Inspired by a post from the Texas music on-line magazine TJ Music that listed the top 20 Texas Country songs of all time, we have created our own list. There is a little bit of cross-pollination going in here, after all a Texas music list without “Pancho and Lefty” or “Sunday Morning Coming Down” holds no credibility at all, but for the most part our selections go freestyle deep into the Texas hill country, on to the plains of Lubbock, all the way to San Antonio and beyond. Standard playlist rules apply to this set of songs. No more than one song from a single artist, a rule that makes sense as it spares the listener of being subjected to 20 Doug Sahm tunes, and the song must be written or performed by an artist that is from or is associated with the state of Texas. So, enough foreplay, tonight we ride!
20. Johnny Rodriguez – Ridin’ My Thumb To Mexico
This story song that will remind you a bit of Marty Robbins was one of a couple of Johnny Rodriguez’ hit songs that really should have made him more famous than he was. Riding just below the borderline behind Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Doug Sahm and the rest of the Texas outlaw crew, Johnny’s career almost never got started after four prison stints in six years. And, if it weren’t for a Texas Ranger that heard him singing in prison and set him up with a chorus job at a Western themed amusement park “Ridin’ My Thumb Back To Mexico” might have never seen the light of day.
19. George Straight – Amarillo By Morning
“They took my saddle in Houston, broke my leg in Santa Fe, Lost my wife and a girlfriend somewhere along the way.” “I ain’t got a dime but what I got is mine, I ain’t rich but lord I’m free, Amarillo by morning, Amarillo is where I’ll be.” In a Sophie’s choice sort of dilemma this one makes it by the tip of a Stetson over “All My Exes Live In Texas” and “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind.” And what about “Ocean Front Property” or “Cowboy Rides Away.” Holy hell, now I now why the good folks at TJ Music did not include a George Strait song on their list. It was just too hard to pick only one.
18. Doug Sahm – (Is Anybody Going To) San Antone
Singing a song about his home town, Doug Sahm could perform in all of the Texas styles. Blues, Country, Tex-Mex, Cajun, Western Swing, this hombre could do it all.
17. Bob Wills – New San Antonio Rose
As Waylon Jennings would say, “It don’t matter who’s in Austin” Bob Wills is still the king. No Texas music list would be complete without a Bob Wills song as the centerpiece. “New San Antonio Rose” is pure Bob Wills. Western Swing in all it’s glory with The Playboys playing as tight as the skin on a grape.
16. Jerry Jeff Walker – Mr. Bojangles
Jerry Jeff Walker wrote “Mr. Bojangles” in Town Van Zandt’s old apartment above the Sand Mountain Coffee house in Houston, Texas firmly cementing the Texas roots of this iconic song. Sure, there have been some tremendous versions of this song over the years most notably Nina Simon’s makes her own rendition and the hit for The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, but our ears always come back home to the original. An understated beauty of a song where every word seems perfectly placed.
15. Slaid Cleaves – Horseshoe Lounge
No, Slaid Cleaves is not from Texas, but the Horseshoe Lounge certainly is. The Horseshoe Lounge is a drinkers bar in Austin, Texas where everybody knows your name and the drink of the day is beer with a shot of whiskey. The song takes you inside for a bit of day drinking on a typical Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, or any day for that matter.
14. The Texas Tornadoes – Who Were You Thinkin’ Of
Getting together first on a lark at a concert in San Francisco, The Texas Tornadoes were Country music’s first super group. Combining Tejano, Tex Mex, and Cajun song styles Freddy Fender, Doug Sahm, Augie Myers and Flaco Jiminez created a party ready sound that broke down barriers with fans on both side of the border.
13. Townes Van Zant – Pancho and Lefty
Sure the classic version is delivered by Waylon and Willie, but the original written by troubled troubadour Townes Van Zant is the most passionate. With his voice almost breaking in places Townes tells the story of two outlaws with Lefty on the run after Pancho is killed. Originally recorded on The Late Great Townes Van Zant album, the song is hard to follow and it is difficult to tell if Lefty is indeed Townes as he finishes out his days in a flea bag of a hotel in Cleveland. Did Pancho kill Lefty? Is that why after Pancho bit the dust it ended up in Pancho’s Mouth? We will never know and sadly, Townes Van Zant isn’t around to tell us.
12. Johnny Bush – Whiskey River
Johnny Bush wrote the song but Willie Nelson made it famous. Slowed down just a bit in tempo, the song the song that Willie uses to open his concerts opens itself up to all its nuance and heartbreak when the person who wrote and lived the song delivers the song that will take you back to another place, another time.
11. Hayes Carll – Drunken Poet’s Dream
Hayes Carll is from a small suburb just North of Houston but he seems more comfortable in the small town underbelly of society. A co-write with Ray Wylie Hubbard “A Drunken Poet’s Dream” is a master class in songwriting.
10. Ray Wylie Hubbard – Loco Gringos Lament
And speaking of the above mentioned Ray Wylie Hubbard there are several of his songs that are worthy of making this list, “Screw You, We’re From Texas,” and “Redneck Mother” just to name two. But, at the end of the day, “Loco Gringos Lament” makes the cut slightly edging out “Dust of the Chase.”
09. Robert Earl Keen – The Road Goes On Forever
From his fabulous West Textures record, “The Road Goes On Forever” is a Bonnie and Clyde style story song that details a young couple going on the lam after Sonny lays out a drunken pool player with his pool cue. All of the big guys have covered this song including Joe Ely and The Highwaymen. Hearing Robert Earl Keen and his band perform this song live is a a life changing experience.
08. Gary P. Nunn – London Homesick Blues
Famous for the line “Well, when you’re down on your luck, and you ain’t got a buck, in London you’re a goner. Our hero can’t wait to get back to Texas where there are the friendliest people and the prettiest women you’ve ever seen. The song is also the theme song to the Austin City Limits television show.
07. Michael Martin Murphey – Geronimo’s Cadillac
Riding on the edges of the Outlaw Country movement Michael Martin Murphey was as talented as the rest of them. “Geronimo’s Cadillac” while not his most famous song, “Widfire” would have that honor, it is the song most covered by other artists.
06. Guy Clark – Dublin Blues
Another Texan across the pond longing to get back to Texas Song. Here, Guy Clark puts himself in Dublin as he reminisces about drinking mad dog margaritas in Austin’s Chili Parlor Bar wondering what has happened to his long lost love as he chokes back the shakes with every drink.
05. Joe Ely – Honky Tonk Masquerade
Slightly edging out “Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown” Joe Ely’s “Honky Tonk Masquerade” is, for some, the quintessential honky tonk song. The song looks at the tear in your beer side of the honky tonk.
04. Kris Kristofferson – Sunday Morning Coming Down
Nashville might try to claim Kris Kristofferson, but stanod down, he is pure Texan. Sure, there is always a lot of debate over the best version of this song, but at the end of the day the nod goes to the guy that wrote the song. Sorry Willie and Johnny.
03. Billy Joe Shaver
Billy Joe Shaver Is, as they say, a songwriters songwriter. Everybody has covered a Billy Joe Shaver song, most notably Waylon Jennings. The choice here was between the autobiographical “Georgia on a Fast Train,” Old Five and Dimers Like Me,” or “Honky Tonk Heroes.” And, “Honky Tonk Heroes” it is.
02.Waylon Jennings – Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)
“The only two things in life that make it worth living, guitars that tune good and firm feeling women.” This song is so good Waylon can almost be forgiven for not stepping foot in Luckenbach before he took this song to number one on the Country charts.
01. Willie Nelson – Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain
Number one on this list might be one of the best songs ever written, any genre. Willie, simply Willie.