Five years ago, the wear and tear of the road seemed to deal the killing blow for hard-touring Texas country band Cooder Graw.
But memories of the self-proclaimed “loud country” band's rowdy live shows wouldn't die for the group's faithful fans — and ultimately for the band members themselves.
In spring, Cooder Graw — the name is the Texas-drawl pronunciation of the French phrase “coup de grace,” which means “death blow” — embarked on a reunion tour that will cross the Red River on Saturday for a show at the Wormy Dog Saloon.
“We had our differences. None were huge. ... We got tired of each other because we played so many shows,” said lead singer Matt Martindale in a phone interview this week from Amarillo, Texas, which he calls home.
“We all have a different life now and music is novel and new to us. So far, it's been great and the music has been great.”
Formed in 1998, Cooder Graw got off to an auspicious start with the release of its debut album, “Home at the Golden Light,” which credited actor Matthew McConaughey, one of Martindale's fraternity brothers, as executive producer. Grammy winner Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel and chart-topping country songwriter Hayden Nicholas produced the band's self-titled 2000 sophomore effort, which made itself at home on the national radio charts for 13 straight weeks.
The group's second live release, “Segundo,” spawned its first top 10 hit on the Texas country charts with “Willie's Guitar.” A second 2001 offering, the studio album “Shifting Gears,” scored Martindale and his cohorts two more top 10 Texas hits with “New Dress” and “Better Days.” The band's installment in the famed “Live at Billy Bob's Texas” live album series included its best-known song, the raucous “Llano Estacado,” featured in a series of national Dodge truck ads.
Cooder Graw released another album, “Wake Up,” in 2004, but touring practically nonstop eventually took its toll. After eight years of making music together, the band played its last show Dec. 31, 2006, in Fort Worth.
Although he continued to play with his Matt Martindale Band, the singer, like his former bandmates, embarked on a new life. A former assistant district attorney, Martindale, 44, now works as lawyer in private practice, plus he has a wife and two daughters. But music has always been vital to him.
“It's the nature of being an artist. You have to do what you have to do,” he said. “I could hang around the house and drive my wife crazy ... because I play some instrument every day when I come home. I have to play. I have to do those things.”
After fielding frequent fan inquiries and requests about a Cooder Graw reunion, Martindale approached lead guitarist Kelly Turner about the prospect. Once Turner agreed, the rest of the band members quickly signed on for the “Unfinished Business Tour,” too.
In April, Martindale, Turner, bassist Paul Baker, drummer Kelly Test, multi-instrumentalist Jon “Fish” Hunt and Nick Worley, who now plays fiddle with Jason Boland & The Stragglers, began the tour at the 24th Annual Larry Joe Taylor Music Festival in Stephenville, Texas. Due to health issues, original pedal steel guitarist Jimmy Url Whisenhunt hasn't been able to rejoin his bandmates.
The band has been playing about a show a month across Texas, and every date has been a sellout. Martindale particularly enjoyed their summer concert at New Braunfels' fabled Gruene Hall, where his brother-in-law, up-and-coming Texas singer-songwriter Charlie Shafter, was the opening act and his daughters got to see their dad entertain the eager crowd.
He and his bandmates are planning to extend their tour into 2013 and even are working on new music. On Saturday, they will take their reunion trek out of Texas for the first time when they play the Wormy Dog.
Martindale has many fond memories of the Bricktown venue; he and his cohorts even performed there during its opening weekend back in 2003. During one Wormy Dog visit, they once knocked on the tour bus door and chatted briefly with Kings of Leon, who were playing at a neighboring punk club. The singer even lost his shirt at the saloon once, but he later got it back.
“Details are sketchy but ... I love that stage,” he said with a laugh.