Courtesy / Canaan Faulkner
This Sunday at the Lonesome Rose, 68-year-old singer-songwriter Will Beeley will play an acoustic show to celebrate the release of an album that’s been, in a manner of speaking, 40 years in the making.
The album, Highways & Heart Attacks, speaks to the everyday trials and tribulations of an artist whose dream has been deferred. The onetime San Antonio resident’s new album was released June 14 and produced by Americana/folk artist Jerry David DeCicca after a surprise letter from a record label breathed life into a music career Beeley had long ago given up on.
“As far back as I can remember, I was always coming up with lyrics and songs in my head,” said Beeley, trying to recall the beginnings of his lifelong affair with songwriting.
At age 14, shortly after moving to San Antonio with his family, Beeley began to play guitar and get more serious about the practice of songwriting.
“We moved here because my dad retired from the service out of Fort Sam, but as far as I’m concerned San Antonio is home,” said Beeley, who now lives outside of Albuquerque with his wife, Vicki.
Beeley remembers seeing Townes Van Zandt, Willis Alan Ramsey and other notable Texas folk/country artists perform in San Antonio at “a little place over by San Antonio College called Doogie’s.” By the time he graduated from high school, he was committed to trying to make a career out of music.
“I saw that these guys were making a living playing music and I thought, ‘Hell, that’s what I want to do.’”
By 1970, Beeley had made his first simple live recordings and pressed a few copies. The experience did two things for him: It gave him more perspective and motivation in terms of his songwriting and it made him want to do a proper album. In 1971, with some financial help from the foreman of the electric company in Houston that Beeley had taken a job with, he made 200 copies of his first album Gallivantin’.
While the album was liked by most who heard it at the time and has remained an oddly sought-after rarity in certain collectors’ circles, it wasn’t exactly a game-changer for Beeley.
“I was selling it from the stage, from the trunk of my car — basically anywhere that someone expressed any interest,” he recalled.
Beeley knew that achieving his dream of making a living as a songwriter – by this point he had realized his gift and desire lay in songwriting instead of performing – would take hard work and a great deal of luck.
During a period spent paying his dues on the road, playing on regional folk and country circuits, Beeley was courted by a few labels who were no doubt looking to capitalize on the outlaw country movement popular in the mid-1970s. Beeley remained unsigned, however, and began to lose hope.
“If I had a dollar for every time in my career that someone has told me they were going to make me a star, then I’d have a few pockets full of dollars,” Beeley said with a chuckle.
Then Malaco, a label out of Mississippi, decided to give Beeley his shot. He worked as a songwriter and session musician for the label before cutting his second album Passing Dream, released in 1979. Compared to Gallivantin’, the album showcased a more mature songwriter with more refinement apparent in his craft.
“Nobody bought it, though,” Beeley said.
At that point Beeley, his wife pregnant with their second child, decided “it was time to go get a real job.”
Throughout the 1980s he worked at radio stations and as a concert booker and promoter. He relocated to New Mexico permanently. All the while, Beeley kept writing songs and sharing them with anyone he could. But in a moment of dejection in 1989, Beeley locked away his trusty guitar and his song notebooks, makinga conscious decision to give up on his dream of becoming a professional songwriter.
For almost the last two decades, Beeley has made a living crisscrossing the country in the driver’s seat of a big rig. At some point several years back, Vicki joined him.
Now, however, he is looking forward to his upcoming retirement. That’s because everything changed in 2016 when Josh Rosenthal from Tompkins Square Records, who had run across Beeley’s 1970s albums, sent Beeley a letter asking if the label could reissue both Gallivantin’ and Passing Dream.
Beeley recalls being amazed that anyone was interested after all these years.
“I told him yes, of course,” Beeley said, “But I didn’t see how anybody would buy them — hell, I could barely get anyone to take one for free back when I made them.”
Fans of old and obscure singer-songwriter music in the folk/Americana vein have taken interest, however. And, after all these years, Beeley also got Tompkins Square to put out an album of new material.
Taking everything in stride, Beeley said that the opportunity to record his songs again was “really cool” and that he had a great time making the record at Grammy-winner Joe Trevino’s Blue Cat Studios in San Antonio.
DeCicca, a Bulverde resident who was already a fan of Beeley’s 1970s albums, described working with Beeley.
“Will and I are both song guys, so it was a quick understanding of what we wanted the record to be,” DeCicca said. “He trusted me and gave me a long leash to color his songs and make them move the way I wanted them to.”
“His words and voice are timeless, poetic, playful, and deep. I just couldn’t be happier with it,” DeCicca said of the final product.
Now Beeley is excited to have brand-new retirement plans – plans he had given up on long ago.
A man who knows how to be content despite disappointment, who knows what it is to sacrifice personal desire to practical and familial demands, Beeley has seemingly earned the right to throw himself back into his songwriting dreams.