Audible honesty

A night with good friends Michael Hearne and Shake Russell


Michael Hearne and Shake Russell have been playing music and writing songs together for a long, long time. For those who remember the golden days of the Taos two-step scene, drifting onto the dance floor as South by Southwest struck up the introduction to a Russell waltz, “Deep in the West,” is a memory that coats everything in the gold dust light of nostalgia. The harmonies conduct us through those memories and thoughts of friendships, sticking together and lost loves.

Hearne and Russell are together again Saturday (July 8) beginning at 8 p.m. at the KTAOS Solar Center, 9 State Road 150, north of El Prado. 

We asked Hearne to reflect on the many years of playing shows with Russell, and he had plenty to say. 

“Shake and I have been writing songs and playing music together off and on for the past 25 years. I’ve done solo recordings and South by Southwest has recorded and performed Shake’s songs throughout our tenure in the dance halls and concerts across Northern New Mexico and all over the Southwest,” Hearne said. 

“These days, we’ve been playing sold-out shows all over central and south Texas with bass player extraordinaire Mike Roberts. Popular songs of ours include ‘Deep in the West,’ ‘Acadian Angel,’ ‘The Girl Just Loves to Dance,’ ‘New Mexico Rain’ and so many more. I’m looking forward to playing music for the dancers and listeners at KTAO this Saturday night,” he added. 

Hearne is a native of Dallas, Texas. He has strolled down a musical path inspired by the great folk and country singer-songwriters who typify and have characterized the Americana roots music scene. 

He has become synonymous in Taos with great Americana and country music. He’s been playing in the area since the early 1980s either as a solo performer or with his band, South by Southwest. Hearne continues to leave an indelible mark on his audiences not only with his signature “Michael Hearne” guitar sound, but also with songs and stories that are rich in lyrical prose, imagery and humor. 

Longevity has yielded Hearne a vast fan base that is solid and ever expanding. Hearne’s flat pick-style guitar leads are blisteringly fast, yet full of feeling. 

“There’s kind of two different Nashvilles,” Hearne said in a telephone interview. “There’s the business side of Nashville, where there are younger performers being groomed for the recording companies. They’re talking about drinking beers and their big trucks and all. Then there’s the Nashville that has an emphasis on the song and the message, which is another side altogether.”

“Deep in the West,” Russell’s famous tune, debuted on Vol. 2 of the 1973 Kerrville Folk Festival “Live Highlights” album. Since then, Russell has been a regular Kerrville performer. 

According to Russell, his songwriting influences at this stage in his life included Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Tim Hardin, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Randy Newman and Stephen Stills.

Famous cover performances include “Deep in the West” by Waylon Jennings on “Hanging Tough,” “You’ve Got A Lover” by Ricky Skaggs on “Heartaches And Highways,” “You Wouldn’t Know Me” by Gary P. Nunn on “Nobody But Me” and “Hard To Find A Smile” by Bill and Bonnie Hearne on their “Smilin’” album. 

Russell is a two-time recipient of the BMI Million Air award for Clint Black’s recordings of “Put Yourself in My Shoes” and “One More Payment,” both of which he co-wrote with Black. He’s also a four-time recipient of the BMI Writer’s Award. The Texas Music Association named Russell the 2004 Texas Music Awards entertainer of the year and nominated his song, “Cowboy Coffee,” for the 2007 Texas Music Awards best new song. 

Jinelle Boyd, co-founder of the Academy of Texas Music, had some touching things to say about Russell and his music: “Shake’s music reaches into the heart of everyone – yes, everyone – who hears it and affects them in ways nothing else can. They use his songs at their weddings, their children’s christenings, to cheer up their friends or to do the talking for them. For example, just a few months ago, we had a man who asked us to send ‘Deep in the West’ to his ex-wife, along with a note explaining that after their son died, that album really got him through the tough times. I really think Shake, without even realizing it himself, is one of the few songwriters that people of any age or musical preference can relate to. He’s painfully honest and brilliantly descriptive. His music will always be an important part of the lives of his fans!” 

If anything, what Hearne and Russell bring to audiences is not only superior songcraft, expert picking and rich-voiced interpretations, but warmth and a sense that these two men have lived through the emotions they’re singing songs about. You can’t get any more honest than that.

Tickets are $10. Doors open at 7 p.m. For more information, call the venue at (575) 758-5826 or visit

music, KTAOS