When I first met the guys from Amarillo, I got a free coffee (very nice touch) and an abbreviated history of a highly interesting group on the local circuit. This quartet has only one remaining original member: Doug Holt, a Rolla, Missouri native who is no stranger to music (his father’s band plays in Branson and was active in Texas). His ongoing tenacity has given Amarillo some countrified inertia. As Holt described it, “Starting out, I had a guitar player, a bass player and a drumless drummer. And the country music scene was pretty dead when we started out.”
The group formed a little over two years ago, playing their first show at Chaps in Fort Wayne (where Holt claims only three people were in the crowd). and by their third show they were opening for Johnny Cash’s brother.
The original group wasn’t to be, however, and Holt soon found himself looking for another band. As he put it, “People wanted to do other things. That happens in the music business.”
Amarillo version 2 formed, managing another three shows before people wanted to do other things again. The second time around, Holt openly admitted being down about the dissolution, but it seems he was not out. He rebounded again to begin recruiting for new band members. Clinton Billman (formerly of Gunter and Co.) recalls, “I got an e-mail that basically said, ‘Interested in playing country?’ with Doug’s name on it.” Holt was impressed with Billman’s stage presence, musicianship and vocals. Just like that, Holt had his lead guitarist. As if forming a country rock band were so easy. [Editor’s note: Since this story was written, Billman has been replaced by Gary “Meatball” McMeekin” on lead guitar and vocals.}
How’s this for an interesting side note? Former Amarillo band members are now active in five of the area’s country and rock groups: Midnight Special; Stone Cold Cowboys; Outlaw Cowboys; BackWater; and Shake n’ Bake. In a strange twist of irony, Holt says these groups do find themselves in competition with each other, but he believes they all get along like a big country family should. Holt says that if there’s a gig Amarillo can’t take, one of their competitors just might get a call, from Amarillo. “We go to each other’s shows, and join each other up on stage. We all support each other. It’s not as competitive as the rock scene is here,” Holt explained.
“The level of musicianship that we’ve got in Amarillo now is exciting. We’re really focused on the quality of music, and we’re excited about this lineup. This is probably the best mix of musicians Amarillo has ever had.”
The guys, of course, each keep their day jobs, but they are committed to the band. Holt really wants longevity in Amarillo v.3 after so many attempts to find the right mix of musicians. And the current foursome willingly signed on that dotted line. Billman explained, “It really takes a couple years to settle in. There’s a certain amount of energy in this group, and we’ve become good friends. The feeling is there.” (Two additional members are also active in Amarillo, but prefer to remain anonymous in the hopes of not jinxing the group. Not a bad call, considering.)
Holt talked about the band’s lyrics and music as well. “We like Jason Aldean and Chris Gagle. ‘Old Bird Dog’ (Kenny Chesney) is our favorite lately. Hopefully we’ll be able to have 15 percent original music real soon. Right now, we’re really focusing on our songs. We’ve overturned our whole playlist.
“The country songs we’re doing are as close to rock as you can get without crossing the line; about 75 percent hard rock and country and 25 percent alternative and metal, if you can picture that! Everything from Nickelback to Seether to George Strait. We’re already the only country band that plays in some rock heavy locations.”
“I am very thankful to the local people who believed in me and my ability to get great musicians together –– like the Neon Armadillo, Dupont Bar and Grill and the Rock-n-Horse. It’s been a long road, and we’re ready to go,” Holt added.
Keep in mind, this is a group that passed up opening for David Allen Coe this July. A young inexperienced band might have jumped at the chance – and shot themselves in the foot. These guys are serious; as they explained, “We weren’t ready for that show when the opportunity came along.”
They’re probably ready now.
Check out Amarillo at www.myspace.com/theamarilloband