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Little Texas: Country’s Hottest Group (1994)

Originally published in the Dec. 13, 1994 issue of Country Weekly magazine. 

In 1994 Little Texas also saw Big Time go platinum and First Time for Everything go gold. Was named Vocal Group of the Year by the Academy of Country Music. Garnered more Country Music Assoiction nominations than any other group. Was the first group ever named CMT’s Artist of the Month. If that’s not enough, of the top 25 selling country singles of the year, three belong to Little Texas: “My Love,” “God Blessed Texas” and “First Time for Everything.”

The band is closing out the year by headlining a major concert tour for the first time—and loving it. “It’s just awesome, just an overwhelming feeling to be at this level and know that we’ve finally reached a certain point,” lead singer/frontman Tim Rushlow said. “But we don’t ever want to feel comfortable with where we are.”

They are comfortable, however, with where they have been. Country Weekly accompanied the band members on a trip to their namesake—the Little Texas section of Franklin, Tenn. The group appropriated the name when it formed in the late 1980s. Some of the band members stayed in Little Texas—a once-rough neighborhood of Franklin, 20 miles south of Nashville—at the home of Doug Grau, one of its producers. Band members rehearsed there, drove its streets, fished its watering hole. Then the little band few had heard of decided to take the name of the neighborhood few had heard of. Country fans have been hearing them ever since.

We’re chatting during rehearsals for the band’s 35-city tour that began Oct. 20 in Nashville and was scheduled to end this week in Pensacola, Fla. Tim McGraw co-headlines and BlackHawk is the opening act. “We’re finally getting everything we’ve always wanted,” bassist Duane Propes declared. “It’s starting to look like we might have a career with this thing and be around for a few more years.” Added Tim: “The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s been together 30 years. Alabama’s been together 15 or 20. If we could come even close to what Alabama’s done, we’d be thrilled to death with that.”

Guitarists Dwayne O’Brien and Porter Howell and drummer Del Gray round out the rock-edged band that has sold 2.5 million albums—a far cry from Alabama’s 45 million, but a stellar start. Little Texas proudly point out they’re self-contained: They write their own songs, perform them in the recording studio as well as onstage, and even co-produced their current album, Kick a Little.

“If you offered me 20 times the money I make with Little Texas to do something else,” said Rushlow, “I’d tell you, ‘No way.’ I love it, and I loved it six years ago when we were playing clubs.”

“We’ve kept it this tight little unit, and I think that’s our secret,” said Propes. “Nobody’s come in to contrive it or put it together. We call every shot.”

“We’ve finally been able to live down the hair thing, thank God,” Rushlow said. “Now people are starting to take note of our music. I think we’re bringing some fans to country that have never been into it.”

“We’re musicians, family, friends, brothers, our wives are our sisters. We owe a lot to all our parents. Everybody’s together,” he said.

The Little Texas family has a big day this winter. Propes, the band’s only bachelor, plans to wed longtime girlfriend Cindy Hines. It’s going to be an instant family—she has a 6-year-old son, Austin Cody. The other Little Texas wives are Tina Gray, Angela Howell, Mary Jane Rushlow and Delisa O’Brien.

Porter and Angela are the only parents; they have a son, Hayden. Propes thinks the band’s togetherness is nothing short of a miracle. “You take six guys and stick them in an aluminum tube [their tour bus] for as long as we’ve been together, one of them’s going to come out bloody. But we’ve come out pretty good so far.”

Except for the time two years ago when they left Dwayne O’Brien at an Oklahoma City, Okla., truck stop and didn’t discover his absence until they reached Winslow, Ariz. They learned their lesson: Little Texas takes a head count every night before the bus pulls out.

“You have your minor friction,” said Propes, “but it’s never enough to get in the way of how we really care about each other. We’re tight. Del just bought a boat and he parked it at my dock, and I’m glad to do it. We have cookouts at each other’s houses.”

“If this is over tomorrow, I’m still going to have some great friends out of this thing,” added Rushlow. “I don’t know a time we’ve ever been closer.” This is notwithstanding the exit of keyboardist Brady Seals, who had been with the band since it was born six years ago. He departed the band in mid-July but it didn’t become official until early October.

Taking his place on the Keebler-sponsored Unbeatable Wheatables tour is Rushlow’s childhood pal and former Clint Black sideman Jeff Huskins, who also plays fiddle. “The show’s like you’re hopping on a ride and taking off,” said Rushlow before jokingly warning, “Keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times.” The tour sets a heavy performing schedule on the band, but with the year Little Texas has had, going to work isn’t exactly drudgery.

“I get a rush after a day off when I get on the bus and get to see everybody,” explained Rushlow. “I’m excited to be there—and we’re all like that—and it’s a really great feeling.”

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