Wade Bowen’s music career has taken him everywhere. With tour dates in France, the U.K., and Germany, Wade has journeyed all across the world sharing his heart through country music. Yet, regardless of where he has roamed, one place is always in the back of his mind beckoning him home . . . his beloved Texas. If home is truly where the heart is, then Wade Bowen’s heart is as Texan as Franklin Barbecue, Lady Bird Lake, and Sunday night football. In spite of his travels near and far, at the end of the day, there is no place on Earth quite as special to Bowen as the Lone Star State.
WHO I AM
Wade Bowen was born in Waco, Texas in 1977 to parents Glenda Waller Bowen and James (Jim) Bowen. Jim is the president of Bowen Electric in Waco, which was founded by Wade’s grandparents Paul and Dorothy Bowen in 1955. Growing up, Bowen’s childhood was nothing short of idyllic. His parents were both huge country music lovers who always had the house full of music, singing, and dancing. Bowen’s mother loved Patsy Cline and Elvis, while his dad loved Willie Nelson and Guy Clark. His sisters Tammy, Tracy, and Jill liked George Strait and Garth Brooks and were always dragging Bowen off to concerts. At age five, Bowen’s first concert was Alabama – an unforgettable experience. Around age 6 or 7, Bowen told his buddies that when he grew up, he was going to be a country singer. However, Bowen was always shy about music, rarely sang in front of anyone, and said little else about the subject. Because of this, no one really paid attention to the statement; yet the words were still prophetic.
Bowen’s parents, who were both Catholic, sent their children to Waco’s Catholic schools to give them a strong religious foundation. However, Glenda was raised Baptist and still sung some of the old Baptist hymns she grew up with, songs that would later become the foundation of one of Bowen’s most cherished albums. Then Sings My Soul . . . Songs for My Mother was recorded as a Christmas gift for Bowen’s mother in 2016. Growing up, Bowen always recalled his mom singing, and credits her for being the one who really pushed him to chase his musical dreams.
In school, Bowen was a popular, friendly kid. He was an avid sports fan and athlete who was involved in just about every sport. He attended Reicher Catholic High School where he played football, baseball, basketball, golf, and ran track. Bowen’s musical gift did not blossom until a little bit later. Although he got his first guitar at age nine, he did not really work on playing until he was older. His writing eventually ignited the fire. Bowen began writing short stories and poems in high school. As he got better at it, he wanted to learn some guitar chords so he could put them to music. At age 17, he finally worked on playing guitar, and once he began putting chords and lyrics together, Bowen just could not stop.
HONKY TONK ROAD
Bowen’s first paying job was working for his father at Bowen Electric, so for a while, people naturally assumed he would carry on the family business. However, Bowen made it clear that he had other plans. After high school, he enrolled in Texas Tech University where he earned a degree in public relations and minored in marketing. During college Bowen worked a string of odd jobs, including one as a maintenance man at an apartment complex for the elderly where he would often get tipped in Hershey’s bars.
During his freshman year of college, Bowen saw a Robert Earl Keen concert. Up until that point, Bowen thought the only way to make it in country music was to move to Nashville. Yet after seeing Keen, he realized that the best way to get started in the music business was to just get started. From that point on, he was determined to start a band and get himself out there. He decided that he did not have to have all the answers, he would simply figure them out along the way.
At age 20, during his sophomore year of college, Bowen and his friend Matt Miller got some buddies together, started a band, and began practicing in Bowen’s garage. His first gig was an open mic night at Stubb’s in Lubbock. At the time, the group did not even have a name. On the way to the gig, inspiration struck and West 84, the name of the freeway from Waco to Lubbock, became the band’s official name. The band played a lot of cover songs and tried to learn what stirred clouds. Six months later, Stubb’s closed and the group began playing at The Blue Light.
“You’ve got to be awful at first to figure it all out,” Bowen explained to Jim Casey, editor in chief of Nash Country Daily. “My theory was always let’s throw ourselves into shark-infested waters and swim our way out and survive instead of just hanging out at the shore watching everybody.”
Once Bowen got a taste of music, he dove right in and began singing as often as possible. Although his heart was already elsewhere, Bowen was still determined to earn his degree in order to make his father happy. After college, he worked temporarily for Bowen Electric to make some extra money, but from the moment he first got on stage, everything Bowen did seemed to somehow revolve around music.
“He started playing in a band around ’98,” said Bowen’s pledge brother from his college fraternity, Sigma Chi. “Wade would always be sitting around playing his guitar and singing George Strait songs. He was really good. He’s still the same. He’s still a really good guy.”
In 1999, Bowen released his first album Just for Fun. Just like most beginnings, Just for Fun was a venture that Bowen is slightly embarrassed about today and has deemed “awful.” In 2002, Bowen released his next album, Try Not To Listen, which became a local phenomenon. After that, Bowen took gigs anywhere he could, performing up to 250 gigs a year. Eventually, his title track rose to the top ten on the Texas music charts. He followed up that album with The Blue Light Live in 2003 and Lost Hotel in 2006. For the first time, Bowen was getting audiences outside of his home state and his star was beginning to rise.
At that point, Bowen began collaborating with country music legends like Pat Green, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Radney Foster, Randy Rogers, and brother-in-law Cody Canada of Cross Canadian Ragweed. The collaborations brought Bowen’s music in front of new audiences and really got his name out there.
During his early days out on the road, Bowen did some touring alongside singer Cody Canada and his band, which was then Cross Canadian Ragweed. Bowen and Cody were playing some of the same gigs and had really developed a liking for each other, and he began spending time with Cody and his wife Shannon. However, Bowen got the shock of a lifetime when Shannon introduced him to her attractive single sister Shelby who had just moved to Texas from Fresno, California. Bowen hit it off with Shelby right away and the pair began dating. Four years later, in early 2005, Shelby officially became Mrs. Wade Bowen. That July, Wade and Shelby welcomed their first son, Bruce (named after Bruce Springsteen) into the world. Three years later, a second son, Brock, would be born.
“We just kind of slowly got to know each other, and then we just fell in love,” Bowen said of his wife. “What wows me about Shelby, though, is that she just gets prettier. A lot of women feel like when they get older, they lose their good looks, but to me, she just gets prettier.”
A pleasant surprise to the Tired of Being Alone singer, Bowen’s whole world would change by this amazing little family that began to capture his heart. In fact, one of Bowen’s most treasured and beloved songs, Before These Walls Were Blue, was written about his sons.
A PATCH OF BAD WEATHER
However, everything in life was not a bed of roses, as Bowen’s wife suffered from postpartum depression after the birth of their first son. Bowen felt partially to blame because of his time on the road touring. During that time period, there was both contention and emotional turmoil as they each tried to deal with the effects in their own way. Bowen said he just tried to hold on through the difficult times and be there for his wife in any way he could. He later wrote a song, Turn on the Lights about that difficult period where Wade and Shelby were just trying to stay afloat. In 2008, Bowen released an album If We Ever Make It Home. It was a more mature album that dealt with the difficulties of life. This album rose to number 29 on the country music charts.
During this time, Wade and Shelby also decided to help bring awareness to postpartum issues by talking about the struggles and by raising money for Postpartum Support International. Over the next three years, Wade Bowen’s foundation would raise over $300,000 for the organization.
A BATTLE WON
Following the tougher times, Bowen decided to do something a little more fun and released Live at Billy Bob’s Texas in 2010. After that, he signed with BNA Records and released The Given. This time, Bowen’s album reached number nine on the country music charts. His next album was self-titled, and to Bowen’s surprise, reached the top ten on the Billboard country chart. He also appeared on Conan and received national television coverage for the first time. However, his greatest success yet would come in 2015 with the release of Hold My Beer, Vol. 1, which was a duet with Randy Rogers. This album reached number four.
“We decided we’d just go into the studio with Lloyd Maines and record a couple of songs, and tack ‘em on to the live record,” Bowen said in an interview with Texas Music Scene TV. “Randy looked at me and said, ‘This is really good . . . we should make a whole record.”
The album with Randy Rogers went so well that Bowen and Rogers followed it up with an acoustic live album in 2016 called Watch This. That same year, Rogers and Bowen were featured in Rolling Stone Magazine. They followed up their albums with a very successful Hold My Beer and Watch This tour. Following on the heels of that tour, Bowen released what Rolling Stone Country called a love letter to his home state of Texas and his most musically ambitious set of songs in a career that spans two decades. Critics and friends both said they were the best songs he has ever written. However, Solid Ground did not reach the same success level on the charts, partially due to a medical problem with Bowen’s vocal cords that forced him to completely stop singing and have vocal surgery. Because of the medical issues, Bowen stopped promotion of his new album entirely.
“I noticed then that my voice was not normal to me,” Bowen said in his recently released documentary Inconsistent Chaos that chronicled the hardships of 2018.
After visiting the doctor, Bowen was told that his vocal cords were hemorrhaging and that blood was pooling in his throat. What started as three weeks off ended up being a three-month sabbatical from singing. However, as much as Bowen was worried about his voice, he was more worried about paying his staff with no income. On the verge of bankrupting his touring company, Bowen paid all of his people anyway. However, donations came in and helped Bowen through those tough financial times. This got them through the tough financial struggles during his surgery and rehabilitation.
“I knew he was scared because he would say, ‘Don’t tell mom!’” Bowen’s sister Jill Goss said. “We didn’t want her to worry.” However, Bowen made it through the surgery, and returned quickly to singing, only this time, he vowed to take better care of his vocal cords.
TOO LATE FOR GOODBYE
To add insult to injury, Bowen received an even worse blow when he got a call telling him that his nephew Chase Cavender, also his stage manager on the road, committed suicide without warning on Father’s Day of 2018. A happy-go-lucky husband and a brand-new father, nobody quite understood why Cavender would do such a thing. The fact that the whole band was super close to the lively and charismatic Cavender made the tough news even worse. It left the whole group battling shock, emptiness, despair, and anger. It also left many questions that could never be answered.
Following the devastating news, Bowen reluctantly got back out on the road. Because music was his coping mechanism because he needed a distraction from the questions, and because he had people relying on him financially, Bowen returned to singing, taking things one painful day at a time.
“I think I relied on my friends and family… all of that has been the reason I got through it all,” Bowen said. “That, and I just keep working. I try to outwork it. That, and just trust that God has a plan. I trust in God’s words and just do the best I can.”
Last July, however, Bowen had a happy distraction when he sang for his hometown family and friends at the 21st Annual Wade Bowen Music Festival. The annual event is hosted by the Wade Bowen Family Foundation, which gives back to the people of Texas, particularly Bowen’s hometown of Waco. The foundation has donated to organizations like the March of Dimes Waco, CASA of McLennan and Hill Counties, Boys & Girls Clubs of Waco, REACH, Inspiración, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the City of West Disaster Relief. The foundation was thrilled to reach a new milestone this year, as they have now raised over $3.5 million for various charities.
“Earlier this year our foundation received a humanitarian of the year award at the Texas Regional Radio Awards, and that was really fun for me,” Bowen said. “The legacy that I’d like to leave behind is the foundation and all the work that we do. I like to see the good in people and just help other people. That’s really important to me.”
Following his current tour, Bowen hopes to finally make some time to just relax, smell the roses, and play golf, eat pizza, or just watch his favorite funny movie Christmas Vacation.
Bowen says that music makes the world go around because music helps people express what they feel. Perhaps the thing that makes Bowen’s world musical at all is the wonderful people he has had the opportunity to love along the way. In spite of the losses, Bowen still feels that love makes all the difference in the end.