Swizzle to Sizzle

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Drinking oneself out of a window of opportunity is nothing new, but rising country star Shane McAnally used drinking to his advantage. Once a bartender in Nashville but now riding high with the hit single "Say Anything" and a new album due soon, McAnally will entertain the pointy-shoe crowd at the Ventura County Fair during a pair of Thursday night gigs at 7 and 9 p.m.

McAnally, a Texan with ambitions the size of the Lone Star State, dropped out of college and moved to Nashville because that's where the music is. From bartender to touring musician is not the usual path to success, but it worked for the young singer, who discussed the latest during a recent phoner.

So to become a country music star, one should go to Nashville and become a bartender?

That was my way. I had to pay the bills, and that was an easy way to do it. I worked from 9 at night until 3 in the morning, which gave me all day to network and meet people. I was totally driven, and it worked. As to bartending, I don't remember any of that stuff--I don't think I could make a Crown and Coke if I had to. It's not like riding a bicycle--you do forget.

So how did you get signed?

I think there's a lot of luck involved, it's maybe 50-50. There's a lot of talented people here that don't have a deal, thousands of them, really. You just have to have perseverance. This is what I know how to do, and all that I want to do.

Why Nashville and not Austin?

In Austin, you can play in clubs, but it's not about mainstream commercialism. You have to go to Nashville if you want to do country, or L.A. if you want to do pop music. That's just the way it is.

When did you know you wanted to be a musician?

My parents have a tape of me singing when I was 3, and I was writing songs since I was 6. I always had these songs in my head--it was just something that I did. I remember my cousins were always making fun of me because I was singing these songs I was making up at the time. I sang this Johnny Paycheck song "Take This Job and Shove It" when I was 6, so even then, I guess, I was bound to be a musician. I learned to play guitar and piano, but just well enough to write songs.

How would you describe your music?

It's all over the place. I do some traditional stuff and some progressive stuff that no one else has tried. I grew up listening to Marty Robbins and Merle Haggard, but in the '80s you couldn't get away from MTV, so I heard all that stuff, too, because my friends weren't into country music.

How does the songwriting process work for you?

When I first moved to Nashville, I was convinced that I couldn't co-write. I thought if it was my song, what could someone else possibly contribute? But having a co-writer is so much easier. You look at a song with a one-track mind while a co-writer sees it in a totally different way and broadens everything. With a co-writer, you get so much more out of a song.

What's the most misunderstood thing about a musician's lifestyle?

It's probably the glamour that people think is going on. We're not staying in the fanciest hotels, and half the time we're riding around in a minivan. People are surprised to find out we hang out at Taco Bell. I don't live behind some big guarded gate. I live in a little duplex--most people probably live in a better place than I do. It costs money to be out on the road, and this stuff doesn't just happen overnight.

What advice would you give aspiring musicians?

If you want to do country music, then you need to go to Nashville. You have to go where the music is. If you're in Kansas, who do you think you're going to meet there? You also need perseverance. When you go to Nashville, there will be a whole lot of other talented people. If you're talented, or even a little bit talented, and you hang in there, people will take you serious.

What's the strangest gig you ever played?

We went from playing in front of 10,000 people opening for Alabama, and you think, "Man, all these people know my songs." But then, a few hours later, I was on the back of a flatbed truck playing for 18 people in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart. That can be very humbling.

So do bad girlfriends make for good songs?

Oh definitely. When you're in love and in a really great relationship, it's hard to write a good song. When one of my songwriting partners breaks up with his girlfriend or gets divorced, I always call them right up and say, "Hey, you wanna write?"

DETAILS

Music acts at the 1999 Ventura County Fair: Shane McAnally (Thursday), Tribal Me, Peter Frampton (Aug. 6), Toby Keith and Chris Jay & the Army of Freshmen (Aug. 7), Banda La Costena, Yolanda Del Rio and Key West (Aug. 8), Beach Boys (Aug. 9), Harry Connick Sr. and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra (Aug. 10), the Four Seasons (Aug. 11), Chris LeDoux and Mark Wills (Aug. 12), Wayne Toups & Zydecajun (Aug. 13), Kevin Blake Willard & the Cadillac Cowboys (Aug. 14), Slawjack Blues Band (Aug. 15). Free with fair admission; 648-3376.

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Santa Paula will be rockin' this summer with a five-week series of mostly local singer/songwriters beginning Sunday evening at the Santa Paula Theatre Center.

Kicking off the festivities will be the greatest band in all of Foster Park, the acoustic duo Left of Memphis. Leslie Merical and Marty Van Loan have just completed their second CD of eclectic folk songs, "A Little Bit of Rain."

All the performances in the "Summer Sundays Singer Songwriters Series" will begin at 7 p.m. and last two hours. The historic venue will be, if anything, cozy, as the shows will be limited to 99 people.

DETAILS

Left of Memphis (Sunday), Greg Walsh, Karen Beatty, Juanita Robles and Amanda Watson-Thompson (Aug. 8), Sangre de Oro (Aug. 15), Bonnie Campbell, Keith Michl, Milton Kelley, Bill Bartels & Pam Torres (Aug. 22) and Bizarre Gardening Accident and Amanda Watson-Thompson (Aug. 29) at the Santa Paula Theatre Center, 125 S. 7th St.; $10 advance or $12.50 at the door; 525-7804.

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When the wife runs off with an ugly truck driver but leaves the kids, when armadillos hot-wire the tractor and when John Wayne is selling beer on television commercials, there's always country music. The Mavericks, those Grammy Award-winning country superstars, will entertain Tuesday night at the venerable Ventura Theatre.

Since their 1990 debut, the Mavericks have released five albums of country and American roots music. Even rockers who don't like country music enjoy the Mavericks. Part of it has to do with the vocal excellence of lead singer Raul Malo, who also writes most of the songs.

Living up to their names, the band began their career doing country music in Miami, a city known for Southern rock and dance music. It worked. Their big label debut in 1992, "From Hell to Paradise," got their name out there and had critics inventing adjectives. The next one, "What a Crying Shame," went platinum and earned the band the Top Vocal Group and Top New Vocal Group awards from the Academy of Country Music. The single "Here Comes the Rain" won a Grammy.

DETAILS

The Mavericks at the Ventura Theatre, 26 Chestnut St., Tuesday, 7 p.m.; $30; 653-0721.

* Bill Locey can be reached by e-mail at blocey@pacbell.net.

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