With critically acclaimed albums and singles that have been streamed millions of times, Granbury’s Mike Ryan is a rising country music star. He is accustomed to life on the road and plays over a hundred shows a year.
But Ryan was pursuing a criminal justice degree at the University of North Texas a decade ago.
“My big plan for that was to be in the FBI or DEA,” says Ryan, who will perform at Billy Bob’s on Saturday. “I wanted to be in some sort of federal law enforcement where I could wear a suit and carry a gun. That became plan B when I decided to give the music business a good honest run, but I was too far along with school to just dropout. My mother would have killed me. In order to live a little bit longer, I decided to go ahead and graduate.”
Ryan’s latest album, Blink You’ll Miss It, focuses on his humble beginnings.
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“That album just started writing itself,” he says. “It all started with ‘New Hometown.’ That song is about having to leave the small town you grew up in because of a girl because you can’t go anywhere without seeing her face. Those kind of vibes would just show up whenever I was writing.”
Ryan has lived all over the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the last decade, but grew up in West Texas. It was natural for him to explore small town relationships in his songwriting and the results have resonated with millions of listeners.
“There are thousands of small towns throughout America and a lot of them are similar,” he says.
“That one started as a love song for somebody that — I found out later — didn’t deserve one,” Ryan says. “I was hoping to get back in the good graces of this girl I’d been seeing. But it took a few weeks to put the finishing touches on it and during that time I started thinking about a few things and seeing some things. I realized that I didn’t want to be with this girl and she didn’t deserve to be with me, or anyone else for that matter. So I decided to rewrite that love song and make it a different kind of song.”
Ryan is a gifted songwriter and guitarist with an eclectic country style. But his sound is so smooth that it is difficult to pinpoint all the different elements. His primary influence is ’90s country music, but there is also plenty of classic rock, pop, and soul in these songs.
Ryan’s grandfather was a Texas State Guard band director. Before picking up a guitar in his late teens, he played piano, saxophone, and clarinet. He also sang in a choir for years. But Ryan says he developed his sound playing his first shows in North Texas dance halls and nightclubs.
“I listened to Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Stevie Ray Vaughn and all kinds of stuff growing up,” he says. “But when I started writing my own music, country seemed to be the most natural way to tell my stories. I felt most comfortable singing and performing those types of songs.”
It was a quick progression from the classroom to clubs. Ryan taught himself chords, wrote lyrics, and figured out strumming patterns.
“Half the stuff I played was wrong, but it sounded close enough,” he says.
He started playing open mics, then booked his first acoustic shows in Arlington and Denton. From there he put a band together, recorded his first EP in 2010, and began a life of touring.
“I’ve met people through the years that have advice about the business,” Ryan says. “But the best thing that I could do is to just go out and play for anyone who would listen, as often as I could. I put myself to work and found my sound. It takes any performer a couple hundred shows before you know how to interact with your band and entertain an audience.”
Looking back, Ryan is grateful that he was able to start his music career in the North Texas music scene.
“I was very fortunate,” he says. “There are hundreds of places to play in this area. I was able to support myself and figure out how to do this.”
Saturday, June 23
Billy Bob's Texas