Everything’s bigger in Texas, they say, and singer-songwriter “Texas” Joe Bailey is living proof.
His songs are big, the sort of shack-shaking honky-tonk boot-stompers that send sawdust-devils across the dance floor. His past is big and includes a penitentiary stint resulting from three DUI arrests. And his recovery is big, grounded in a mighty faith and shared in those same smoky bars where he delivers a personal testimony before launching into “The Last Time,” the final track on “Redemption,” the EP he released in January and is promoting with a cross-state tour of radio stations and dance halls.
“As a Christian and as a believer in Christ, I believe my first and foremost responsibility is to be an ambassador for my faith, and I use the platform I’m given when I’m performing in bars,” Bailey told The Ties That Bind Us recently. “I enjoy seeing people have a good time as much as the next, but there may be someone in there struggling the way I did, and I just want them to know I’m someone they can talk to. If we talk afterward, they may not be ready to change right then, but I’ve planted a seed, and that’s the beauty of it all.
“That’s where it really pays off. I don’t want to get too religious about it, but if we seek first the kingdom of God, all these things will be added unto us. God will give you the desires of your heart, and my desire is to be a success for my family, and as long as I’m seeking first the righteousness and duty I’m called to, all of those things will be added to me as well.”
A stage bug bites hard
Bailey has been performing on Texas stages since he was a kid, growing up on the north side of Houston, where he went to school at Greenwood Village Baptist Church. When a classmate got a solo on “Jingle Bells” during a Christmas show, he felt the performance bug nibbling at his heels, he said. As his father began to enjoy greater success with his job, the family eventually moved to the Houston suburbs, where Bailey attended public school and was exposed to popular bands — particularly metal.
“KISS, Motley Crue, Poison — somehow or another, we acquired some very cheap guitars and drumsets and would get in the garage with our spandex and our mullets,” he said with a laugh. “I was still going to the church at the time, and my dad wasn’t too happy. He thought that music was of Satan, that it was just wrong.”
Two things happened around the age of 12 that would change his musical trajectory: The classmate who soloed on “Jingle Bells” returned to town for a church concert, during which time he sang “Thank You” by Ray Boltz.
“I was really touched by that song, and I went out and got a copy of the accompaniment track and started singing in church,” Bailey said. “And then a short time after that, my dad came home and said he had gotten tickets to see a concert. I was excited, but when I asked who it was and he told me George Strait, I was disappointed that my first concert wasn’t going to be AC/DC.”
At the time, during the mid-1980s, Strait was still a few years away from national superstardom, but in Texas, he was already a hit. Bailey went out and bought copies of a couple of records to familiarize himself with Strait, put them on his Walkman and found himself drawn to the country crooner.
“I would wear the headset around the house and sing the songs, and my parents were like, ‘You sound really good,’” Bailey said. “On one of the trips we would take, we went through Branson, Mo., and stopped at Silver Dollar City, where they had one of those karaoke things that would record you singing a song. I did ‘Amarillo By Morning,’ and it was a really good cover of that song.”
Encouraged by his parents and the sound of his own voice, he started singing along to accompanying tracks back home in Texas and started marketing himself as a teen singer around the Houston area, playing at local barbecues and opry houses. But when he turned 15, his world shattered.
Death and the downward spiral
“My dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and over the course of two or three years, he deteriorated quickly and died,” Bailey said. “He was my biggest supporter. Being in public schools where marijuana and alcohol were prevalent, I fell right into that, not knowing the depths of my problems with that stuff. The culmination of his death and me struggling with substance abuse sent everything down into a spiral.”
He wound up dropping out of high school, posting up around town, watching the world pass him by when the theater director from his old high school ran into him one day. He was sitting on the trunk of his car with his girlfriend at a neighborhood park when the educator made a suggestion.
“He said, ‘Every four years, we do a big musical, and if you’d like to come back to school, we can probably get you a good role,’ and I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do that,’” Bailey said. “I was very behind in my studies — you needed 24 credits to graduate, and I probably had 13, but when I went to see the counselor, he said, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do: You’re going to go to choir first, then theater, then go out and get a job, then you’re going to come back at 3 for rehearsals, and you’re going to graduate in June.’
“I couldn’t believe it at first, but when I asked him to repeat it, the second time he said it, I had the divine feeling of there being a greater power at work there, and I said OK.”
He continued to drink and use during that time, but maintained well enough to get into the theater department at Sam Houston State University upon graduation, where he continued to sing and act. He credits educators there for helping to hone his craft, even though he didn’t last long.
“College is a lot different than high school; you’re required to grow up a little bit, and I just wasn’t ready for that,” he said. “I got a job at a sandwich shop back home, and that’s where I met my first wife. We got married, and I ended up going to work for Union Pacific Railroad for several years.”
By the time he got back into music, landing a gig as the singer of a notable dancehall country and Western band popular around Texas, he was only smoking weed, he said; he justified its use as a mood stabilizer, but once he started playing clubs again, the booze called out to him. He was arrested for his first DUI when he was 18, and it wouldn’t be his last.
The bottom and the resurrection
In 2009, he was arrested a second time for driving under the influence, and that was when he sought treatment at Cornerstone of Recovery. At first, he enrolled in the Railroad Program to keep his job with Union Pacific, he added.
“I was just looking for a way to keep my lifestyle going,” he said. “I used the program as a way to go, ‘Look, I’m trying to better my life!’
He would return to Cornerstone several times, and while it took a trip to prison to clean up for good, he still recalls the lessons of recovery he learned at the drug and alcohol treatment center. In particular, the late Tony Carpenter, a long-time Cornerstone counselor, helped inspire “The Last Time,” he said.
“There used to have a room up there before they had the gym where they would have daily Fitness Therapy, and on certain nights, they would set up tables, and Tony C. would just sit at the table and talk,” he said. “A lot of the lines in that song were things he would say — ‘I’d just stick one in me and I’d be on my way’ … ‘it sure was sinking sand’ … ‘I came to believe that a power greater than me could restore my sanity’ … ‘I just feel like I should offer you the things that were freely given to me.’
“The things I learned at Cornerstone, I still implement them on a daily basis. I’m not a staunch worker of the program; my program is more of a personal relationship with God with me being involved in ministry, but I’m still very close with a lot of people I met there and went through the program with. I love Texas, of course, but if there’s anywhere else I would want to live, it would be the Smoky Mountains. By the grace of God, I got to go and spend time there and to look at the things that led me to having to go there and the things I went through. I still look at it as a beautiful place, and it’s meaningful to me.”
Back home in Texas, he went through a divorce from his first wife and fell into a relationship with the woman to whom he’s now married around the time he got his third DUI. Because of his previous convictions, he had to serve time, and in prison, he said, he turned back to the one thing that had remained constant in his life: faith.
“I went back to the foundation of what I knew could help me, and that was the chastening and the reproof I needed to straighten my life out,” he said. “Every day, I read from the book of Proverbs in the Bible, two other chapters from a daily devotional, and I finish up with Just For Today (a daily meditation guide for the Narcotics Anonymous program).”
Upon leaving prison born again, Bailey discovered a curious affliction: the sight of drugs and alcohol became physically revolting. The things that once triggered cravings now bring on nausea, he said.
“When I used to go to a gas station and hear people rummaging through ice to get their beer, that would trigger me to want beer; now, when that happens, I get nauseous,” he said. “If I see people smoking marijuana or drinking or doing drugs on television, I get sick to my stomach, and I’m very grateful to have that feeling.”
He doesn’t consider himself afflicted in the traditional sense of 12 Step recovery, but he knows full well the ramifications that are waiting for him if he returns to his old ways. He applies the 12 Steps in taking a daily inventory and turning his will and life over to the care of God, and he’s asked God to remove his defects of character — many of which he was able to identify through Schema Therapy at Cornerstone of Recovery.
And through work on self, he’s been able to rebuild a music career. His wife works as his manager, and since his release from prison two years ago, they’ve worked tirelessly to promote Bailey as the real deal: a hardcore troubadour with a golden throat who can get the crowds dancing during one song and move them to tears on another. He credits her with keeping his career alive while he was away, and upon his parole, he hit the ground running playing shows and recording “Redemption.”
“She’s been calling one radio station after another, and I’ve been driving across the state, doing 20-minute segments before they add a song to their programming,” he said. “It’s slow and steady growth, but it seems to be growing organically. We do self-promotion quite a bit, and we seem to be doing well.
“The thing is, we believe in the product, that there’s an audience for it. God has provided for us, and He’s continued to provide and bless us with these opportunities. We don’t have a set plan as much as we just accept opportunities that come to us along the way, and that’s exciting. That’s always something we’re high-fiving about.”
And, he added, those opportunities allow him to continue his nontraditional ministry. Just recently, a lady messaged him on social media asking about his time in prison; her son, it turned out, is locked up in the same facility, and she needed Bailey’s experience, strength and hope.
It’s something he’s freely prepared to give whenever it’s needed, he added.
“It’s so cool just to bring a message of hope,” he said. “As long as we keep ourselves grounded and keep our focus on righteousness, things seem to be falling into place for us.”