The band’s co-founders and frontmen toured the country as part of their father’s band, Muzzie Braun and the Boys, as children. They performed on The Tonight Show twice. Their father taught his four sons a professional ethic – integrity, persistence, hard work and professionalism – honed over three generations. They overcame hardships, struggled for recognition, and learned the lessons of the trial and error that defined them.
In one sense, it’s remarkable in the way of any musician, athlete, or businessperson who bucks the odds. In another, though, it’s utterly natural that Reckless Kelly, born in the dreams of the two Braun brothers and their heritage but nurtured in the bumpy road of maturity, became the very essence of Americana music in all its far-flung glory.
“We came along in that second wave of the movement,” Cody Braun says. “Son Volt’s album Trace had a major effect on us. People like Joe Ely, Ray Kennedy and Robert Earl Keen were always big supporters. Our goal was to make music that had a country vibe but a solid rock edge.”
The heartland gave the band authenticity. Musical lives honed its skill. Adversity instilled its persistence. Moving to Austin gave it wings to fly.
As kids, the Brauns – Cody, Willy, Micky and Gary – shared a stage with the likes of Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell and Merle Haggard. Micky and Gary Braun now helm their own band, Micky and the Motorcars. In Bend, Cody and Willy added drummer Jay Nazz, who brought with him his own unique experience.
“I had grown up in the Northeast, performing at clubs and weddings with my dad and brother from the age of 13,” Nazz recalls, “so, when I met Willy and Cody, we already had that in common. Both of our dads were musicians with a very similar kind of performing discipline. That helped us bond immediately.”
The band took its name from the legend of Ned Kelly, the Australian highwayman, and the three moved to Austin in the autumn of 1996, where they carved a niche of their own. Early on, Keen, a Texas legend himself, took them under his wing and became their first manager. They listened, watched and interacted with the creative dynamos of the outlaw country scene – Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Billy Joe Shaver, Guy Clark and others – and joined them in a redefinition of what contemporary country music had become. Theirs was gritty, hard-edged, uncompromising and convincing. They turned country music real again.
Willy Braun wrote half the songs of Millican, 1998’s self-released debut, in an abandoned school bus, where he had lived for six months in Bend. The effect of that album was to emblazon Reckless Kelly with a reputation as a band of no-nonsense insurgents that could raise the rafters while still retaining a heart and soul of honesty, soul and conviction.
They evolved, adding David Abetya, a graduate of the Berklee School of Music, on lead guitar in 2000. Kansas-bred bassist Joe Miller -- who had grown up on a family farm before becoming a broadcaster at his college radio station and migrating to Austin – signed on 2012.
Reckless Kelly’s string of critically acclaimed albums – Under the Table and Above the Sun (2003), Wicked Twisted Road (2005), Bulletproof (2008), Somewhere in Time (2010), Grammy-nominated Good Luck & True Love (2011) and Grammy-winning Long Night Moon (2013) – set a standard of reliable excellence and commitment to an instinctive vision of Americana. No band exemplifies the broad genre better.
Independent? Oh, yeah. Doggedly so. Nothing demonstrates it more than the band’s path through a succession of prestigious record labels – Sugar Hill and Yep Roc, among them – en route to a label, No Big Deal, of their own.
The group’s new album, Sunset Motel, is, like all its predecessors, distinctive in its own way while true to form. Self-produced and recorded in Austin’s renowned Arlyn Studios (where Millican was made two decades ago) and mixed by Jim Scott (Rolling Stones, Dixie Chicks, Tom Petty, Sting, Roger Daltrey, Crowded House, et al.), it reflects Reckless Kelly’s attention to craft and continuity.
Twenty years since its founding, Reckless Kelly continues to fight for wider recognition, secure in the knowledge that fans, critics and contemporaries will continue to sing its praises.
The songs hit one emotional peak after another: the infectious “Volcano,” the urgent “One More One Last Time,” the desperate desire that comes full circle in “How Can You Love Him (You Don’t Even Like Him)” and the bittersweet title track. With steady guitar drive and a series of insistent choruses, they all ring with power and conviction that make Sunset Motel a breathtaking listening experience.
Cody, Willy and Nazz have been constants since the beginning. Abeyta and Miller add their own wrinkles to a signature sound that remains intact. The populist following grows, but the band has also moved on to play in performing arts centers and listening rooms that provide more focused encounters.
The fierce self-reliance and independent spirit keeps Reckless Kelly happy, appreciative and charitable. Their annual festival, The Braun Brothers Reunion, in Challis, Idaho, has been ongoing for 37 years now. The band also hosts the yearly Reckless Kelly Celebrity Softball Jam to raise money for Austin-area youth charities, putting $300,000 in those coffers over the past seven years. “It’s a great way to give back,” Cody says. “It’s great to be able to share our success in such a positive way.”
Reckless Kelly is a great band with an apt name. The outlaw’s spirit pervades the ambiance. They are rugged individualists who dedicate themselves to advancing the state of their art.