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Lone Star Jam singer Kyle Park received education from country greats

Michael Corcoran
Kyle Park, who grew up in Leander, will be playing the Lone Star Jam on Saturday. Park writes his own music. 'If I'm not on stage or in the studio, I'm usually trying to write a song,' he says.

Some musicians spend a lifetime trying to get their music on the radio, but rising country singer Kyle Park got his first bit of airplay while still a student at Leander High. "I got to school one day and some kids were telling me they heard me on KVET," said Park, 25, who recalls when Leander was considered rural. "What happened was my uncle saw Sammy Allred somewhere and gave him a copy of my record. We didn't think he was actually going to play it."

That first single, "Ask Ol' Hank," was especially important to a 16-year-old Park because it featured John Michael Whitby on keyboards. Park's now-manager Whitby was, at the time, a member of Asleep at the Wheel. The very first time Park and his band (Karl Schwoch, guitar; Will Armstrong, drums; and Eric Lenington, bass) played a paying club gig, it was at the Broken Spoke, opening for the Wheel in December 2006.

But during his college days at Texas State University in San Marcos, Park received an even more notable initiation to the world of country music. Every Tuesday, he'd go to a club called Nephews and sit in with members of George Strait's Ace in the Hole band. "I called it 'Honky Tonk 101,'" said Park, who sang covers of some of his favorite artists, including Keith Whitley, Alabama, Chris LeDoux and, of course, King George.

Park, who plays Saturday at Waterloo Park as part of the Lone Star Jam, made his mark on the Texas country scene with his 2008 LP "Anywhere in Texas." He wrote the title track, an update of Gary P. Nunn's "London Homesick Blues," after missing his flight in Paris after a short European tour and having to spend five hours in an airport with a language barrier. "After awhile that line came to me: 'I don't need to go home/ but anywhere in Texas will be fine,'\u2009" he said.

"I can really write anywhere," said Park, who currently calls San Marcos home. "If I'm not on stage or in the studio, I'm usually trying to write a song." Besides two studio albums, Park released a pair of EPs, "Spring 2010" and "Fall 2010," with the intent to compile the best of those tracks and a few new ones for his next LP, set to hit stores in the fall.

There's a melodic thrust to Park's songs, delivered with a nasal twang, often lacking in others of the so-called "Red Dirt" country scene of Texas and Oklahoma. "I think one thing that sets me apart is that I didn't listen to just Texas songwriters when I was growing up," said Park, who was greatly influenced by Alabama's "Song of the South" at a young age. "I've always listened to country radio, so I listened to everybody."

If there's a young country artist in Texas with the potential for mainstream country radio, it's Park, whose ace in the hole is drummer Armstrong, a recording engineer at Ray Benson's Bismeaux Studio, where Park makes all his records.

"It makes it a lot easier getting studio time," Park said with a laugh.

But the man of both the ball cap and the Stetson says that playing live has always been the focus. "When we were starting out, I didn't turn down a single gig," said Kyle, a quadruple threat who also plays lead guitar and produces, in addition to singing and songwriting. "I just want to play, play, play." Park and his band do upwards of 175 shows a year and have built loyal followings in Austin, College Station, Lubbock — any Texas city that's home to a major university.

"The music industry has changed so much because of the Internet," said Park, who saves a lot of time by not courting a deal with a struggling major label. "But playing live is still the same. You want to play well and connect with the crowd."

And then, when you have a new song that's going over like crazy, you get your drummer to see if he could squeeze you in.

mcorcoran@statesman.com; 445-3652

Lone Star Jam