Honkytonks, roadhouses, empty whiskey glasses, unrequited love are the brick and mortar of country music and there isn’t a better mason than Bill Hearne…
Bill Hearne calls it ‘The Road:’ that metaphorical ribbon of honky-tonks, roadhouses, empty whiskey glasses, prison cells and unrequited love lined with signposts and mile markers tattooed with names like Haggard, as in Merle, Williams, as in Hank, Owens, as in Buck and Lovett, as in Lyle. Being legally blind, Bill has never actually driven The Road himself, but he sings with such authority of the tales he’s heard while riding shotgun that you’d never know it.
Bill has a whole list of CDs available from the early releases with his wife, Bonnie such as “Most Requested: Best of Bill & Bonnie”, “Diamonds in the Rough”, & “Live at the La Fonda”. After Bonnie quit touring in 2003 due to health issues, Bill formed a trio & quartet and recorded “From Santa Fe to Las Cruces”, “A Good Ride”, “Bill Hearne Trio” & his most recent release, “All That’s Real”. Like the velveteen rabbit in the children’s story, the title “All That’s Real” describes Bill Hearne…he is “real” and he’s earned it from traveling many miles down the honky tonk road. He has a little less hair and his head is shinier these days just like the rabbit. “All That’s Real” is co-produced by Bill Hearne and Don Richmond, a master of many stringed instruments who owns Howling Dog Studios in Alamosa, CO, but has many musical ties with northern NM. Numerous area pickers and singers perform on the CD including Bill’s nephew, Michael Hearne, as well as some notable Texans, including piano man Earl Poole Ball (best known as Johnny Cash’s piano player, though he also played on the Byrds’ landmark country-rock album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo), and Jerry Jeff Walker, who sings his own “Dust on My Boots” with Hearne.
“They used to play a place called Corky’s in the Montrose area of Houston. I would get a seat right up next to the stage and sit in front of Bill and try to figure out all his guitar licks.”
– Lyle Lovett
Bill doesn’t write his own songs. His greatness lies in his interpretive skills. His husky Texas baritone finds its way into a song’s interior with the mellowness of fine bourbon and the warmth of a Sunday picnic. And of course, there’s his pickin’, a style he calls ‘cross picking.’ He picked up the guitar when he was seven years old. “Since I didn’t have people to play with, I developed a style that incorporated a percussion rhythm while playing lead riffs. Basically, I tried to be a one man band,” he says. Like fellow cross-pickers Tony Rice and Doc Watson, Bill is improvisational. “I hardly ever play the same thing twice,” he says. Not only does he rarely play the same thing twice, he rarely plays the same song twice. His repertoire is as vast as Texas and New Mexico. Bill is the Real Deal, a genuine article in a country-music world that seems to have forsaken its roots.
“Bill and Bonnie Hearne … play the best darn folk music I ever heard.”
– Nanci Griffith
Bill’s professional life began in Austin in 1968. It was there where he earned his first paycheck as a musician and met his future wife, Bonnie Cross. Bonnie’s mellifluous east Texas alto fit Bill’s picking like a glove. They toured TX, NM, and CO before moving to Red River, NM in 1979 where they became the house act at Chubbie’s Tavern. Fellow Texans, Tish Hinojosa and Michael Martin Murphy also moved to northern New Mexico, and Bill & Bonnie found themselves the center of a thriving Americana music community.
“Whenever I come to Santa Fe, I make a point of checking to see where Bill Hearne is playing. His music is evocative of all that I love about New Mexico and the West. They broke the mold when they made Bill – you should not miss the chance to witness him in action.”
– Eliza Gilkyson (2015 Grammy nominee)
Fast forward a decade. Northern New Mexico’s Americana scene fades like high-country grasses in autumn and Bill & Bonnie move to Santa Fe where they sign on as the house band for La Fonda, a venerable downtown hotel. For 11 years, Bill and Bonnie delighted Santa Feans and countless tourists with their infectious blend of bluegrass, country and swing music. In 1997, Bill & Bonnie signed with Warner Bros. and recorded “Diamonds in the Rough.” Produced by country veteran Jim Rooney, it climbed to fifth on the Americana chart that year and led to tours with Lyle Lovett Music Festival, Merlefest, and the Kerrville Folk Festival. The wind seemed to be at their backs, but in 2003, Bonnie’s health deteriorated and she could no longer perform. On his own musically for the first time since meeting Bonnie, Bill formed the Bill Hearne Trio. In the trio, Bill is backed by Bob Goldstein on lead guitar, mandolin & banjo and either Zeke Severenson or Dave Toland on bass. Bill is in his 23rd year at the La Fonda and is still singing every Monday & Tuesday night with his Trio.