By Ross McSwain
Brady, the heart of Texas, is perhaps best known for its annual Goat Cookoff celebration on Labor Day Weekend, but the community is now getting recognition as the nation’s new mecca for traditional country music that is still performed in honky-tonks all over the South. The town is home of the Heart of Texas Country Museum, the Hillbilly Hits radio show and the 850-member Hillbilly Hits Fan Club.
With the New Year 2009, the Heart of Texas Country Music Association will celebrate its 20th Anniversary with tickets going on sale at 9 a.m. on February 2 for the big first weekend party and dance scheduled for Friday and Saturday, March 13-14 at the Brady Civic Center. The second weekend anniversary celebration event will be on Friday and Saturday, March 27-28.
The HOT Country Music Association and museum with its new recording studio is a spinoff of the popular fan club that has been hosted for the past two decades by Radio Station KNEL’s DeJay Tracy Pitcox.
Pitcox, who started working at the station as a high school teenager in 1986, has become one of the best known country DJ’s in the nation due to his personal interviews with legendary country music industry figures such as Willie Nelson, Kitty Wells, Ray Price, Bob Wills, Conway Twiddy, Loretta Lynn and many others. These interviews and some 75 more were later
published in a 360-page book titled Legendary Conversations With A Texas Disc Jockey. The interviews are a treasure of country music history and also include chats with George Jones, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, Tammy Wynette, Charley Pride and others.
Highlighting the association’s activities during the last year was the opening of a new addition to the country music museum which nearly doubled its size, allowing for more displays of many additional items of memorabilia, such as George Strait’s Resistol straw hat, boots worn by Johnny Cash, Johnny Bush, Roy Acuff and stutterin’ Mel Tillis, one of Minnie Pearl’s trademark hats, various fancy costumes worn by Patty Page, Margo Smith, Kay Starr, Dale Evans and Dottsy. Perhaps the most unusual items are Barbara Mandrell’s personal jukebox from her Nashville, Tenn. Home, the late Jim Reeves Tour Bus, “Big Blue,” that was later used by several other country music entertainers, including the Wilburn Brothers and Nat Stuckey.
The newest operation being carried out under the association umbrella is Heart of Texas Records, which was actually created from a unique fund raising project for funding the country music museum that was started in 1999. Entertainer Leona Williams, a longtime supporter of the facility, suggested that a commemorative record of songs by various entertainers that were working Country Opry shows being held in Llano and Mason be made, explained Pitcox. The result was a CD titled Heart of Texas Country that combined the talents of 21 artists with each contributing one song.
“That CD was so successful that we decided to launch a record label that featured musicians that at one time or another were on major labels and were no longer recording,” Pitcox said. “I learned that these artists could still sing great and had a wonderful following. Nashville was simply not interested in working with artists that could not sell platinum . . . We proved that they still had fans and those fans wanted to buy their records.”
Pitcox started recording in a San Marcos studio, but now does most of his production in the new Brady studio that was built behind the museum complex. HOT Records are sold through some 12 distributors and half of those specialize in overseas sales where traditional country music is more popular than music being performed by today’s entertainers. CD sales also are made through several internet sites, including www.heartoftexascountry.com and CD Baby. In addition, digital downloads are sold through some 60 different sources. Pitcox said that the CD’s are warehoused in the museum facility, and that they stock from 10,000 to 20,000 CD’s at any given time due to the number of titles in the HOT Records list.
“We allow the artists to select all of their material, but we also have a publishing company featuring several accomplished writers like Justin Trevino and Guyanne McCall. This enables us to show the material to our artists and to guarantee that we keep the musical style that we are trying hard to maintain,” Pitcox said.
Another spinoff business developed in the last year is a talent agency - Heart of Texas Talent - that books many of the artists that record for us all over the country, as well as booking other entertainers from time to time including Gene Watson, Johnny Rodriguez, Kitty Wells and Bill Anderson. Pitcox points out that a number of the entertainers he works with are members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“Our projects are all hard-core country featuring a special emphasis on steel guitar and fiddle. We generally use the same core musicians on the majority of our projects,” Pitcox said. In recent months, he has added several new artists, including Justin Trevino and Amber Digby. He said both entertainers are seeped in traditional country music and have gained a large following not only in the United States, but in recent tours of Sweden, Australia and Ireland.
During the past Spring, Brady and Heart of Texas Records got national publicity when the American Cowboy magazine featured a story about women in country music performing traditional honky-tonk songs. Among the women featured were Digby, Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift.
Magazine writer Phil Sweetland called HOT label founder Pitcox “a real musical hero. He has turned Brady into a mecca for fans of traditional country music.”
During his long career in radio, Pitcox said he has produced more than 800 Hillbilly Hits radio shows, has played in excess of 78,000 songs on the show, taken thousands of phoned-in requests, sponsored more than 100 senior dances at the Sunset Center in Brady, promoted more than 250 Country Music Shows in Brady, Mason and Llano, and has paid out over $400,000 to country entertainers, musicians and talent.
Tracy Pitcox is a busy man, and Brady should be very proud of all his many accomplishments.
Article published in the March 2009 issue of Ranch & Rural Living magazine.