Steven John Fromholz

Singer and songwriter who explored Texas life and collaborated with Nesmith, Stills, Nelson and Axton

Steven Fromholz was among the most literate of the Texas singer/songwriters who emerged as part of the popular mid-1970s “outlaw country” movement – and in 2007, he was made the Poet Laureate for Texas. His “Texas Trilogy” is a compassionate depiction of small-town life in Bosque County, Texas and how it was destroyed by progress.

He was born in Temple, Texas, in 1945; his father worked for Ford. His parents divorced when he was 10 and he was raised by his grandmother in Kopperl, Bosque County. One day in 1960 the temperature rose to 140 degrees fahrenheit, the highest recorded in Texas. This inspired Fromholz’s “Texas Trilogy” of songs, which he wrote and recorded in 1969, and which were stunningly revived by Lyle Lovett in 1998. Fromholz appeared in a play, Bosque County, Texas, based on the same material.

Fromholz founded a folk club when he was at North Texas State University, and he met Michael Martin Murphey. They performed together, becoming chroniclers of Texas life. Fromholz and his friend Don McCrimmon formed a duo, Frummox, but their album, Here to There (1969), sold poorly.

When they split in 1971, Fromholz and his second wife opened a summer restaurant, 8,000ft up in Gold Hill, Colorado. Fromholz was invited to join Stephen Stills’ band Manassas, but left after six months because, “I’d done too much cocaine and was sick.” He was replaced by Chris Hillman from the Byrds.

He recorded for Michael Nesmith’s Countryside label, but only a single, “Sweet Janey” (for his wife), was released. An album, How Long Is the Road to Kentucky, produced by Nesmith, remains unissued. In 1976 Willie Nelson recorded Fromholz’s song “I’d Have to Be Crazy”, featuring Fromholz on the last verse. It went to No 2 on the US country charts – a little strange as the song mocked rednecks.

Fromholz’s Capitol albums, A Rumor in My Own Time (1976) and Frolicking in the Myth (1977), contained good songs and led to him and his friend Hoyt Axton writing and performing the score for the Peter Fonda film Outlaw Blues.

From 1979, Fromholz recorded for his own Felicity label and produced albums including The Old Fart in the Mirror (1995) and A Guest in Your Heart (2000) – as well as Frummox II (1982). Although he hasn’t written big hits, many of his songs are well-known, including the whimsical “Bears” (which he said was about himself), “Last Livin’ Outlaw”, “I Gave Her a Ring (She Gave Me the Finger)” and “Yellow Cat” (recorded by John Denver).

In 1993 Fromholz arranged a mass mooning in front of a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan; this protest has been repeated several times. When there was talk of arresting the homeless in Austin, he organised an event in which hundreds of residents slept rough. He became a lecturer on Texas music to schoolchildren; hosted trail rides as a singing cowboy; and trained as a white water rafting guide for the Colorado River.

Fromholz suffered a severe stroke in 2003 but he restored himself to reasonable health. He died in a hunting accident when his rifle slipped out of its case, fell on the ground and discharged. 

 

Steven John Fromholz, singer and songwriter: born Temple, Texas 8 June 1945; married twice (two daughters); died Eldorado, Texas 19 January 2014.

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