An altered course
Songwriter turns tragedy into opportunity to grow
By Beau Foster
For songwriters, the dream is to be signed by a label, live in Nashville and be writing songs for a living.
For Kaleb McIntire, the dream seemed short lived because of a tragic car accident.
McIntire, who recently found his way to the area, grew up in the Ozarks, playing gospel and bluegrass music.
“I was a drummer at first really. Then went on to do Elvis impersonations in Branson, Missouri, when I was a little kid. That really got me into the frontman frame of mind, and I just always thought of myself as a player after that,” McIntire said.
His path soon led down the road of high school band, playing Christian concerts and festivals. However, the lifestyle quickly led to him rebelling against his family as much as possible.
His new music of choice, Heavy Metal, stuck with him for a short period of time before he eventually gravitated towards music that traveled with him the entirety of his career: Outlaw Country.
As he sat on the couch with his two dogs, he described what genre he would classify himself fitting into.
“The same things these guys did right here,” he said, pointing to portrait tattoos he has on his arm of David Alan Coe, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Johnny Paycheck.
Despite his love for being a frontman, writing is his true love.
“Writing has always been my favorite part of the process,” McIntire said. “It’s the bread and butter for me. Luckily, I would have an opportunity over the years to work with some respected writers who would help me, show me better and cooler ways to do it. And I just kept up with it.”
Eventually, he arrived in Nashville, a city full of dreams and promises. And a record deal.
But McIntire felt the burn and was already becoming stir-crazy.
“As a writer, it’s hard to stay inside the ‘bubble’ so to speak. It’s a machine,” McIntire said.
That’s a description given many times over by creative minds in the music industry.
Then it happened. A major car wreck. A moment that halted the gears of the machine and allowed him to inventory his feelings toward his ultimate aspirations.
His record label would also assist him with that decision by cutting their losses.
“Well, I got in that car wreck, and they were going to amputate the ole arm. Labels didn’t want anything to do with me at the time,’’ McIntire said. “But I got really lucky.”
His arm was saved through multiple surgeries, he said, but it made it so McIntire “was no longer able to do what [he] loved.”
“I think about it every day, man,” he said.
McIntire looked out the window into the field of mesquite trees.
“It seems so horrible to lose everything you dreamed of as a kid. You’ve got that, and you’re excited. But then you look back and realize a record deal might not be what you actually think it is,” he said.
That’s a sentiment often shared by songwriters with big aspirations–the feeling of being caged. And eventually sometimes losing their energy to create all together.
“I understand that it is all business, though. I get that. But this,” emotionally referring to his music, “is –not– business to me. But, when you’re offered a major record deal at that age, you’ll do whatever they tell you to. I was green as can be.”
Once he recovered, he opted to try an independent approach.
“Instead of going back and trying to get back on with the labels, I decided to try my own thing again for a while,” McIntire said. “I guess you could say this gave me an excuse to finally come to Texas like I always wanted to in the back of my mind.”
Despite the dream of Nashville being so promising, Texas also pulls songwriters and musicians to it, either for the first time or to return.
“It’s the freedom of it all,” McIntire said. “The whole songwriting format here to just do what you please, like the outlaws do.”
And so, he came to Texas. Although his life hasn’t been without strife the past few years, he felt the sting of being an outsider and struggled to get back on his feet.
“One of the reasons certain people have been good at the Country music thing is because they’ve lived it,” he said.
McIntire tells of the canvas of the genre.
“I have to say my favorite line,” he said. “You have to be able to paint a picture with your music. Sure, with the internet nowadays, it’s easy for someone to practice their instrument to videos eight hours a day. But to be able to paint that picture in someone’s mind, you have to live it in some form. If you do it right, they will live it, too.”
He began to write himself out of a darkness he had fallen into.
His band had always been based out of Dallas, so that made the move easier. He began to release a few singles on the radio.
The big moment came when he met his wife—again.
“We had dated years back, but at that time I was just a ruffian, hillbilly type, and she was from the city,” McIntire said, laughing. “But yet that moment gave me the jolt I needed. We are married now, and we have our first child on the way.”
He continued to tell stories of the road. Lessons he had learned, passed down by others who had traveled the road before him.
“It’s the little things that have helped me get where I am now, like the art of delivering a vocal line like George Jones, expressing it to grab your audience’s attention,” he said. “Writing a line you can see or smell like Bob Dylan—the little things.”
Those little things have led him to his first Texas music chart No. 1 with “Plain O’ Texas,” along with other singles that are gaining traction. He’s found a newfound breath of freedom in his writing and most importantly a family and a home.
Although his life’s path changed dramatically, his beliefs have come back around full circle. He has regained his Christian mentality that he feels has helped carry him along the way.
“Although that wreck was so tragic for me, I honestly feel like everything happened just the way it was supposed to,” McIntire said. “I couldn’t make that decision to change for myself. Someone else had to.”
Find more about Kaleb McIntire and his songwriting travels on facebook.com/kaleb.mcintire.