At the start of 2020, George Ducas had a plan for a busy summer. He had released a new album, Yellow Rose Motel – his second release since returning to recording as an independent Texas artist. A 15-city tour was all planned out. And then his plans changed. Though, to be fair, everyone’s plans changed. Pandemics tend to do that.
“We moved a number of dates to 2021, to get them on the books and hope that the world is getting back together again. I tried to focus on the livestreaming thing, which became very popular,” Ducas said of his lost summer. “I’ve been doing quite a bit of that on my Instagram, and a couple pages on Facebook that asked for it. I did one for Martin Guitar, which was really cool since I’ve played Martin guitars since the beginning of my career.”
Even though Yellow Rose Motel didn’t get the tour it deserved, the fact that Ducas is back to releasing albums on a regular basis is great news for any country music fan. Back in the Golden Era of 1990s Nashville, Ducas released two stellar albums on Capitol/Liberty Records. Aside from one monster hit (which we’ll get back to momentarily), they didn’t turn Ducas into the star that he should have been.
Still, George Ducas (1994) and Where I Stand (1997) are among the finest country albums released in the decade and blended a New Traditionalist sound with a heavy layer of California Country coolness. Ducas also flourished as a songwriter, writing or co-writing hits for Radney Foster, Sara Evans and Eli Young Band, to name a few.
After an extended absence, Ducas returned to the recording side of country music when he released 4340 in 2013, on his own label. Since then, he’s had several hits in his home state of Texas. Ducas says he’s enjoyed a return to a role as a singer and songwriter.
“I realized that the more I wrote, I missed the outlet of it, and without getting out there and letting these songs live and breathe, I kind of lost the motivation to write,” he says. “Once I realized that and started getting back out there as a newly independent artist, and figuring out how to do it back home in Texas, that lit the fire again for me.”
Given the dozen-plus years between the two parts of his recording career, Ducas had found himself with two fanbases. He has the current crop of fans who follow him on Instagram or Facebook and know his current albums, but they may not have discovered his earlier work. Then he has the fans who remember him from the ‘90s but might not be aware of his latest music. He has decided to bring those two groups together with a re-recording of his biggest hit, “Lipstick Promises.” The song, which was a Top 10 hit in 1995, turns 25 years old this year.
Whenever an original version of a song is played on the radio or streamed on Spotify or YouTube, the royalties go back to the record label, even if an artist hasn’t worked with that label in decades. This updated version is Ducas’ own master.
“I heard that maybe it was a way of grabbing some of those streams or YouTube views, and you’re hopefully grabbing some of those dollars – some of those pennies,” he says, correcting himself with a chuckle.
At the time he recorded the original version, Ducas’ experience was pretty limited. Barely 20 years old, he sang at a dive bar on Elliston Street in Nashville called Amy’s, which was located across from the famed Exit/In. The place is now called The End and can be spotted in the new video Ducas shot for the reboot.
“I used to play there every Friday or Friday and Saturday – just me acoustically, for a buck at the door,” Ducas recalls. “They served beer by the quart. I’d walk out at 2am, and I almost felt like a stripper – I had $300 in ones in my pocket.”
Two things are apparent with the rebooted “Lipstick Promises.” One, the song is a decidedly amped-up version of the original. “I wanted to make it closer to how I perform it live, which is a little bit faster, has a little bit more energy and more of a rock edge to it than the original recording,” he explains.
The second thing is that, 25 years later, Ducas’ voice hasn’t changed a bit. He attributes his pipes to good genes and keeping fit and denies gargling with water from the Fountain of Youth or anything supernatural like that. But play the two versions back-to-back, and you would be hard-pressed to tell that they are 25 years apart in age.
Anyone who follows the trail from “Lipstick Promises Rebooted” to Yellow Rose Motel will find his songwriting chops are still in fine shape, too. Even in the age of streaming media, Ducas wants his albums to be a “top-to-bottom” listen, and this one qualifies. There are soft ballads, a few fun party anthems and a skewer of the current crop of Nashville hitmakers with “Country Badass.”
“To put the album on from Song 1 to Song 12 and hold their interest, that’s my goal,” Ducas says. “There’s probably now a couple songs where… I could beat that. But there were reasons for putting those songs on there at the time, and an album is a snapshot of where you are at the time. It’s not a livestream. I’m proud of it, always, like my first record.” Yes, Ducas is a refreshingly candid interview.
The title track came from a love of Willie Nelson’s Red-Headed Stranger – both the song and the album. Ducas had never killed off a character in a song before, so he wrote this tale of obsession that now gives him a body count of two. Rather than perform it as a folk tune, “Yellow Rose Motel” is a gritty blues number. Fittingly, Stevie Ray Vaughan is one of Ducas’ favorite guitarists.
Ducas has kept himself busy during the pandemic by writing a batch of songs for his next album, which will be produced by his other favorite guitarist, Pete Anderson (best known for his work with Dwight Yoakam). “We’ve been talking about the songs and production ideas, concepts, intricacies of the tunes,” he says. “We’re going to record it in Los Angeles at some point; we just have to make sure that we’re COVID-safe.”