Houston troubadour finds success in moving around, shaking things up
Songs about heartaches and hangovers are par for the course for most honky-tonk flavored songwriters. Houston troubadour Mike Stinson, in from Virginia by way of Los Angeles, gives listeners that and a whole lot more in his lyrically rambunctious songs.
A die-hard fan of Bob Dylan, Stinson packs a lot of storytelling inside each of his 3 to 5 minutes of musical magic.
From the bottom of his heart to the bottom of his lunch box, Stinson makes lyrics out of everything from broken records to broken promises without sounding like, well, a broken record.
Relative to the number of people who pick up a guitar and write a song, Stinson has experienced the kind of success afforded to very few. In 2006, Dwight Yoakam recorded Stinson’s “Late Great Golden State.” Yoakam’s recording of that song applied a stamp of approval on Stinson’s songwriting and confirmed the old-school country direction his music was headed.
“I made three albums going for the classic country music sound,” Stinson said. “I had sort of an obsession with trying to write a song I thought Willie Nelson would like. I got that out of my system and then explored other areas of songwriting. This last album is more of a roots rock thing.”
Stinson’s latest album, “Hell and Half of Georgia,” was released in 2013 and earned high praise from American Songwriter Magazine, among other publications.
Stinson was born in Virginia and spent most of his youth around the Chesapeake Bay area, influenced by the sounds of his two older brothers’ record collections, which included The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Dylan and Hank Williams Jr.
At age 23, Stinson moved to Los Angeles, where he lived for 18 years and built a solid fan base. A few of his songs were used in TV shows such as “Cold Case,” “Mad Men” and “Weeds.” Things were looking up when Stinson did something no one would have expected — he packed up and moved to Houston.
“Life is an adventure,” he said. “I don’t think you’re supposed to stay in one spot. I wanted to shake things up. I grew up in a little town of 1,500 people. I’ve always thought, ‘There’s a great big world out there’ and I want to go check it out. Moving around a little — I’m not saying it’s critically necessary — but I think it informed my songwriting.”
Heading in new geographical and musical directions has proved successful for Stinson. But when it comes to his songwriting, home still lies in the lyrics.
“The lyric is where it begins and ends for me,” Stinson said. “I can be very forgiving about the music and production. You can always come up with a decent piece of music to go along with a great lyric, whereas you can’t always take music you think is cool and come up with good lyrics.”
Stinson has performed in Galveston a few times since moving to Houston, including one night at one of the seaport city’s most respected listening rooms for singer-songwriters — the Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe — with the legendary singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard.
Stinson and his band soon will return to Galveston, taking the stage at “Music Nite On The Strand” 6 p.m. July 11 in Saengerfest Park, 2302 Strand in the island’s downtown.
Stinson promises to deliver everything from clever foot-tapping rock and roll numbers such as “Late For My Funeral,” (in rotation on KPFT FM 89.5 in Galveston) to the song that landed on Yoakam’s greatest hits record, “Late Great Golden State.”