating songs," Rogers says. "There's still that on this record, but [with that song] it's easy to capture our personalities and the lightheartedness. Hopefully, people understand this record has that feel to it. 'Rodeo Clown,' to me, was the best example of trying to capture that."
Alongside the comical songs are heartfelt tracks, such as "Rhinestoned," a love letter to country music penned by Lori McKenna, Ryan Beaver and Ashley Ray, and the reverent "Ode to Ben Dorcy (Lovey's Song)," a tribute to Ben "Lovey" Dorcy, a beloved roadie for Johnny Cash, Hank Thompson, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson and more. Until his death in 2017, Dorcy was known as the world's oldest roadie. (A documentary on Dorcy, Lovey: King of the Roadies, is currently in the works.) "Ode to Ben Dorcy," written by Waylon Jennings, honors Dorcy's larger than life persona.
Like many country musicians in Texas, both Rogers and Bowen were close friends with Dorcy.
"Ben was around us. We got him probably from Willie Nelson or Robert Earl Keen or somebody before us," Rogers says. "He would tell us all these crazy stories about working for Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson... One day he showed up and said 'Listen to this: Waylon wrote me this song and he said it's mine and we can do whatever we want with it.'"
The song was previously recorded by Jennings but never released. When it came time to record Hold My Beer Vol. 2, Rogers and Bowen reached out to the late country legend's family for permission to record the song -- with the voice of Waylon Jennings kicking off the track. (Singer-songwriter and producer Shooter Jennings, the son of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, is also featured on the song.)
"We were very thankful that they said yes. This is a very big deal for us because we love Ben so much and it's something he would be so proud of," Rogers says.
Bowen says recording a song with the voice of Waylon Jennings was surreal.
"[Dorcy] would be so proud that we kept Waylon's voice in there. Letting Waylon kickoff with the work tape is a dream come true for Randy and I," Bowen says. "We've got our headphones on and all of a sudden Waylon Jennings cranks in and it's like he's right in the next room recording. I felt like he was. It was one of my favorite moments I've ever had in the studio."
Rogers and Bowen hope Hold My Beer Vol. 2 provides some joy to country fans at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has led to months of canceled or postponed tour dates.
"In this current situation, we could all use a beer -- more than one beer," Rogers says. "We could all use a joke and a laugh and a giggle. If you're basing it off of that -- even though we can't tour -- this thing could not come out at a better time. And hell, once the guys and girls get this record and learn the songs, it's going to be easier to play them live because everybody's going to be singing along."
The project, which pairs two of the the biggest stars in the Red Dirt scene, is a testament to the camaraderie among Texas artists, all of whom are used to leaning on one another in hard times.
"We have a lead singer [text] thread. We talk about everything on there. We talk about each other," Rogers says, laughing. "It's all out there in the open. I know, for me personally, having a way to have such a dear friend with me through all these years, it's like you have a buddy to walk through the fire with."
'Hold My Beer: Vol. 2' Track List:
1. "AM/FM" (Wade Bowen, Randy Rogers, Jon Randall, Jim Beavers)
2. "Rodeo Clown" (Chris DuBois, David Lee)
3. "Habits" (Wade Bowen, Randy Rogers, Jon Randall, Jim Beavers)
4. "Let Merle Be Merle" (Casey Twist, Ross Cooper, Josh Abbott)
5. "Rhinestoned" (Lori McKenna, Ryan Beaver, Ashley Ray)
6. "Ode To Ben Dorcy (Lovey's Song)" feat. Waylon Jennings and Shooter Jennings (Waylon Jennings)
7. "Mi Amigo" feat. Asleep at the Wheel (Wade Bowen, Randy Rogers, Jon Randall, Jim Beavers)
8. "This Ain't My Town" (Wade Bowen, Randy Rogers, Jon Randall, Jim Beavers)
9. "Warm Beer" (Adam Wright)
10. "Speak to Me Jukebox" (Wade Bowen, Will Knaak)
11. "Her" (Dean Dillon, Buddy Cannon)
12. "Hold My Beer" (Wade Bowen, Randy Rogers, Jim Beavers)