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Bingham mines life, love for art in song and film

Ryan Bingham's voice isn't smooth like a crooner who's been sitting in a Nashville studio.

No, his vocal instrument delivers the sound of gravel roads, smoke and eight-second rides — all legit for the troubadour of the Southwest.

Bingham headlines the music bill on Friday, Aug. 25, at the North Texas Fair and Rodeo, and his concert on the main Budweiser Stage will follow that night's Bull Blowout and cowboy protection match over at the rodeo arena.

It's a fitting time slot for a man who got started in music through a stint in rodeo.

"My family ranched out in New Mexico," Bingham said. "My uncle got me going in the junior rodeos."

Bingham said he later worked for a stock contractor in Del Rio and continued competing.

"I rode bulls all the way up into my early 20s," he said. "I got started playing the guitar for the rodeo cowboys in the hospitality tent."

From those beginnings sprang a career that so far has produced six albums, a couple of acclaimed theme songs and an Academy Award.

And that's just the music. IMDB.com lists four feature film acting credits for Bingham, who was tentatively scheduled to play the fair last year but had a scheduling conflict with work on the upcoming movie Hostiles.

"I've got one film I worked on last year with a guy named Scott Cooper," Bingham said. "It's kind of a period Western movie. It should be finishing up pretty soon."

Cooper directed Hostiles and wrote the screenplay, and the cast includes Rosamund Pike, Christian Bale, Ben Foster, Jesse Plemons (Friday Night Lights, Fargo), Stephen Lang (Avatar, The Men Who Stare at Goats) and Adam Beach (Flags of Our Fathers).

Bingham had a small acting role in 2009's Crazy Heart, which earned Oscars for Jeff Bridges (best actor) and the songwriting duo of Bingham and T Bone Burnett (best original song).

Bingham said the success of "The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)" was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that he'd be happy to tell his grandchildren about.

"It was a lot of fun. Just had to soak it all up," he said, adding that it was a "smaller part of the bigger picture that I feel very fortunate to be a part of."

In 2013, Bingham scored the theme song for The Bridge, with "Until I'm One With You" kicking off each episode of the El Paso-set FX drama.

Whether it's acting or providing music for a film production, Bingham has been involved with projects that reflect the regions where he's lived.

When he was young, his family moved from Bakersfield, California, to West Texas. He's lived in the Midland-Odessa area, Houston, Laredo, Fort Worth, Stephenville and the Austin-San Antonio region. He said he's now in Topanga, California, on the western outskirts of Los Angeles.

"I was born in Hobbs, New Mexico," Bingham said. "Kind of bounced around a lot growing up."

Those places and the spirit of those places are reflected in Bingham's songs, of which some highlights include "Southside of Heaven," "Hard Times," "Dylan's Hard Rain," "Tell My Mother I Miss Her So," "Country Roads," "The Wandering," "Guess Who's Knocking" and "My Diamond is Too Rough."

His hit "Bread and Water" evokes good times in Fort Worth, not-so-pleasant memories of Houston, and a ride in the bed of a Ford Ranchero — something Bingham said he's actually done twice.

"I was hitchhiking from South Padre all the way back up to Laredo on the border," he said. "If I'd known him, I wouldn't have let him make me ride in the back."

Bingham's most recent studio album is early 2015's Fear and Saturday Night. Ryan Bingham Live was released last fall just a couple months after being recorded in New Braunfels.

"I had a great band from the last record," he said about the decision to cut his first live album. "The band was on fire and we were having a lot of fun, and it just felt like the right time to do it."

At the beginning of this month, Bingham's website listed just one scheduled concert in Houston and the rodeo date in Denton.

"Right now it's slowed down quite a bit while I'm writing for a new album," he said. "I'm just really in the early stages of writing and see where it's going to go.

"Just reflecting on the places and people you meet over the years. I'm always interested to see what I'm going to come up with."

Ryan Bingham will play the North Texas Fair and Rodeo on Saturday, Aug. 25.Courtesy photo
Ryan Bingham will play the North Texas Fair and Rodeo on Saturday, Aug. 25.
Courtesy photo

Bingham said he was hoping to spend the rest of the summer recording that material, and that he cranks it up to about 250 shows per year when promoting a new album.

Despite those periods of heavy touring, Bingham said "it's been quite a while" since he played in Denton.

"I know it's a big rodeo," he said. "I've had a lot of support over the years from the rodeo cowboys and cowgirls.

"I'm looking forward to coming up there and playing the county fair. I'm looking forward to seeing some rodeo action and playing some music."

Ryan Bingham will play from 9:30 to 11 p.m. Aug. 25 on the Budweiser Stage at North Texas Fairgrounds, 2217 N. Carroll Blvd. Tickets cost $20. For tickets, visit the fair website.

MATT CRIDER can be reached at 940-566-6906.

FEATURE IMAGE: Ryan Bingham performs at South Side Ballroom in Dallas on March 6, 2015. Photo by Rose Baca, The Dallas Morning News.