Regular readers of this column already know that I’m a huge fan of vocal harmonies. It matters not in what genre they appear as long as they are strong, sweet and all-encompassing. Well, back in 1991 there was a brand new, brash bunch of young guns (six, all told) that set country music on its collective ear with a sound that married modern rock music with country values and themes — Little Texas. Well, 30-some years later, now pared down to four (Porter Howell, lead vocals and lead guitar; Dwayne O’Brien, vocals and rhythm guitar; Del Gray, drums; and Duane Propes, vocals and bass), that country band is still around and will be heading to central Maine’s Waterville Opera House to perform Friday, Nov. 10. I put in for a phone interview and was pleasantly surprised when a very candid and laid-back Duane Propes gave me a call early evening a week or so ago. I began by asking him if the group gets up to Maine a lot.
Propes: No, we don’t get to Maine a lot. I was just thinking about that this afternoon before I got ready to call you. Trips there have been few and far between. The first time we were there, and I remember it well, we were playing in Bangor. We were with Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart. They were doing their “No Hat Tour.” The last time we were up there was at a fair about seven years ago. I don’t remember where it was though.
Q: So, I would guess that this will be your first time at the Waterville Opera House, right?
Propes: Oh, yeah, definitely, and we’ve done a lot of those kinds of venues this year. We’ve done more theater-type things than we probably ever have in our career since this last year and we have loved every one of them.
Q: Well, the thing of it is that in those venues you are up close to the people unlike the way it is in an arena with thousands of people present. At the opera house you’re going to be able to see the fans that are there, even up in the balcony. There you’ll get an immediate response, which probably adds to the way you perform.
Propes: Of course. I mean in the arenas you really can’t see them, but when we cut loose in a theater you can see everyone respond. We listen to the crowd and if someone calls out a tune we’ll just go with it.
Q: And that’s the other advantage with being with the same members for so many years, it must be almost telepathic up on the stage nowadays.
Propes: It is, yeah, it really is, especially with me and Porter. I mean, we’ve been playing together since I was 14 or 15 years old, and I’m 50 and he’s 53, so that tells you something.
Q: So, what can folks expect from this concert?
Propes: Yeah, that’s always the question, and my favorite thing is to kind of quote Big Brother (a reality television show), “Expect the unexpected.” We never have a set list so anything can happen. But the biggest thing is that it’s just fun, it’s very audience-oriented. The crowd is 90 percent of our show. We’ll walk out into the audience and be a part of the crowd and bring the crowd into what we do. And that’s what we’ve always done, really; we’ve always made the fans the focal point of it instead of us. We’re anti-stars. We’re not very good at being celebrities. We only had that brief moment of it, really (laughter). But, after the show we’ll meet everybody and sign autographs and whatever until everybody wants us to go home. We’re very approachable. It’s just a fun show, it’s a good time. We’re kind of like the Van Halen of country music. It’s all about having a party, having a good time and enjoying the music — having a ball.
Q: Now your latest album is “Young For A Long Time.” When did that come out?
Propes: Two years ago.
Q: Are you working on something new?
Propes: Well, we’re always writing and there’s no pressure on us, which is wonderful. If somebody comes up to us and says, “We’re going to pay you X-amount of money to create an album,” we’ll make an album; but if they don’t we’ll do it on our own time. It’s been seven years between the last two albums and I don’t know how many years in between the two before that, so if it’s needed we’ll do it. Or until we have 11 or 12 songs that we think are just undeniable. I mean records have never made us money so it’s not a live-or-die thing, it’s just something to do to just have new stuff out there. I mean, let’s face it, we’ve been out there for 30 years and fans want to hear five songs. They want to hear “Amy’s Back In Austin;” they want to hear “What Might Have Been;” they want to hear “Kick A Little;” they want to hear “My Love,” and they certainly want to hear “God Bless Texas.”
Q: Oh, definitely that one.
Propes: If we do those five songs everyone goes home happy. So, we have a show that’s just built for making people go nuts and for going back and having fun with something you grew up with — and not all of it is ours.
Q: Huh? So, what do you do that isn’t yours?
Propes: I can’t tell you, it’s a surprise (laughter).
Q: Is there anything you want to share with the people reading this column, especially seeing this will be an area as well as a venue debut?
Propes: Oh, man, just a big thank you for embracing a bunch of yahoos that didn’t know what they were doing at first and still be willing to scream out all the lyrics to a song about Texas — a thousand miles away. Even in Maine they’re going to scream “God bless Texas” and that just makes my heart sing.
Lucky Clark has spent 48 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.