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Owen Tiner: Making A Little Mischief

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By Johnny Griffith

“Still waters run deep” is an old cliche that suggests beneath a calm demeanor, lies a more complex picture that can be full of passion and inspiration. The same can be said about Owen Tiner. While it’s easy for him to be labelled as a teacher simply because that’s his most visible aspect, beneath the exterior swirls a myriad of descriptors: father, husband, Aggie, coach, musician.

Tiner graduated from Mineola ISD in 1998 and moved to College Station to attend Texas A&M. In 2007, Owen relocated back to East Texas to become a teacher and coach, and he currently teaches in the Canton area. In what I’m sure he would describe as his most successful aspect, he is a loving husband and devoted father to two girls.

However, there is this other aspect as well: musician. Tiner has always harbored a love of music, and it has manifested in several forms over the years. Most recently he has been playing solo gigs around the area in a more subdued manner, focusing more on the substance than the show.

We recently caught him in between classes to chat for a bit:

Johnny: You’ve been performing music in East Texas for a while now. When were you first drawn to music?

Tiner: I don’t think I can really pinpoint a specific time. Music was always “there” from as far back as I can remember. My mother’s side of the family are all fairly musically inclined. She and her sisters grew up in East Texas performing in a little trio; my aunt Sandy played piano for the church I grew up in. They all sang in the choir as did my sister, cousins, and I. Southern Baptist churches teach kids music and even a little music theory very early. Dad played in a band in college and was an avid concert goer, and his musical taste was all over the map. I’d hear 3 Dog Night, The Beatles, Don Mclean, Johnny Cash, Beethoven, and Johnny Mathis in a single afternoon. But I really got hooked when I discovered playing the guitar and bass (taking lessons from the legendary John Defoore) and found this whole world out there of music not on the radio. Wow! And you can go see these guys around here!

Johnny: What were some of your influences early on that shaped your musical direction?

Tiner: My influences are about like my attention: I’m constantly drawn in a thousand directions. That’s now, but the beginnings were classic rock and blues guys, I guess. From Led Zeppelin, the obligatory Tom Petty, Allman Brothers, and Stevie. Then I went through a country phase of a lot of Dwight Yoakam and Willie. When I started making my own music, it was largely artists that were exceptional with lyrical content in addition to the music such as Dylan, Mclean, Counting Crows, Tom Petty (again), and later, Whiskeytown, Tom Waits, Uncle Tupelo, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Todd Snider, Fred Eaglesmith, Son Volt, Reckless Kelly, The Old 97’s, Rodney Crowell; how much time do we have here? Sometimes, I sound more like a fan of music than a musician.

Johnny: How would you describe your music now, and how has it evolved over the years?

Tiner: I’ve definitely gotten softer. I played in the Texas/Red Dirt scene (I think that’s what they call it now) in the early 2000’s in a band that was a lot more rock and roll than “Texas Country” for a while. Long hair, loud, and smokey. Our music got a lot better over time. More developed, I guess. I picked up the mandolin and harmonica along the way, and we started doing some more musically intricate stuff. More than just banging guitars. It was more focused. I started playing with other groups some, and in song swaps and things like that with members of my band and with guys that weren’t in my band. I really liked that “unscripted” and unrehearsed atmosphere a lot. I felt like I got to connect with people and other musicians on a much deeper level. I met a mixed bag of “proper criminals” during that time; some of which I still play with now. Slowly, my “rockin’ red dirt” stuff wasn’t as appealing as say Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, and the Avett Brothers. I started to dig the banjo, sing high harmonies, and I started picking up and writing stuff that I wouldn’t have tried in my other band. I was having a ton of fun! That original band came to an end, but I kept on playing with other people as much as six nights a week.

I was terrified going solo acoustic in the beginning. I’m a people guy. Someone to give and get back from on stage. When it’s just you, that’s a bit more difficult. It’s scary if you don’t have a large fan/friend base that’ll come see you all the time. I had already graduated from college and wasn’t really plugged into the school anymore, and therefore solo gigs were something I tried to avoid, although I did a fair amount of them. After moving up here to East Texas, I certainly would consider myself a solo acoustic guy. It just kind of happened that way.

Now, I think I’d describe my music as Americana singer/songwriter or “back porch” music. Woody, acoustic music with a little mischief attached.

Johnny: Are you primarily a solo act, or do you collaborate with other musicians regularly?

Tiner: Primarily solo acoustic now, although that is changing some. Not in the form of a band but because I am playing mandolin, etc. with other groups and artists a little bit. I’ve found it keeps me learning, engaged, and more excited and eager.

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Johnny: How much original music do you typically try to work into a set?

Tiner: Always tricky, right? It depends on the venue and the time I have to play. Three hours is a lot of music. But even the cover stuff I do doesn’t seem to be recognizable to a lot of folks in this area. I try to do songs that fit with the stuff that I’ve written so it feels a little more seamless. I’m not the guy that does a cover for the sake of just doing the popular song. There was a time, but I do throw in a “Dock of the Bay” or “7 Spanish Angels” to make it all right, though.

Johnny: Do you typically play in the immediate vicinity, or do you get the opportunity to travel?

Tiner: I do travel but not very often and usually to places where I’ve done very well in the past or with good friends. I stick to the general East Texas area currently. I did plenty of travel when I first started.

Johnny: What are some of the challenges of balancing the passion for music with the responsibilities of being an “adult?”

Tiner: I’m a husband and father first, a teacher second, and a musician third.The cool thing is that you can usually mix two of those at a time. Having time to write is still something I struggle with. Being a school teacher keeps me young, however, and gives me plenty of inspiration to write.

Johnny: What have been some of your best memories on stage and off?

Tiner: I’ve been privileged to play with a lot of big names over the years and a few sold out places, always loved that. But some memories that stick out are playing at Luckenbach with three of my best friends in front of an incredible crowd. Doing a song swap with Susan Gibson at the Houston Rodeo BBQ area to a crowd of like four people. (Sounds a lot less cool than it was.) The Mucky Duck in Houston. Oh, and totally getting blown off by my future wife after a show because she “wasn’t gonna be that girl.”

Johnny: What do you have in store for the rest of the year and beyond into 2018?

Tiner: I’m taking a little time off in October to recharge and rework a few things. I will be recording before the end of the year, and that’s exciting. Next year, I think you’ll see me playing a lot more with others than this year.

Johnny: What’s currently queued up in your playlist?

Tiner: Robbie Fulks – Fare Thee Well, Carolina Gals

Catch Owen Tiner at an upcoming show near you, and check him out online at facebook.com/owentinermusic.

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Stefan Cotter: A Little Out Of The Ordinary

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By Johnny Griffith

It’s the weekend. You want to get out of your home and enjoy some time out. Maybe some dinner and afterwards, a bit of live music at one of the venues around town but you want something a little different than the usual. Not that the usual isn’t good, but you’re just marching to the beat of a different drum today and want a soundtrack to accompany your mood. If that is the case, then you need to find where Stefan Cotter is playing and make your way to one of his shows.

Originally a product of Morgantown, West Virginia, the unique singer/songwriter eventually found his way to East Texas with his wife about 8 years ago and has been doing things a little differently ever since. With the ability to be comfortable playing multiple and disparate genres, Cotter has contributed to many local groups and continues to entertain audiences all over the region with his eclectic brand of musicianship that is definitely not the ordinary.

We tracked Stefan down to get a better perspective on what he’s doing and how he’s doing it:

Johnny: What were your earliest musical memories and what got you interested in being a musician initially?

Stefan: My dad is a trumpet player/teacher, who is finally retiring this year, and I remember him writing out “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and teaching me how to read music on the trumpet. As I recall, that was about 4th grade. He also did a lot of musical theater gigs in the summer when I was little and I used to go sit in the orchestra pit with all of the musicians and I thought it was awesome fun. Those people were great musicians, some of whom I still know to this day. I also got to experience him as my high school band director, which made for a lot of great fun! One memory that sticks out was probably around second grade when he let me march with the high school marching band and play cymbals in the small town we lived in during that time.

Johnny: Your bio on ReverbNation cites your genre as reggae, rockabilly, bluegrass, and rock. That’s an unique mix, especially in this neck of the woods. What are some of your staple cover tunes that really highlight a Stefan Cotter show?

Stefan: I have a lot of “favorite” cover songs but some that have stuck with me are: “Don’t Let Me Down” by the Beatles, “Valerie” by The Zutons, “Could You Be Loved and Waiting in Vain” by Bob Marley, plenty of 50’s country and rock ‘n roll, Chuck Berry’s “Roll over Beethoven,” and lots of old traditional bluegrass as well. Coming from West Virginia, bluegrass and old time music is everywhere.

Johnny: What drew you to those styles of music as your genres of choice?

Stefan: I have no logical explanation, but I assume the excitement. If the music is good, I get excited and the feet start stompin’. You know it when you hear it. That goes for reggae, jazz…anything. Also, I think punk rock/ska was my first love I reckon and there is something very punk rock about Chuck Berry, early Beatles, and early rockabilly. There’s just tons of energy. To add to that, the guy that taught me how to run a real sound system, Paul Vallett, also introduced me to REAL roots reggae, “Rock Steady,” and reggae dub. There is nothing better than testing a full on sound system when there is nobody there and just pounding that low and slow reggae. So that’s where the reggae came in I suppose.

Johnny: Who would you say your biggest musical influences were when you were discovering your “sound?”

Stefan: It’s constantly evolving, and that includes my sound too I guess. Sublime was my favorite band for a long time in Junior High and High School. Reel Big Fish was what band I wanted to be in. I was in Jazz band and the orchestra in high school so that brought in a lot of new music. Then I got into jazz/ classical music in college. I was obviously exposed to a ton of different ideas and I loved it. Again, the reggae sound system, then I found Django Reinhardt, who is my all time favorite guitarist. Bob Wills and John Prine and suddenly I get lost again on an entirely different rabbit hole. I’m also constantly influenced by the bands that I’ve played with, both as a college credit or rock bands that I played around with in Morgantown, most notably The Greens. You should check them out, those guys absolutely rock!

Johnny: Are you primarily a solo act or do you work with a stage band?

Stefan: Actually I try not to play solo any more. Its too much fun to play with other people. We’ve got Big Funky Cloud (BFC) at Stanley’s every Wednesday with Keith (“Grease”) Jones on bass, Nick Pencis on drums, Gary Freeman on keys, and myself.

Then we’ve got a string band that we call The Thing Band for lack of a better name. It is with Gary Freeman (keys), Jake Ham (drums) and myself play as a trio sometimes, and we throw in Jopi Drew (bass) for good measure when we can. Jake Ham and Jopi Drew and I have been playing music for the past 8 years or more and love it.

Johnny: About how many shows a month are you currently playing?

Stefan: I play about four shows a week. I play with BFC every Wednesday at Stanley’s BBQ and every Saturday with my old time/bluegrass band at The Grove and others thrown in there depending on the week.

Johnny: How many originals do you usually try to work into an average set?

Stefan: I try to work in about 10-12 but it just depends on the crowd and the night. Sometimes people are in the mood to dance to songs they know, but every now and then you can slip some originals in and the crowd will respond positively. Those are the nights you know it’ll be a fun time.

Johnny: Are you primarily playing in this area or are you traveling to other markets to play gigs?

Stefan: I’m currently just sticking around town. I’d like to get into Dallas but you’ve got to have some momentum to make money there and right now I’m trying to build that locally to be able to parlay that into some attention in the Dallas scene.

Johnny: How would you describe a typical set for a new listener?

Stefan: I call it “Rastabilly”which is lots of fun party-type reggae and old fashioned rockabilly/country/bluegrass all mixed with gypsy jazz. Be ready to dance!

Johnny: What’s on your radar for the rest of the year and beyond?

Stefan: Right now, just keeping busy playing shows mainly. Playing on my fellow bandmates records and hopefully being able to compile an album myself.

Be sure to check out Stefan Cotter online at facebook.com/stefancottermusic or stefancotter.com.

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Chris Oliver & Company: Making The Connection

By Johnny Griffith

If you’ve been to The Grove in Tyler recently on a Sunday morning for brunch, chances are you’ve been listening to the solid grooves of Chris Oliver & Company whether you realized it or not. Originally born in Tyler, Chris attended both Robert E Lee and John Tyler high schools before finishing at North Garland High School in 1995. Eventually moving back to Tyler, Oliver has been a mainstay in the music scene for several years. An accomplished drummer, Chris now fronts the eponymous Chris Oliver & Company and their mission is to make sure you walk away from a show with a smile on your face and the beat in your heart.

We talked with Chris recently to get more info on what they’ve got going:

Johnny: Who makes up the “& Company” portion of Chris Oliver & Company?

Chris: Chris Oliver & Company is myself, Josh Brock, Calvin Sheffield, and Dr. George Faber. That’s been the lineup since we started.

Johnny: How did you guys all meet?

Chris: I grew up with Calvin pretty much all my life and he’s been one of my best friends. We’ve played in church as well as playing in several other bands around the area including being the rhythm section for Wesley Pruitt. Dr. Faber has pretty much been a mentor to both of us since we were both young and has been playing forever. I met Josh Brock about 4 years ago and he was one of those guys that came in and fit like he’d been with us for years.

Johnny: How did Chris Oliver & Company form?

Chris: About 2 years ago, from another gig I was doing, I was asked to do a Sunday brunch show over at The Grove. I had to put together a band specifically for that and, you know, it’s not easy getting a bunch of musicians to do a mid-morning gig on Sunday after playing out till 2am the night before. That first bunch I put together is still Chris Oliver & Company today.

Johnny: You guys play a superb mix of songs…what genre would you consider your wheelhouse?

Chris: That’s a hard question. Everything has a season and I can look back and see where my musical life has been a steady progression with different styles and preferences each taking their turn. If I had to pick one singular style, I’d have to say blues-ish, but it’s really not that simple.

Johnny: You guys were invited to play down in Austin at the Heart of Texas Blues Challenge last year. How was that experience and what do you feel you learned as a band?

Chris: Yeah, we got the invite down there so Josh, myself, and another bass player went down due to Calvin not being able to make it, and we auditioned. They were impressed enough that we were invited to actually participate. We went back down in August and won the preliminary round which got us to the finals. While we were eventually beat out, it was a great experience. The finals were at Antone’s in Austin which has had some legendary players on stage over the years. That atmosphere, on that stage, you could feel the vibe and the history and we grew a lot from that.

Johnny: How far are you traveling to play shows at this point?

Chris: Right now we’re staying local until our album is finished. We will be getting ready to do a tour after that, which will take us out of state but until then it’s home.

Johnny: About how many shows are you playing a month these days?

Chris: We’re mainly hitting about four shows a month, really focusing on the album, and playing the standing brunch gig at The Grove.

Johnny: How have local crowds reacted to a band that doesn’t really fit the mold for this region?

Chris: Every time we hit the stage, I don’t care where it is, if they call us to play and you see this band and our show, I want you to have an experience. If you’re down, we’re going to hit a point in the set where we’re going to lift you up. But we’re not really there playing for the masses…we’re there for that individual and when you connect with lots of people on an individual level, something special happens.

Johnny: Are you working originals into your set list or is it primarily cover tunes?

Chris: It really depends on how we’re feeling that day. Some people who have heard our originals will ask for them but it really depends on the vibe. Sometimes we will throw some out and see what kind of reaction we get.

Johnny: How would you describe a typical Chris Oliver & Company show?

Chris: We try to get your attention, make you listen, make you have fun…we might take you to church, it just depends, but we always end with thank you and an appreciation for the audience.

Johnny: Any big plans on the horizon for the rest of the year?

Chris: Our main priority right now is finishing the album and putting together a tour to get the word out.

Johnny: So after two years of Chris Oliver & Company, what would you say has been your most memorable gig to this point?

Chris: That Antone’s gig for the Blues Challenge was easily most memorable. Everyone brought their “A” game and was on point. Again, that combined with the history of that place and the players that have graced that stage…it was unforgettable.

Johnny: Who would you say you’re listening to right now that gets you excited?

Chris: I’d say right now I’ve been listening to a lot of Donnie Hathaway vocally, but I’m just a fan of music in general.

You can catch Chris Oliver & Company at facebook.com/chrisoliverandcompany. You can also catch Chris Oliver & Company most Sundays during brunch at The Grove in Tyler.

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