As Texas native and hardcore country vocalist Randall King prepares for the March 18 release of Shot Glass, his debut full-length major label album on Warner Music Nashville, he’s riding a wave of momentum. Marty Stuart invited King to make his Grand Ole Opry debut, a lifelong dream that King fulfilled this week. He’s on the road opening shows for ‘90s country stalwarts Tracy Lawrence and Clay Walker, and he’s already co-written a song with Garth Brooks.
With fellow Texans and country neo-traditionalists Parker McCollum and label mate Cody Johnson cresting on Billboard’s country charts, King is poised to make an impact with his own brand of stone-cold country. On Shot Glass, King teamed with Bart Butler and Ryan Gore, known for their work with another neo-traditionalist, Jon Pardi. King co-wrote seven of the album’s 11 tracks.
Essentially a concept album, Shot Glass centers around a honky-tonk bar, with each song representing the perspective of one of the bar’s patrons. The fiddle-and-steel-drenched title track, written by Brett James and Tony Lane, is the project’s emotional pulse, a song King has had on hold for nearly three years.
“I thought Blake Shelton or Garth might cut it, but we ended up getting it,” King says. “In the song, you take a shot and you’re hit with a memory. You’re hit with several memories throughout this song and you step back and go, ‘How did all that fit into a shot glass?’ So we took that concept and amplified it. I’m the bartender on this album, and each song is an individual taking a shot at the bar — and then you’re watching it all play out.”
Though King tells a myriad of stories on the set, he has a special affinity for “Middle of Nowhere Church,” a tribute to the transformational power of love.
“It’s about driving in the country and seeing this beacon of light, a church,” he explains. “If you’ve ever driven through west Texas, you’ve seen these random churches, literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s also a reflection of growth. I was pretty wild in the day, but I believe in the power of true love. My girlfriend has made me a better man, and ‘Middle of Nowhere Church’ is that redemption song.”
Growing up in Hereford, Texas, King soaked in the sounds of George Strait, Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson while riding in his parents’ ’93 Chevy Suburban. Given that King’s father was a trucker, Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” was another favorite. On King’s new album, “Roger, Miller Lite and Me” is a quirky tribute to Miller’s writing style.
“I love Roger Miller’s phrasing, and the random words that he’ll throw in and his rhyme scheme. He will manipulate words into fitting around a scheme, and I think that’s brilliant,” says King, who wrote the song with Brandon Kinney. “We threw some of Roger’s titles in there. It’s just a big tip of the hat to one of our heroes. And it’s a beer-drinking song on top of that.”
A few other tracks, “Around Forever” and “I’ll Fly Away,” were previously on King’s 2020 EP Leanna, a project of songs in honor of his late sister Leanna, who died of liver failure in April 2020 at age 32.
The cover artwork for the Leanna EP included a yellow rose, as well as his late sister’s signature, taken from a page in a notebook she kept. King’s family sang gospel songs to Leanna during her final moments, and “I’ll Fly Away” was the song they were singing when she passed.
“My sister was at every show that she could possibly be at,” King says. “Any time I was around west Texas, she was there. When I played the Ryman [Auditorium], she was there. My sister was absolutely my biggest supporter, my biggest fan. She had tattoos of my logos and my music lyrics. My sister was everything, and I sang her home to Jesus with ‘I’ll Fly Away.’ And any time I play west Texas, I still look through the bars looking for her.”
King’s Shot Glass rings with a style of country that was forged from years of playing in dusty, beer-soaked honky-tonks, as well as countless songwriting sessions spent honing his craft. In 2013, King released an indie project Old Dirt Road. The next year, he met music executive Scott Gunter after a show in San Angelo, Texas.
“Scott Gunter is the reason I have anything,” King says. “He sent me an email later, and at first I thought, ‘This isn’t real. Someone from Nashville didn’t come down to Texas, that doesn’t happen anymore.’ But it was. At the time, he said, ‘You’ve got a great voice and good songs, but you don’t have the song yet. Keep writing and if I can help out in any way, I will.’ I started sending him songs and in 2015, I met him in person in Nashville. Then when I wrote ‘Another Bullet,’ he felt that was the one. He sent me to Nashville to write in 2016.”
Those songs resulted in King’s 2016 indie EP Another Bullet, and in 2017, he inked a deal with Howie Edelman’s Durango Artist Management, which also manages Johnson and others. By 2018, King inked a publishing deal with BMG, which led to that prized co-writing session with Brooks.
“My publisher, [BMG’s] Chris Oglesby, had been pitching my songs to Garth in hopes of getting a cut,” King recalls. “Garth liked my songs and my voice, so my publisher asked if he would be open to writing with me.” The song they wrote, “The Road I’m On,” also serves as the name of Brooks’s 2019 A&E special, and it was the first track on Brooks’ 2020 album Fun.
“We wrote the first verse and chorus and started on the second verse,” he says of that writing session. “The next day, he sent me the whole song. Just hearing him sing something we wrote together, I grew up on him and Strait and Alan, so it’s a different ballgame.”
Four record labels were interested in signing King before he ultimately inked a deal in 2019 with Warner Music Nashville, soon after releasing the Leanna EP, followed by a five-song live concert EP, Honky Tonk BS.
“There were a lot of great potential,” he says of his talks with labels. “There were also a lot of labels that wouldn’t even take the time of day to look at us, we were just cold-shouldered. But what sealed the deal was Warner lets us be ourselves. They’ve seen what we built and that it’s working. They also let me put out the Leanna EP. They didn’t pick the songs — we did the record and brought it to them. They backed it 100%. And they let us put out the live project. To be a young artist and put out a concert record that’s country as hell, it’s the biggest blessing.”
For this hard-touring artist, one used to performing over 150 shows per year, the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic presented a challenge, but King was determined to find a way to keep the music playing.
“We thought, ‘If the restaurants are opening, why can’t the bars open and treat it like a daggum restaurant? Let’s put tables up there. You wear your mask in, sit down at the table, take it off. Somebody comes to serve your drinks, same as at a restaurant.’ We started doing it that way and selling out these bars with half the capacity. It kept us going, kept our families fed. We kept trucking and played about 90 shows in 2020, and then everything started getting back to normal last year. I understand what the pandemic was, but you can’t let fear stop you from living. You just can’t. You’ve got to do something.”
Now he’s on the road with Walker and Lawrence, and though he has a co-sign from one of music’s biggest superstars, King still has a few bucket list items left. And naturally, those aspirations are pure country: Tops is writing with Strait and his son Bubba. “I’ve gotten to write with [longtime Strait songwriter] Dean Dillon and that was an incredible, bucket list write,” he says. “I’d love to write with Alan Jackson one day. You talk about a songwriter, that’s top-notch right there.”