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John Lamb, Published February 26 2011

Lamb: ‘Crazy’ life still favored

Even at just 29 years old, it wasn’t much of a stretch for Ryan Bingham to write “The Weary Kind,” the theme song for the movie “Crazy Heart.”

The singer/songwriter recognized Jeff Bridges’ character, Bad Blake, from his time on the road, first as a bull rider chasing rodeos and then as a singer looking for a place to play. He stumbled across Blake-like characters, particularly in Texas’ more colorful communities, like Austin and Luckenbach.

“The only time you can ever really hear them play is sitting out in the woods somewhere,” Bingham says from a stop in Salt Lake City. “There are still a lot of those characters out there that are still roaming around, and they’re some of the most incredible songwriters I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, people just won’t ever hear about them unless you go find them.”

Raised on his uncle’s album collection of classic rock and country, Bingham picked up the guitar as a way to pass time between rodeos. Eventually he transitioned from cowboy to country rocker.

“I just traded in my bull rope for a guitar; that was the only real difference,” he says.

He and his band, the Dead Horses, lived out of a Suburban, just like Bad Blake. Now they have a bus to travel the country.

The luxury hasn’t softened the raspy singer’s approach or view. His latest disc, last summer’s “Junky Star,” was the other great 2010 country record to comment on the recession. (The other album being Jamey Johnson’s “The Guitar Song.”)

“Traveling around, seeing the condition the country’s in and the condition a lot of people are in, obviously it has a huge effect on us,” Bingham says. “It always seems to come out in the songs.”

While he has an Oscar and a Grammy for “The Weary Kind,” he’s not interested in trading in clubs for the red carpet.

“I don’t think you get used to it,” he says of Hollywood. “It’s a different world.”

And he’s still attached to his rodeo and rock club days driving from town to town in a Suburban.

“I miss it all the time. When I started playing and traveling, rodeo and music, more than anything, it was just about the adventure,” he says. “When we first started, we didn’t have a booking agent. We’d just get in the truck and go. We’d break down in a town and play some people’s front porches for tips until we had enough money to go somewhere else.

“I have a love/hate relationship with the road,” he says. “You always try to find that balance, how long do you stay out in that world? You stay gone long enough, and sometimes there’s no going back.”

Sounds like advice from Bad Blake.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533