Like the legendary Australian outlaw/folk-hero whose name they have appropriated, the band Reckless Kelly is a study in contradictions: They are a Texas-based band who transcend the boundaries of their adopted state; They’re a rowdy honky-tonk band who are also at home in listening rooms and theaters; They are carving out their own legacy even as they have inherited the family business. “When musicians talk about growing up in a ‘musical family,’” wrote Texas Music magazine of the band, “what they usually mean is something like this: dad had a great record collection…But for Reckless Kelly’s Cody and Willy Braun, growing up in a musical family meant opening shows for guys like Merle Haggard as part of the Idaho-based family band, Muzzie Brown and the Boys…and even playing on the
Brothers Cody and Willy were kids when their dad, Muzzie, brought them onstage and under the lights. But that was many years and many honky-tonks ago. Since then they (along with their bandmates, guitarist David Abeyta, bassist Joe Miller and drummer Jay Nazz) have released ten albums, including their 2011 Grammy-nominated Good Luck and True Love, and their latest, 2013’s Grammy-winning Long Night Moon. Along with way, they have attracted the praise of peers like rocker Joe Ely songwriter Robert Earl Keen and hit-making producer Ray Kennedy, as well as the foot-stomping approbation of audiences from coast to coast.
Though their origins lay in Idaho and Oregon, Reckless Kelly found a home in the Texas music capital of Austin, where they relocated in 1997. And though they have
carved out their niche in the city’s thriving Texas music/country-rock/Americana community, their music has never been confined by their geographic boundaries. “We didn’t move here to be a Texas country band,” says Cody. “We didn’t grow up here and we don’t have any songs about Texas—tubing on the Guadalupe River and drinking Lone Star Beer. We weren’t trying to push our way into that scene, but we were just lucky to be here when it blew up.”
To hear them tell it, the brothers were initially attracted to the state and the city by the caliber of songwriting craftsmanship. “We moved here to get better,” Cody adds. “The top guys were Robert Earl Keen, Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark…(they) were always the benchmark.”
As they grew and matured as songwriters and as a band, Reckless Kelly ascended into that upper echelon, thanks to explosive live performances and songwriting that extolled the endless cycle of the road, the big-sky horizons of the West and the melodic blend of country lyricism and combustible energy the band refers to (tongue in cheek) as “hick rock.”
In the wake of their self-released 1998 debut, Millican, the band formed creative alliances with independent labels Sugar Hill and Yep Roc which yielded well-received and critically acclaimed albums, including Under the Table and Above the Sun (2003), Wicked Twisted Road (2005), Bulletproof (2008) and Somewhere In Time
(2010). Their last two albums, Good Luck & True Love and Long Night Moon have both been released on the band’s own label, No Big Deal Records.
“We’re just tryin’ to keep steaks in the freezer,” says Willy with a self-deprecating smile. “I always just felt like I wanted to make a living, and anything on top of that is gravy.”
So far, that “gravy” has included the aforementioned Grammy honoraria, critical raves (“Rootsy, jangly country-rock, with all its punch in place. In my perfect world, this is what country radio would sound like.”—Music Row magazine) and a devoted audience from coast to coast.
“We’ve never jumped on the trends,” Willy adds. “What is it now—the pickup trucks and the girl with the AC/DC T-shirt? We just try to put out a quality product. The music is always first for us, and we want to put out something we’re going to be proud of and that will be relevant ten or twenty years down the road.”
In the more immediate time frame, the group is also taking over the reins of the 40-year old Braun Brothers Reunion festival in Idaho, and they have established their own tradition with the all-star Reckless Kelly Celebrity Softball Jam (now in its seventh year), which raises money for area youth leagues.
Best of all, they show no sign of stopping. “It’s hard to step back and see it in the sense that we’re some sort of role models,” says Cody. “I sometimes think we’re still trying to figure it out and that we’re still a young band. The challenge is always trying to get better and learn more.”
“We’ve always had a really broad range of things we can do,” adds Willy. “We can go from our acoustic show to a rodeo dance to opening for ZZ Top or Nashville Pussy. We can really do a lot of things with the band because we’ve never had to fit our sound into one certain thing.”
“Everything’s so much easier because we’ve been together so long,” says Cody.
“When we get thrown a curve ball, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve been through this ten
times.’ I hope there’s still a few surprises left.”