Randy Rogers Band's 'Tequila Eyes': The Story Behind the Latest Melancholy Booze Classic In the Country Canon

Chris McCoy
Randy Rogers Band

Roughly a year ago, when the Randy Rogers Band released Nothing Shines Like Neon, they slipped one of the year's most essential country songs into the middle of the record like caramel in a Milky Way bar. That track, "Tequila Eyes," is now enjoying a well-deserved extended life: released as the album's third single, it recently cracked the top 10 on the Texas Regional Radio Report. 

Rogers is a regular presence on the upper reaches of this chart, which was created around the turn of the millennium to reflect Texas's hard-touring, independent music-heavy country scene. But despite his success there, the singer has cracked the top 40 on Billboard's National Country Airplay chart just once, with his 2012 single "One More Sad Song." This is not uncommon: in the past, only a handful of artists, such as the Eli Young Band and Pat Green, have made the leap from getting airplay in Texas to getting it in all 50 states. 

This may be changing, though. Last year, Granger Smith went all the way to No. 1 with "Backroad Song," while Cody Johnson sneaked "With You I Am" from the regional chart to the national chart, and Josh Abbot Band's duet with Carly Pearce, "Wasn't That Drunk," made it as high as Rogers' peak, No. 37, on Billboard's Country Airplay metric. 

"Every year, people think the Texas thing is going away, and it's not," says Clay Neuman, Founder/President of Vison Entertainment and a radio promotion veteran who spent time at Arista in the '90s and has worked with Rogers since the beginning of his career. "And it's not just a Texas thing [anymore]. Now it's more of a Southwest and Midwest thing: any station that wants to support independent music, progressive country." As a result of this growth, he says, "Texas country and Nashville country [have] more overlap then there ever has been." 

That could bode well for "Tequila Eyes," which originated before a show in Houston, when Rogers was hanging out with an old friend. "He said something about a girl he had seen the night before, and that he could see the tequila in her eyes," the singer remembered. "Of course lights went off in my head; I jotted it down in my phone. I told him, 'I'm gonna write that song.'"

He had superlative help creating the song's statuesque melody: he wrote "Tequila Eyes" with Dean Dillon and Buddy Cannon. Dillon has penned a passel of songs for George Strait, along with tracks for Lee Ann Womack and Toby Keith -- if you happened to tune into the CMAs the famous night when Chris Stapleton duetted with Justin Timberlake, then you heard Stapleton perform a Dillon co-write, "Tennessee Whiskey," which was originally done by David Allan Coe. Cannon, meanwhile, has written for Willie Nelson, Kenny Chesney, and George Jones. Rogers sums up their accomplishments by noting that both have "written some of the most timeless songs in the world."

This is evident in "Tequila Eyes," which qualifies for instant entry into country's three-sheets-to-the-wind hall of fame -- no small feat, as the genre has a history of serving up mini-epics that are equal parts anguished and plastered. (George Jones and Merle Haggard each had enough of these in their discography to soundtrack a lengthy, miserable night alone at a bar.) But "Tequila Eyes" could also poach fans who are spinning the radio dial in search of classic rock: it has elements of Bruce Springsteen -- just transpose the principal violin melody in "Waiting On a Sunny Day" on top of the tragic "Sad Eyes" -- and the Eagles, especially during the outro, where the band circles through the title phrase four times, stretching it into progressively lovelier shapes and emulating the harmonies of Glenn Frey and company.

Rogers was pleased with the way "Tequila Eyes" came out, but he didn't waste brain cells considering its chances on the airwaves. "Obviously I don't know what's gonna work on the radio -- we've never had a song go past 37 on the Billboard charts," he says. "I just try to write good songs and record the best ones that I write." 

He picked well: when the track was released as a single, the positive response was immediate. "The goal was to come out the gate swinging so much that the buzz from a strong debut week and month in Texas would provide some wind in the sails, even more so than Randy has had before, to go after other national targets," Neuman says. According to the relatively new TRACtion Texas chart, which Neuman likes because it's monitored (in contrast, the Texas Regional Radio numbers are based on pre-play reporting from stations), "Tequila Eyes" ended up as the most added song of 2016, and it notched the highest chart debut of the year at No. 26.

This doesn't guarantee that "Tequila Eyes" can make the jump to the national airwaves, but it's a song worth rooting for. "Randy Rogers' career has been about first downs, base hits," Neuman explains. "Each single nationally is going to be in a position to reach more stations and have the stations it gets to be more receptive."

"People think, 'oh, Texas will do its thing -- that's a tree that will fall in the forest that no one will hear,'" he adds. "Now they're hearing it."