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24 Sep 09 Snack Food Scientist Makes Great Music

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EDITOR’S NOTE: While waiting to perform last Saturday at the Lee Street Bar and Grill in Greenville, I saw a poster for a performer who had been there recently. Then today, I came across one of his CD’s. I listened to it and was very impressed by his voice, delivery, lyrics and melodies. In fact, I listened to it twice.  I just looked up his web site. Below is the biography, background and philisophy of who promises to be an incredible story – a man who began as a snack food scientist. Please read the following on the Texas music recipe created by Max Stalling:

10 years…5 cds…respect as a songwriter… top flight band…an expanding and loyal fan base.  Not TOO bad of a track record for a guy who never felt he really had any business being in the music business.

“I didn’t even pick up a guitar until graduate school,” notes Max Stalling.  After high school in Carrizo Springs, Texas, Stalling went to Texas A&M in College Station and earned a master’s degree in Food Science. Stalling took the corporate road to Dallas in 1991, working for Rainbo Bread and then in product development for snack food giant Frito-Lay. “I had no expectation of even being in the music business.  I just liked to write songs,” says Stalling.
Then, while listening to Dallas community radio station KNON, Max discovered a whole new chapter in his life. Townes Van Zandt, Robert Earl Keen, Guy Clark, Lyle Lovett, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Rodney Crowell, Jerry Jeff Walker – singer/songwriters representing a musical heritage to which he had been nearly oblivious. Soon he discovered the emerging Dallas music scene at the Three Teardrops Tavern, a now defunct, but very central part of the Dallas and North Texas country music scene through the mid-90s. “I guess the 3Ts is where I must have stepped on a rusty guitar string and gotten infected with the music biz bug,” says Stalling.

Max Stalling views himself as a songwriter first and as a performer a distant second.  This tidbit might come as a surprise to the multitudes of loyal fans that regularly attend his crowded shows. 

Stalling composes songs that seem about the here and now yet seem to also have one foot planted in the past.  Sporting a vintage LBJ style “open road” hat, which is dangerously close to becoming his trademark, Stalling’s shows are at once intimate and up-close with him chatting up the crowd between songs, and a ‘tour de force’ of sound on the shoulders of his top-shelf band.

With Jeff Howe on drums and percussion, Bryce Clarke on nylon-string guitar, electric guitar and mandolin and Jason Steinsultz swapping between stand-up and electric bass, Stalling brings together a show that blends an old-style country sensibility of danceable ballads with the slightly edgy elements so commonly seen in the “Texas Music” genre.  Stalling and troupe seem equally at home on a huge honky-tonk stage in front of 1000 or playing an acoustic set in a tiny 50 seat coffee house. 

Even without the benefit of a recent release, Stalling’s attendance numbers have continued to rise. “I chalk it up to the strength of the songs and the strength of my band,” comments Stalling.  

Stalling released his 5th cd on June 12, 2007.  Titled ‘Topaz City,’ this follows up 3 other studio projects (‘Comfort In The Curves’/1997, ‘Wide Afternoon’/2000, ‘One Of The Ways’/2002) and a live cd release (‘Sell-Out’/2006). ‘Topaz City’ is being self-released on the Blind Nello Records label.

Quick math shows this project coming on the heels of a nearly 5 year stretch without a studio-recorded batch of new songs – a near eternity in many circles.  “Quite a few things have happened since I put out the ‘One Of The Ways’ disc back in 2002,” muses Stalling.  “From a business standpoint, the bankruptcy of the distribution company handling my cds just months after I released ‘One Of The Ways’ really put a damper on my ability to come out with another project…just like it did to lots of other folks in my position.  On a personal front, there were a whole slew of things that hit me pretty hard…girl problems, the extended illness and passing away of my father, topped off by an audit by our friendly IRS sure kept me from focusing on songwriting.  That was a tough stretch of years.” 

Stalling patiently bided his time, gathering a batch of songs that live up to his reputation as a songwriter.  “I’m proud of every one of these songs…each for different reasons,” Stalling notes. Indeed, the songs seem to speak to Stalling maturing as a songsmith and vocalist. 

With songs in hand, Stalling began to seek out a producer to help shape the overall sound of the project.  Max tapped the über-cool “Off-Music Row” insider/outsider R.S. ‘Bobby’ Field to wear the producer’s hat.  Field has been at the helm of many-a-hip production job for some of the genre’s most respected singer/songwriters…Todd Snider, Billy Joe Shaver, Allison Moorer, Webb Wilder and Hayes Carll to name but a few.  “I talked to quite a ‘who’s-who’ list of people about taking this project on but it wasn’t until I hooked up with R.S. that I realized he was exactly the person I needed for this particular project.  R.S. is the whole package… songwriter, gear-head, psychologist, music historian… everything you look for in a producer. Oh, and he’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my life.” 

The project was recorded in Austin at Bruce Robison’s new studio, Premium Recording Services. Jeff Howe  and former band member Dale Clark and are featured prominently on the recordings.  “This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to use my road guys in the studio.  I’m very proud of the life Jeff and Dale have given these songs,” says Stalling.  “They poured their hearts and souls into this project and I think people will be wowed by what they can do.”

In June of 2008 Stalling was awarded a star on the South Texas Music “Walk Of Fame” in Corpus Christi, Texas.  This recognition of other successful musicians from South Texas includes such notables as Guy Clark, Roger Creager, Bill Haley, Selena, Kris Kristofferson, Michael Nesmith (of The Monkees) and more.
So stands Stalling – poised on the edge of the next chapter in his career:  armed with a strong, new cd being enthusiastically received by a loyal and growing fan base, respect from his songwriting peers and a stellar band to back him up.

Not TOO bad for a former snack-food scientist turned songwriter.

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