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Skid Row's Johnny Solinger goes from metal to country

Mario Tarradell
The Dallas Morning News (MCT)

Johnny Solinger grew up in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford area of Texas. He lives in Austin. In his spare time, the 37-year-old singer likes to play Texas honky-tonks.

There's nothing unusual about that, right? Well, except that Solinger's full-time job is lead singer of the famed heavy metal band Skid Row. So his self-titled country debut CD might surprise some people used to him rocking out before thousands of metal fans, as he has been for nearly nine years as the voice of Skid Row. One listen to "Johnny Solinger" and you'll hear a gritty, barroom sound peppered by Southern rock energy and a penchant for dark song subjects.

Where does that disc come from?

"I remember going to parties from junior high to college and the DJ played AC/DC `Back in Black' and then `Whiskey River' by Willie Nelson," he says by phone from his home. "Motley Crue ... Johnny Cash. It was all the same to me. I grew up with that music. I always wanted to cut an album that was my version of Texas country. So when we finished the Skid Row tour last year, I moved the family to Austin."

Solinger tried Nashville. He had "several meetings there." But he just couldn't live in that scene.

"I'm a Texas boy," he says.

While Skid Row is on tour hiatus, Solinger will moonlight as a country artist playing Lone Star honky-tonks.

"It's an amazing scene, so unique in comparison to the rest of the country," he says. "Skid Row pays the bills, but this is a labor of love. I'm watering it, watching it grow."

And yet this rock-to-country turnabout begs the question: Is Solinger afraid he'll have trouble convincing the purists?

"People are so cynical," he responds. "Anybody that knows me from the band knows I'm just a redneck from Texas. It is for real. This is where I live. This is where I'm from. It's totally written, recorded, produced in Texas."

"Johnny Solinger" was recorded at Austin's Congress House Studio. Among the disc's musicians is Texas steel guitar virtuoso and respected producer Lloyd Maines. But there's no escaping the rock influences. In this case, it's Southern rock on "Steel Horse" and "Black Train." The final track, "You Lie," features Skid Row.

"Here, we are open-minded enough to listen to both country and rock side by side," he says. "I listened to Hank Sr. I could never sing that stuff. I don't think I'd ever be good at it. But I sure liked listening to it. So when it came time to make mine, I wanted some of that influence in my music."

It's there, particularly during the first half of the CD, which features good-old-boy tunes such as "Too Well to Go to Work," "Girls That Swear" and "Good Friends." Plus, the album's most intriguing piece, a honky-tonker titled "Hank Williams (Is in My Car)."

Yes, Johnny Solinger takes this seriously. In fact, it's his future.

"At some point I'm going to be just doing country. It's not totally unique for a guy with a rock background to jump on the country bandwagon. But it's not a bandwagon for me. The influence comes from my parents and grandparents. When you grow up in Texas, you better like this kind of music cause that's what you're gonna hear."

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