Will Beeley's Beautiful, Poetic Folk Gets a Second Chance, 40 Years Later

In the 1970s, he had to hustle hard to get a few people to hear his music. Four decades on, now working as a trucker, his LPs are being reissued.

Sep 1 2017, 4:00pm

"I'm back in civilization," reads the subject line of Will Beeley's email to me. "Sorry it took so long but we're in Rock Springs and will be here for for a couple of hours." So goes the life of Will Beeley, long haul trucker.

Before Beeley teamed up with his wife to transport frozen cryogenics across the country, he made folk music; deeply felt, little heard, folk music. At either end of the 1970s, Beeley released two LPs: Gallivantin' in '71 and Passing Dream in '79. Gallivantin' was put out through a private press label that only released 200 copies. It was recorded in San Antonio and serves as an introduction to a Texas music scene that had only recently begun to flourish. "It was a lot of Austin folkies," Beeley tells me over the phone from that rest stop in Rock Springs, the fourth most populous city in Wyoming at just over 23,000. "Townes Van Zandt, Michael Murphey before he was Michael Martin Murphey, Willis Alan Ramsey—those were basically the guys that became anybody." Gallivantin' fits right in with this pervasive aesthetic; a beautiful record with poetic lyrics and haunting melodies. Nothing more than a man and his guitar.

The reaction to Gallivantin' was light—if there was any reaction at all—and it forced Beeley to hustle as a songwriter, selling songs on behalf of Malaco Records because they wouldn't release his music on their own. "Malaco was an R&B label, so me not being R&B, obviously, as soon as they could lease it out to a major label, they did. Anyways, we didn't have a whole lot of luck with the first sessions, so in '73 we cut three or four more. They were pretty good sessions," he recalls. But these post- Gallivantin' sessions failed to yield any tangible successes, forcing Beeley to be, "The guy in the corner, in the lounge that nobody's listening to." The Holiday Inn gigs, the recording contracts, the songwriting gigs all failed to amount to a steady career. By 1976, Beeley asked out of his Malaco contract and they happily obliged. "I was able to write, that was what I wanted to do," Beeley tells me.

With Passing Dream, recorded almost 40 years ago to the day, Beeley and his band gave the studio one last try. Armed with a crack team of session musicians, the album is an affirming and remarkably assured foray into outlaw country—a scene that had just become immensely popular with the emergence of Willie, Guy Clark, and the rest of the boys. The album, however, never stuck. With the mounting pressures of a growing family and a sober re-evaluation of his music career, Beeley quit recording for good. "My wife was pregnant with our second child and it was time to get a real job because this job wasn't as real as I was hoping it'd be," he says.

After working at a nightclub and a stint owning a record store, Beeley gravitated to the job he holds now. "After spending 13 years working for the club in New Mexico, the day after my 50th birthday, I was brought into the office and asked if I still had the fire in the belly. I thought they were talking about lunch—I had enchiladas for lunch—I was kind of taken back from it," he chuckles. The club owners eventually deemed Beeley unfit for the gig and he hooked up with a cousin of his who drove trucks cross country.

"What I like about it is that the phone doesn't ring," Beeley says oft his current job—which his wife has been doing with him for the past seven years. "It isn't a bad way to make a living. If you enjoy driving and you want to see what's on the other side of the hill, it's not a bad deal. I like it pretty well."

About a year ago, however, everything changed. Josh Rosenthal from Tompkins Square Records approached Beeley about re-issuing his two albums and potentially recording a third. "It kind of surprised me because I couldn't get ten people to listen to either one of them when they came out 40-some years ago," he recalls. The two '70s records are now finding a larger audience thanks to Tompkins Square's invigorated efforts, and the new one he cut should be coming in 2018. When we ask how his life has changed with the re-emergence of his work, he laughs. "More than likely I'll burn a copy of 'em for the truck."

Will Schube is an outlaw on Twitter.

Tagged:

Music, Noisey, Folk, Country, trucker, Outlaw, will beeley, gallavantin, passing time, tompkins square records

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