Bill Hearne calls it The Road: that metaphorical ribbon of honky-tonks, roadhouses, empty whiskey glasses, prison cells and unrequited love lined with signposts and mile markers tattooed with names like Haggard, Williams, Owens, and Lovett. Being legally blind, Bill has never actually driven The Road himself, but he sings with such authority of the tales he’s heard while riding shotgun that you’d never know it.
Bill doesn’t write his own songs. His greatness lies in his interpretive skills. His husky Texas baritone finds its way into a song’s interior with mellowness and warmth. And of course, there’s his cross picking. He picked up the guitar when he was 7 years old. “Since I didn’t have people to play with, I developed a style that incorporated a percussion rhythm while playing lead riffs. Basically, I tried to be a one man band,” he says. Like fellow cross-pickers Tony Rice and Doc Watson, Bill is improvisational. “I hardly ever play the same thing twice,” he says.
Bill’s professional life began in Austin in 1968. It was there where he earned his first paycheck as a musician and met his future wife, Bonnie Cross. Bonnie’s mellifluous east Texas alto fit Bill’s picking like a glove. They toured TX, NM, and CO before moving to Red River, NM in 1979 where they became the house act at Chubbie’s Tavern. Fellow Texans Tish Hinojosa and Michael Martin Murphy also moved to northern New Mexico, and Bill and Bonnie found themselves the center of a thriving Americana music community.
Fast forward a decade. Bill & Bonnie move to Santa Fe where they sign on as the house band for La Fonda, a venerable downtown hotel. For 11 years, Bill and Bonnie delighted Santa Feans and countless tourists with their infectious blend of bluegrass, country and swing music. In 1997, Bill & Bonnie signed with Warner Bros. and recorded “Diamonds in the Rough.” Produced by country veteran Jim Rooney, it climbed to fifth on the Americana chart that year and led to performing at Lyle Lovett Music Festival, Merlefest, and the Kerrville Folk Festival. In 2003, Bonnie’s health deteriorated and she could no longer perform; sadly, she passed away in December. On his own musically for the first time since meeting Bonnie, Bill formed the Bill Hearne Trio. In the trio, Bill is backed by David Thom on lead guitar and mandolin, and Zeke Severson on bass. Bill is in his 26th year at the La Fonda and is still singing every Monday & Tuesday night with his Trio.
“They used to play a place called Corky’s in the Montrose area of Houston. I would get a seat right up next to the stage and sit in front of Bill and try to figure out all his guitar licks.”
– Lyle Lovett
“Whenever I come to Santa Fe, I make a point of checking to see where Bill Hearne is playing. His music is evocative of all that I love about New Mexico and the West. They broke the mold when they made Bill – you should not miss the chance to witness him in action.”
– Eliza Gilkyson (2015 Grammy nominee)
Opening acts: Andy Clifton and Robert Tiernan
Doors open at 6:15 p.m. $10 general admission, $5 members and students w/ ID, free for ages 12 and younger. Baked goods, coffee, tea, and water available for purchase.