BY CHRIS EDWARDS
LIVINGSTON -- Doug Supernaw is back, yet he never really went away.
The country music hitmaker, who was a frequent presence on the charts in the early ‘90s, now hangs his hat in Livingston. The idea of a famous country music singer living right here is something that many people still can’t believe, even when they see him out in public.
Supernaw’s girlfriend Cissy Allen said that it happens all the time; people will whisper “That’s Doug Supernaw,” when they’re out and about. The couple frequent local Tex-Mex eatery Patron’s and always seems to encounter fans who are excited to meet the local legend.
The laid-back, taciturn musician said he takes it all in stride, but with a chuckle Cissy said “He loves the attention...they all do!”
Area residents have a chance to hear Supernaw at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 26, when he takes the stage at the Polk County Commerce Center as part of the Ogden’s Country Jubilee variety show.
While Supernaw’s name may not appear on the upper reaches of the Billboard charts these days, his name is still widely known in Texas, where music fans love hardcore country music and great songs, two things Supernaw has specialized in since his early days of playing clubs in Texas.
In his heyday, Supernaw was a triple-threat as an artist. Not only did he possess an incredible and unique voice, but he came to his major label deal with BNA Records as an accomplished guitarist and a committed, seasoned songwriter. Add to that his undeniable charisma and movie-star looks and it was a recipe for stardom.
The hits came, and his debut album Red and Rio Grande was a chart hit and was certified gold by the recording industry with sales of over 500,000 copies. Supernaw was also a top-draw on the concert circuit, as well as a critical success. A big part of Supernaw’s success was due to the type of material he recorded. He is still quick to point out that in order to succeed as an artist, one must “have great songs”. “It’s all about the song,” he said. “A great singer can sing mediocre material and nobody will really care.”
Supernaw’s prowess as a vocalist helped to breathe life into whatever songs he chose to record. Even if he didn’t write them, like in the case of his Number One hit “I Don’t Call Him Daddy,” the song became his. Supernaw might not have possessed the most technically accomplished voice or the widest range, but his tone was one of the most emotive instruments in all of music, and not just the country genre. That voice has only aged like wine. It’s even more emotive than it was before, and recently he re-recorded all of his old hits, along with two newer tunes for a collection simply titled Greatest Hits. That record will be available at Saturday night’s show. Supernaw had the release party in April at Tumbleweed’s to a sold-out crowd.
Prior to Supernaw’s major label contract, he was a top-draw in clubs around Texas and the southwest with his band the Possum Eatin’ Cowboys. His ability to succeed on his own without the help of a label, initially, was an inspiration to many of the artists who became independent successes at the turn of the millennium, such as Pat Green and Cory Morrow.
Supernaw was also a pioneer in releasing his own music without a major label deal. His fourth album, Fadin’ Renegade, was released through his own label Tack Records, a venture that he is proud of. It was a means to an end for Supernaw, as his second record deal with Giant Records disappeared after the label imploded. While the album and the label venture were unsuccessful commercially, Supernaw’s brand of “stone-cold country” still appealed to live audiences.
Supernaw pointed out that even though he was a successful live act in Texas and is cited as an influence by many of the movers and shakers of the Texas music movement, he was never a part of the Texas music scene due to his Nashville record deal. “I know all those guys,” he said. “I knew ‘em all when they were little and coming up.”
As far as advice goes for younger, up-and-coming artists who look up to him, Supernaw’s advice mirrored his own philosophy. It all goes back to great songs. It was the allure of singing (and later writing) great songs that took a long, tall Texan kid from the Houston suburbs to his first professional gig of singing with a cover band while he was attending college on a golf scholarship. Supernaw said he didn’t grow up in a musical household, but he became an ardent music fan, and was always singing.
Supernaw said that when he was coming of age, bars and clubs specialized in live music, and regular access to local and regional talent was influential. “I was a fan of a lot of local people. There was Johnny Lee, Roy Head, Gary Smith, and Mickey Gilley,” he said. Popular national acts like Elvis and the Beach Boys were also favorites of a young Doug Supernaw, along with his avowed chief influence Gene Watson.
When asked about recent artists whom he enjoys, Supernaw was hard pressed to conjure up any names. “I think that one Jamey Johnson album is the last new one I listened to all the way through,” he said. Supernaw isn’t one to criticize the oft-ballyhooed direction that popular country music has taken, though. “There’s always been pop-country and there’s always been solid country music,” he said. “It all just depends on what they [radio programmers] play on the radio. They can make or break you depending on what they say about you on the radio.” Supernaw pointed out that while radio tends to push the younger and more pop-friendly artists, there will always be an audience and a market for traditional country music.
One of the two new tracks on Supernaw’s latest collection, “The Company I Keep” is picking up some attention in a grassroots manner. Supernaw said that he wrote the song as a response to the tragedies of September 11, 2001, but the name-checking of classic country artists like George Jones and Vern Gosdin underscores the emotion in the song. The reference points are made all the more special by the fact that Supernaw knew the late legends of whom he sings. “I was with Vern Gosdin when we got the news that Keith Whitley passed,” he said.
When one talks to Supernaw, there’s a sense that the charismatic musician is the sort of fellow who could win the lottery after buying the first ticket, however he pointed out that he has known his share of troubles as well. The lengthy absence he took from the touring circuit was spent taking care of various personal affairs, and the death of his mother, who was one of his biggest supporters, also took the wind out of his sails. In the meantime, Supernaw found inspiration in an old fan of his. Cissy Allen, a longtime Livingston resident and business owner, met him in the mid-90’s at a show he played at her father’s venue (now Pontoon’s). When Supernaw came to visit friends at a crawfish boil in the same location in 2015, Cissy was reintroduced to the “undercover country music star” when a friend told her he was present.
Along with Allen’s support and some newfound inspiration, Supernaw began playing regular gigs again, and pretty soon Nashville-based producer/manager/entrepreneur BJ Mezek got him back into the recording studio. The Greatest Hits collection, recorded earlier this year, serves a two-fold purpose: it is introducing Supernaw’s music to a new generation, and also gets his classic hits back into the realm of availability, as his four albums from the 90s are all out of print. With Mezek on his team, Supernaw was also able to hit the road again, and has been playing shows around the country since the release of the record.
Allen, a huge Elvis fan, referenced the King’s classic ’68 Comeback Special when discussing Supernaw’s recent resurgence. “He came out there and played all his hits and sounded great and strong,” she said. Audiences have had a similar reaction to Supernaw’s recent performances. He plays his hits to old fans and into new ears, alike, and with that it’s evident that the classic voice, which fueled those hits on the radio “never really went anywhere.”