Music takes its toll by Monte Burke On any given Saturday in any given honky-tonk throughout Texas or Missouri or Kansas or Oklahoma, the spotlight might be on Bryan Fontenot, a good ol’ boy picking out a tune and singing a few bars...
Music takes its toll by Monte Burke On any given Saturday in any given honky-tonk throughout Texas or Missouri or Kansas or Oklahoma, the spotlight might be on Bryan Fontenot, a good ol’ boy picking out a tune and singing a few bars about drinking and dancing, riding or roughnecking, loving and losing.
With a Grammy nomination and the Texas International Music Association Album of the Year Award for “Who I Ain’t,” Fontenot is no stranger to the crowd.
They know his name, and they know the music. But they don’t know the man, or the path he’s traveled just to reach that stage.
Less than some, but more than most, the 43-year-old singer/songwriter knows that life’s not always fair. The Westlake native lost his older brother Brad to a tragic death in the early 1990s, his mother Martha died of lung cancer “…the day Rita blew in,” and his dad Louis Bruce Fontenot battled Parkinson’s disease before his death a few short years later.
His ties to home are now his brother Bruce and sister Diane, their families, and a legion of friends.
While most of his friends predate even his trumpet-playing days on the Westlake High School marching band, Fontenot worries that many don’t understand his lifestyle.
“They think it’s real glamorous,” he said, before launching into a story about his early days in Nashville soon after his brother’s death.
“The night I had an appearance on the Grand Ole Opry as a songwriter, I slept in an alley,” he said. “Yep. A real glamorous life.”
Like songwriters do, Fontenot tells the tale with “Hometown Hero”:
“I’ve been playing here for quarters in this small town country bar.
Everybody seems to know me around here.
They all slap my back and tell me, ‘Boy, we know that you’ll go far.’
I guess that in their minds it’s simple and it’s clear…”
While Nashville may be the country music capital of the world, there were few places to actually perform, Fontenot said.
“I moved there to perfect my writing skills and to learn the industry from inside,” he said. “I wound up working regular day jobs so as not to starve to death.”
Fontenot’s love for music started with the piano when he was 6, followed by the trumpet, which led to a full scholarship to McNeese State University. He picked up a guitar during his junior year of high school.
College wasn’t to Fontenot’s liking. “The marching band guys were in their checkered shorts, smoking pipes,” he said, glancing up at his signature cowboy hat. “I knew me and them were not gonna get along.”
He turned down the scholarship to follow the lure of bull riding, a sport he enjoyed in high school and one that kept him fed during the lean years. He also worked intermittently as a welder and once had a part in a Wild West show on a ranch outside of Las Vegas. Bull riding came to an abrupt end when a particularly ornery bovine stepped on his face, resulting in 13 hours of reconstructive surgery that left him with a face full of titanium screws.
But while riding the rodeo circuit, Fontenot had continued playing all the country bars, criss-crossing Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Montana, and all points between just to perform. He found his niche in Texas.
“I honed my skills with the big Texas stages and the big Texas bands,” he said.
When Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, he quit everything to head home and lend a hand. After a short time in Mississippi, it became evident that he was needed at home. His mom’s death kept him in the area for a while.
Sometime during those difficult days of personal loss and devastating hurricanes, Fontenot met Dustin Sink, a Kansas City native who was doing relief work in the region. Together they formed Fontenot’s new band, Outlaw Inc. Sink took over as road manager, and Fontenot took over producing his own music.
Within a few months of releasing “Who I Ain’t,” the album was nominated for a Grammy and Fontenot was back on the road. Two singles, “Too Drunk To Be Drinking” and “Who I Ain’t” were released from the album, and a third is expected to released after the first of the year.
To quell any misunderstandings about his life lately, Fontenot reminds his friends that 1) he still picks up welding jobs between musical gigs, 2) he’s still a bit of a wild child, and 3) he wasn’t late for that show; he made bail just in time.
The ‘welding jobs between gigs’ comment is self-explanatory, and his ‘bit of a wild child’ statement iws immortalized in at least one cut on “Who I Ain’t.” As for his punctuality being questioned, what self-respecting country singer hasn’t posted bail at least once following a night of drinking and picking guitars?
“There’s a misconception that there’s women flocking at my feet or that I’m a womanizer. I’ve never ever been that. But I admit, I’ve probably left a few broken hearts behind.”
When the bad boy stories end, there’s another dimension that he alludes to in his songs, but hesitates to talk about. Fontenot has never married and has no children.
“Music cost me a lot of that,” he said. “It takes a toll.”
At his core, Bryan Fontenot is a quiet, thoughtful man. Proud of his roots, he cares about his family and friends, and he values their opinions:
“Heaven knows they wish me well, but this music road’s been hell.”
“Who I Ain’t” is available online at amazon.com, cdbaby, and iTunes.