Music News

He's Gone Country

The classic American movie Giant is an epic about a Texas cattle baron, Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson), his wife (Elizabeth Taylor) and his family. The film, released in 1956, also features the late James Dean and is riddled with clunky foreshadowing, not least of which is a scene in which Benedict's very young son refuses to ride a horse, opting instead to play with a toy medicine bag. Naturally, the child grows up to become a doctor.

A more modern version of Giant might have that same child playing with Barbie dolls and growing up to become Hedwig or Ru Paul, but for purposes of our story, let's imagine him grabbing a toy guitar and growing up to become new pop-country sensation Tommy Shane Steiner.

There are certainly several interesting similarities at work here and, as we will see, a few significant differences as well.

"Tell you the truth, one of the main reasons I started singing, there was a girl I was engaged to when I was around 18, and she and I broke up and I wanted to write a song about it, so I borrowed my dad's Martin guitar, learned a handful of chords, and started writing," says Steiner, now 28. The song, which is called "And Yet," is on Steiner's debut CD, Then Came the Night.

"She lives in California now, married, with a daughter, and when she heard me on the radio, she picked up the album. I hadn't seen her in five or six years, and she called me and said, out of the blue, You know, "And Yet" is my favorite song on the album.' And I said, Well, you ought to like it, 'cause it's about you.' The very next thing out of her mouth was, I knew it!'"

Steiner is one of the new guys — the post-Keith Urban non-hat video-friendly guys, who are in turn the post-Garth guys: male pop-oriented country singers raised on music that is as far removed from Hank Williams as Moby is removed from Minnie Pearl. But Steiner managed to do something many of them have not, and that's to have a hot hit single right out of the chute. "What If She's an Angel," a song about angels in everyday drag, has made a star of Steiner, a performer who, like the kid in Giant, is the youngest in a multigenerational family of rodeo stars, cattle breeders and, well, cowboys.

"I come from a rodeo and ranching family. My younger brother Sid is a professional steer wrestler, second in the world I believe right now. I'd probably be doing the same thing, I think, if my intelligence hadn't taken over," Steiner says. "Something inside me just said, You know what? I'm just not good around cattle.' You might say the reason I got away from the ranch was to get away from bullshit, and I guess you could also say that now I get to deal with another kind of bullshit."

The Steiner Ranch stretches across some 10,000 acres and sits some 30 to 40 miles outside of Austin. There they raise Brangus cattle for breeding, and can claim, at any given moment, roughly 1,700 to 2,000 head. "Brahman — they're the sacred ones in India — have these big humps on their back," says Steiner. "They're really good at dealing with heat and they hold their weight really well. Angus, of course, are really thick meaty cows, and when you put those two together, you basically have an Angus with a smaller hump. I guess you might say they have all the meat and half the hump.

"And because they're registered, we know their grandparents and great-grandparents — they're bred for genetics, and what we're selling is bulls, and they can go for as much as $80,000 apiece," he adds. "Eventually, of course, it comes down to meat."

And speaking of grandfathers, genetics and such, another interesting part of the Steiner story concerns his show-business legacy. "My great-grandfather, Buck Steiner, put on Wild West shows, and growing up I used to hear all these great stories about, like, Gene Autry, and when he was dating Annie Oakley when they were in the show together. . . . So eventually my grandfather took over the Wild West shows and moved them more towards rodeo events, but he'd have elaborate grand entries and pretty girls on horses holding flags, fireworks and live music," he continues. "He liked to do things bigger than life."

All of this may or may not explain why Steiner has a streak of neon in his genes; being the scion of showmen, bronc-stompers, riders, ropers, punchers and bull ticklers must have played a part as well.

"Thing is, everybody down there knows my father and grandfather and great-grandfather, and so for years I was just Bobby Steiner's son. I think that's what really made me want to go out and do something for myself."

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Henry Cabot Beck