By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
The secret to Texas blues singer Charley Crockett's success is simple: He just keeps moving to a better spot.
He started on a street corner in the French Quarter in New Orleans as a kid, performing with his uncle. He busked for a time in New York City subways. And now, he's building a career that has him performing in clubs across the country and winning raves from NPR and elsewhere.
"I was always singing when I was really young with my mama," Crockett said of his upbringing in San Benito.
Soon, the descendent of Davy Crockett was traveling often — sometimes hitchhiking, sometimes hopping trains — to New Orleans where he would crash with his uncle in the French Quarter.
"He worked in a restaurant, so I started hanging out with the street performers," Crockett said. "Mama had got me a guitar, so I started messing around on the street with it.
"I knew I could sing, and I really, really loved it, man," Crockett said. "I'd play in the parks all day ... and I thought, if I can get money here, maybe I should move to a better spot.
"It's been a succession of moving to better spots ever since."
Crockett moved to New York, where he continued to busk, then returned home to Texas to start performing in coffee shops and clubs, including a gig at The 806 Coffee + Lounge in 2014.
"It's hard for me to imagine how I did get into performing and how I started doing it," Crockett said. "I guess it's the only direction I thought I could go, period. It's funny how that works."
He got restless and crossed the ocean to live in Paris for nearly a year, then spent time in Spain and Morocco before returning again to Texas and releasing his debut album, A Stolen Jewel, in 2015. The Dallas Observer named him Best Blues Act that year. His sophomore album, In the Night, was released in 2016, and the single "I Am Not Afraid" wowed NPR's David Dye enough airplay on World Cafe and KXT's Amy Miller to get it mentioned in NPR's "Heavy Rotation" feature.
"As radio programmers who shuffle through hundreds of songs each week, we tend to take these accolades with a grain of salt. A friend had been telling me about Charley Crockett's music for a while and finally, late one night, I happened to see him jump on stage at a local dive in Dallas. I quickly realized that this was an artist who lived up to the hype. Crockett's throwback sound is a blend of blues, New Orleans jazz and soul," Miller wrote.
Crockett said his sound "is like a gumbo."
"I'm drawing from the sounds I hear," Crockett said. "I heard a lot of old-time music on the street, a lot of revival music when I was coming up.
"My affinity for early folk, New Orleans jazz, old-time country — that's just something I like," he continued. "Once I discovered that music, I forgot about everything that was going on today. I found so much connection. When I found Leadbelly or somebody like that, that's all I wanted to listen to.
"But I grew up in this era, and hip-hop was a big part of my life growing up. I'm a millennial," he said. "I am a child of my generation, so obviously, my old-time music is going to reflect that, too. I think that's what you hear on the record."
Now, Crockett is planning a pair of albums to follow In the Night. The first, a honky-tonk tribute album, is scheduled to release in September. And he'll head to Sam Phillips Recording in Memphis, Tenn., to work on a new original album to drop in the spring.
"I love recording, so we talked about it as a team and since I was working on a record of originals, why not record a honky-tonk tribute record?" he said, listing covers of Loretta Lynn's "Honky Tonk Girl" (he'll swap the gender) and Hank Williams' "I Saw the Light."
"I'm really, really proud of it, man," Crockett said. "I think it's going to knock people's socks off."
But for the performer, it all goes back to his days on the street.
"You get more polished as you grow, but the whole business is street performing," Crockett said. "Can you turn people's head? Can you get people to give you a dollar?
"If you can make it work there, you have something," he said. "You know what I mean?"