The Keens

I was a kid in Monroe, Louisiana in the 1980’s, and my next door neighbors used to go to Austin to listen to a guy named Robert Earl Keen.  For years, they’d travel 500 miles to see a guy I thought no one had ever heard of.  A few years later, while I was in college at Texas State University, someone put in a cassette of REK’s No. 2 Live Dinner, and I was instantly hooked on “Gringo Honeymoon,” “Merry Christmas from the Family,” “Sonora’s Death Row,” “Amarillo Highway” and “The Road Goes on Forever,” one of the ones I play and sing at small gatherings of drunks.  In fact, I learned to play guitar on REK’s songs.  In my opinion, he’s the most talented songwriter in the history of country music.  Yes, better than Willie.  I’d put the aforementioned songs, “Not a Drop of Rain,” “Mariano,” “Feelin’ Good Again,” and “Lynnville Train” up against anything.

His voice is unique, and his work has spawned a whole bunch of posers who try to sound and be like him, but no one has been able to pull it off.  Why?  Because of his lyrics.  He’s a writer.  A WRITER.  He just happened to choose music.  Rumor has it he moved to Nashville in the mid-80’s, became discouraged by the direction country music was headed and promptly moved back to Austin.  If that’s true, and I bet it is, I like him even more.

I was presented with an opportunity to photograph him and his beautiful family for the cover of a new magazine in his hometown of Kerrville.  At his home.  At 8:30am.  I’m not comfortable going into other people’s homes, uninvited by the homeowners themselves, especially when the homeowner is one of my favorite artists.  And I get star-struck by just about anyone with any sort of celebrity.  This was going to be a tough one.

I pulled up to the Keen’s home around 8:15 and did some iPhone work while waiting in the truck for the magazine editor to arrive.  I glanced up the driveway and noticed a barefoot young girl standing there smiling at me.  There was no doubt she was Robert’s daughter.  Chloe Keen is by far one of the sweetest, prettiest, most well-mannered and talented people I’ve ever met.  She welcomed me in, helped me carry some photo equipment, and introduced me to “Bogey,” the Keen’s adorable bulldog, all before anyone else was up and around.

Robert and his wife Kathleen’s older daughter Clara, there on the left, is also beautiful, talented and sweet with a great smile and loads of artistic talent.  And evidently, from the looks of all the ribbons hanging in her room, she’s quite an equestrienne.  Kathleen made me feel completely comfortable, told me a few stories and even gave me gift from the Keen freezer before I packed up for the drive back to Austin.

I could go on forever about how much I enjoyed spending a couple of hours with the Keen family.


3 thoughts on “The Keens

  1. This one is amazing. What a morning. I love to hear he has all the character and personality that I’ve always imagined he has. And I love to hear that after all your experience, you still get nervous before some of your shoots.

    And, of course, I love to hear that he’s bringing his two daughters up just right. It’s not a surprise but it is a delight to hear. From the looks of the family in that photo, they are the real deal.

  2. hey there- “magazine editor” here. Carlton, how much fun was that? Carlton talks of the talent of his daughters because we were all invited into the “music room” to listen to the Robert play Knockin on Heaven’s Door with his daughters on violin and upright bass. Robert laughed and laughed thru the entire morning. He had sooooo much fun having his kids brought into this deal.

    Couple of things you missed Carlton: Road Goes On is based on real characters that Kathleen worked with at a nursing home. Granted, the story was elaborated upon but Robert said “There was this woman that hooked up with a guy that was constantly getting her into legal and financial trouble, and I wanted to create something profound.”

    Also, he dragged out a photo book that chronicled the actual day spent in Mexico that become Gringo Honeymoon. He had the pictures of the real people (the guy that was on the run from the DEA, the guy w/ the old gut-string guitar, etc…) ….it was nuts.

    The most interesting part was just how close he was to giving up. After Nashville, he was cooked. A radio station in SA started spinning him, and the next thing he knew, it all took off. But Robert had pretty much given up…went to one show, and BAM – 1500 fans there. From there, the rest is history.

    thanks for coming along Carlton. Really appreciate your great work!

  3. Carlton, the pictures look wonderful! It was great to work with you again, and I hope to see you soon! Thanks for sharing this great day with us.

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