A country singer in Los Angeles can start to identify with the Lone Ranger these days.
Although there’s a long, proud history of country music emanating from the West Coast, especially the vibrant scene that emerged in Bakersfield in the 1950s and '60s, almost half a century later, singer-songwriter Sam Outlaw feels like kindred spirits are relatively few and far between.
That’s the theme he puts across in the new video for the title track from his debut album, “Angeleno,” and no, that’s not a stage name -- it’s a family name on his mother’s side.
“I use the word ‘cowboy’ for anybody who is living life by their own terms,” Outlaw told the Los Angeles Times recently. “Maybe it’s a musician, and the proverbial gun is your guitar. Or maybe you’re a rodeo rider and your gun is the bull or the bronc your riding.”
That’s why he chose L.A.-based rodeo champion Cesar Kid Banuelos as the focal point of the tale in his Max Cutrone-directed video. It follows Banuelos moving between his life as a husband and father of a young son, and his career in which he voluntarily straps himself onto the backs of 1,000-pound four-legged creatures to earn his living.
“In the song, I stole a line from [musician-producer] Ry Cooder’s book ‘Los Angeles Stories,’ about this being the city where you have to pay for every second chance. ... This was heavily inspired by Ry, who is one of the great L.A. musicians, who did the opposite of what was popular at the time he started making records. He incorporated Norteño music on his records and made music on his own terms.”
Returning the favor, Cooder and his musician-son, Joachim, co-produced "Angeleno," which has helped Outlaw's career gain some traction.
Two nights before the recent Grammy Awards ceremony, Outlaw took part in the American Music Assn.’s showcase at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, where he joined in an multi-artist salute to the Eagles’ Glenn Frey. Among the country, rock and roots artists he shared the stage with that night: Bonnie Raitt, Lee Ann Womack, Brandi Carlile, Jack Ingram, the Civil Wars’ John Paul White and Nicki Bluhm.
“I was pinching myself most of the night,” he said. “I don’t even think there’s any debate that the Eagles are one of the best bands of all time, so it was an honor to be part of that group and to do some their songs. And to be around Bonnie Raitt -- she heard me singing during sound check and then complimented me on my voice. That’s probably the greatest thing ever happened to me.”
He’s also on the schedule for the 2016 edition of the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio, where he was a last-minute substitute in 2014 after a performer canceled.
He’s particularly looking forward to a return to Indio. Normally he tours with a small-scale backing band, but at Stagecoach (which runs April 29 to May 1), he will be bringing along Mariachi Teocuitatlan, which is featured in the “Angeleno” video, as well as additional singers, a string section and added horn players.
As for the story at the heart of the song “Angeleno,” and the presentation of it in the video, which is heavily L.A.-centric, Outlaw said: “It’s just a simple love story. In some ways it’s more about the woman who supports the guy. She stands by him, despite the fact that he’s broke and that he’s never around.
“These days my wife can connect with that part of it,” he said with a laugh.
“I’m not trying to glorify myself in anyway,’ he said. “But at times I feel a little lonely making country music in L.A., maybe like the guy riding a horse in the middle of an arena in front of a bunch of screaming drunk people.
“It takes guts and humility to get a chance to do what you’re doing,” he said, “and get paid to do it.”