NORMAN — The official motto of Vernon, Texas, populatoin 12,000, is “Steer our way!” Centered in the Lone Star state’s north central Wilbarger County, it is cattle country with wide-open spaces and bright starry nights.
Vernon is home to other kinds of stars, having given the world vocalist Roy Orbison and jazz trombonist Jack Teagarden. It’s also the place Oklahoma City musician Joel Wilson, vocalist and rhythm guitar for Joel Wilson and the Revival’s, said he’s from when asked where he grew up.
You can hear the breezy rustle of bluebonnets in the young man’s decidedly Texas twang. Wilson came here after winning a track and field scholarship to Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond. He stayed on in the Sooner State to work in the oil service industry and start country-rock band Joel Wilson and the Revival.
“I’ve been playing for six years and came together with my drummer Mike Tapscott last April,” Wilson said. “Next we got together Joe Ellington (bass) and Eric Williams (lead guitar).”
They practiced together and started lining up gigs. The band’s music has a sound that straddles Americana, red dirt and country-rock. Their shows have been at roadhouses and honky-tonks in Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma. Playlists include both original music and covers of familiar songs.
One of Wilson’s strongest original compositions is titled “American Ground.” It was inspired by his brother, James Wilson, who pulled two tours in the war that just ended. It’s about a soldier who longs for home.
“James is in the Army National Guard and he called me the night he found out he was going back to Iraq the second time,” Wilson said. “I was right in the moment when I sat down to write the song. It turned out to be one that everyone loves to hear.”
Wilson aims his song writing at what he hopes people can relate to such as being in love, relationships that have gone sour and the various paths life leads us. His creative process starts with a tune and beat.
“I feel the music and see where it needs to go,” he said.
Wilson recognizes the richness of Oklahoma’s musical tradition and believes his band tracks along with the potent hip-country sound that’s come out of Stillwater in the last 15 years. Wilson mentioned the Red Dirt Rangers and the Great Divide as being natural comparisons to his music. It’s obvious these styles have had a profound effect on his artistic sensibilities because growing up Wilson was an alternative rock fan.
“I listened to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Third Eye Blind and Matchbox Twenty,” he said. “The first concert I attended was Fuel, 3 Doors Down and Oleander at the Oklahoma City fairgrounds.”
Wilson hesitated when I suggested he’s an “adopted Okie.” He’s only been here since 2004, after all.
“I have pretty strong roots in Vernon and I’m a proud Texan,” he said. “I came up here for college with a full ride and stayed. Oklahoma City is a great city, it’s just big enough.”
Joel Wilson and the Revival are currently in the process of completing an album of their songs at 115 Recording Studio in Norman.
“We’ll be looking to get some radio play after that’s finished,” he said. “Then we’ll get out there and really do some traveling. We’re working on getting some festivals booked.”
I suggested the band should schedule a show at his alma mater. Wilson said he wasn’t sure how well their music would be accepted on that campus. As long as they don’t play the song about his honey not wearing panties, all should be well.
Wilson described his band’s shows as high-energy, good-time events.
“We keep the crowd into it throughout the entire set,” he said. “Our fan following is growing. We’re committed to playing our music and see where it takes us.”