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Warm heart for a cold one

Profile image for By Lucinda Breeding
By Lucinda Breeding

Free-flowing libations, fans and firefighters have kept Beerman honest for 25 years

When Brian Houser came to Denton in 1989, he was going through a divorce. Then he started playing guitar and singing in college bars around town and became the “Beerman.”

That was 25 years ago.

Today, the Beerman is still playing in college bars in Denton. And in bars that draw professionals, blue-collar working folks, soccer moms and university professors. He’s also playing in Lewisville, Grapevine and elsewhere.

By trade, Houser is a carpenter who scales wooden roller coasters at Six Flags Over Texas amusement park in Arlington. But he’s left his mark as a Texas roots musician, plying audiences with songs about Everyman and his Beautiful Bride (or jaded former girlfriend) and the living of a simple life complicated by the human condition.

The Beerman and, well, a whole bar full of his closest friends are set to pack Dan’s Silverleaf on May 31 for a 25th reunion. Proceeds will benefit a cause close to the Beerman’s heart: the Denton Firefighters Memorial Fund.

“Back in the early ’90s, the town started calling me Beerman,” Houser said in an interview recently as he drove from Denton to Arlington. “I was playing mostly college bars. Over the years, they’ve grown and had families. Every year, I see the same folks, and some are from out of town.”

The Beerman, who has released four albums — one of which was produced by Lloyd Maines — recalled one particular fan (he calls them “Beerheads”) he almost didn’t win over.

“In 1994, I was playing over at the Sunset Grille,” Houser said. “I think it had a different name back then, but I was playing upstairs, and we were having a really wild time. Well, this couple came up the stairs and they got intimidated by us. They turned around and started to leave, and I stopped playing and said, ‘Now wait a minute! We’re friendly here. I’ll buy you a pitcher of beer.’”

The man in the couple became such a fan that Houser said he just played at his wedding reception — the fan’s third time to take a crack at holy matrimony.

But the story is an example of the Beerman experience. Newcomers get a beer on the Beerman’s tab. Fans can — and often do — buy the musician a beer, usually stowed in an icy tub near his chair.

“All those college kids I started playing for have grown, got married and had families. One of those kids, I just played at his daughter’s 16th birthday party,” he said.

In 2004, Michael J. Valentine, a Denton firefighter, died in a car accident. Houser staged a benefit performance for the fallen firefighter. Valentine’s widow eventually remarried, and Houser said she and his three children were doing well, “so we started raising money for the firefighters’ memorial fund.” The Beerman staged a pub crawl benefit from 2007 to 2011, and retired it in 2011 after the crowd swelled beyond easy management.

“There were so many people that it took too long for people to get in the door at the bars in time to see the music,” he said.

Little did the Beerman know that he would end up needing the Denton Fire Department.

“We had a fire in 2011, and it was ironic because the Denton firefighters had just given us an award two months before,” Houser said. “We live over in Idiot’s Hill, and our house was built in 1957. We had a faulty chimney, but we didn’t know it. It caught on fire and we didn’t know it. We were just sitting there. I had a fire going all day. Later that night, we saw the backyard all lit up, and our roof was just totally on fire.”

Houser said he saw a familiar face — a fan on the firehouse staff — when he opened the door.

“He said, ‘Beerman, what are you doing here?’ and I told him, ‘I live here!’ He turned around and said, ‘Guys, we got to do this one right,’” Houser recalled. “You know what? Except for the couch we didn’t lose one personal item.”

Houser claims he sets the “beer record” in all of the venues he plays.

“I’ve had club owners tell me, ‘I had a five-piece jazz band in here last night, but you sold four times as much beer,’” he said. “And I just tell them, ‘That’s what my fans like.’”

There’s more to the Beerman than the brewskies, though. Houser lacks pretense in music and in person. You could call him the godfather of Denton’s Americana authenticity, the guy who was making the music that young regional indie folk musicians hail as “honest.” The difference between the Beerman and the indie folk musicians is that he does it without pronouncement.

His second album, Son of a Common Man, was produced by Maines, who also played pedal steel on the record. After Common Man was released, Houser quietly went on to perform at South by Southwest Music Festival and play with some of the luminaries of Southwestern Americana and country music: Jerry Jeff Walker, Robert Earl Keen and Houser’s hero, Willie Nelson.

Houser said he didn’t focus too intently beyond his next gigs and the albums he made.

“I literally never imagined it would last this long,” he said. “There’s a guy at Six Flags who only knows me as Beerman, literally. He came in one day and said, ‘You ought to go out to this place in Fort Worth. This guy plays, calls himself the Beerman. He’s great.’ I just told him, ‘If a guy who plays calls himself the Beerman, there’s no way I’m gonna go see him.’ He never caught on, and, well, I just let it go. Didn’t say another word.”

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.