It's bearing down on 1 a.m. as Josh Weathers and the True+Endeavors take the stage at the Where House on Fort Worth's near south side. The audience, while not wall-to-wall, is sizable, given the hour.
Weathers, clad simply in shades of Springsteen (a black T-shirt, blue jeans, a gimme cap and strategically placed stubble), steps to the microphone and lets loose a nerve-jangling scream that melts into the searing opening riff of the quintet's 90-minute set. The songs, which never fail to inspire dancing in the crowd, are like grabbing hold of a downed power line: a high octane surge of soul, bluesy rock and a ferocious attitude, leavened only by the grins on the band members' faces.
This kinetic performance, at the funky, DIY space, is Weathers' second of five gigs in four days.
In 2010 alone, he played a total of 255 shows, from well-regarded, yearly events like Jazz by the Boulevard, Lola'spalooza and MayFest to weekly stints at bars like Spencer's Corner, Keys Lounge or the Scat Jazz Lounge. In 2011, he expects that mind-boggling number to increase, which means that most nights you will find him on a stage somewhere in Texas, delivering his authentic, exhilarating brand of rock 'n' roll stage show, playing until he is soaked with sweat.
Simply put, Weathers is Fort Worth's answer to James Brown: the hardest-working man in local music.
"[He] works harder than anybody I ever met," says friend and collaborator Nick Choate. "Josh Weathers works harder than my grandfather ever did."
"No matter what, it's 200 percent onstage," Weathers says. "I look at it like a craft, like carpentry, something to get better at. So hopefully I'm getting better at it -- that's the idea."
But the 27-year-old singer-songwriter isn't motivated by either fame or fortune. Or even a lifelong dream of being a rock star. He didn't start playing music until he was 19.
Weathers is chasing something much bigger and, in the end, more valuable.
Talk to him about his family and his dark eyes light up behind his Buddy Holly-esque glasses. And you realize he is laboring at this brutal pace to make good on a few unspoken promises -- to his wife, Kady, who doubles as his booking agent. To their 4-month-old son, Cooper. And to his late father, who bought him his first guitar and told him to play his heart out.
Friday, Weathers and his band will make their debut on one of Fort Worth's most prestigious stages: Billy Bob's Texas. It's one of the few high-profile spaces in North Texas that Weathers hasn't already played.
But Weathers won't take much time to enjoy the bigger spotlight.
The next morning, he'll be up early, cleaning out the horse stalls at his family's Burleson farm and tending to the animals. He'll play with Cooper and squeeze in some time to rehearse and write a bit of new material, before heading off into the night -- whether it's Amarillo or Austin, Grapevine or Granbury -- to hone his craft.
And to keep his promises.
From one guitar
Rodeo, not rock 'n' roll, was Josh Weathers' passion when he was a teenager in Mansfield. The Arlington native also hoped to attend Texas A&M University on a baseball scholarship.
Aside from a one-year stint in seventh-grade choir, music was an afterthought. But that changed when he found a broken guitar in a friend's garage, patched it together and started playing. His father, who was a distributions manager for a few different companies, could see the spark in his older son's eyes and told him if wanted to be any good, he'd need a better guitar.
So he bought him an acoustic on layaway.
"I got it a few months before Christmas," Weathers says. "As soon as I got it, I started writing songs. I didn't know anybody else's, so I wrote my own [and] discovered I was pretty good at this."
Then 19 and a college freshman, Weathers was on the dean's list at the University of Texas at Arlington. So he was stunned when his father suggested that if wanted to get serious about music, he should take a break from college to pursue songwriting and performing full time.
"I was shocked, because school was of the utmost importance growing up," Weathers says. But whether it was rodeoing, school or baseball, his father had instilled in him the notion that giving nothing less than your all is the only way to move through life.
Work hard -- harder than anyone else -- and it will pay off.
On Christmas Eve of that year, Weathers' father died of a heart attack. He was 44.
Music became Josh Weathers' all-encompassing work.
"I kind of took it as a mission: I'm going to do it," Weathers says. "It's where I've been ever since."
And though his father did not live to see all Weathers has achieved, the musician thinks his father would be deeply proud of where he stands today. He'd probably be working just as hard as Weathers.
"He'd be stoked about stuff like Billy Bob's," Weathers says. "If my dad was alive, we'd probably have a record deal already. He'd have probably quit his job to help this band. He thought that's what I needed to be doing."
Exercising broad appeal
Weathers began by immersing himself in acoustic pop-rock touchstones like Dave Matthews and Jason Mraz. He got his start at Arlington coffeehouses as a solo singer-songwriter, but Weathers says it wasn't long before his teenage musical tastes evolved.
"When I met him, he was playing covers," say friend and collaborator Nick Choate. "He's turned into this thing, where before he was this nice guy with his acoustic guitar playing sweet love songs and now, he's got this powerhouse band that shows up and tears the faces off of people."
The transformation came as Weathers began to steep himself in vintage Motown and blue-eyed soul crooners like Boz Scaggs (favored by his father) and classic country icons like George Strait (embraced by his mother), wading into the back catalogs of titans like Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Bill Withers.
You can hear all of these influences stirred into Weathers' eclectic songs; whether it is the tender ballad (and fan favorite) Mind, Body and Soul or the stomping, funky Better Days, his broad taste is filtered through his big-tent sensibility.
"He plays the stuff I liked and grew up with -- Sly Stone and Van Morrison -- and his own songs are old-school, just really well-written stuff," says Danny Ross, owner of Keys Lounge, a frequent stop on Weathers' schedule. "Songs like Mind, Body and Soul and a lot of his songs are hits."
Ross, who occasionally sits in on keyboards when Weathers plays the Keys Lounge, has got an eye for old souls residing in relatively youthful bodies, having helped groom American Idol finalist Casey James during his days in Fort Worth.
He says Weathers is the real deal, and has that unique ability to reach music fans young and old, in their 20s and their 50s. Indeed, Weathers' muscular tenor easily bounces from a Prince song to a full-blooded original to a Cream cover.
At a recent gig at Scat Jazz Lounge with the Motown-inspired group Dazey Chain, he channels some of the great voices of his father's era -- Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and, of course, James Brown -- but puts his own intense spin on their classic songs. Weathers only knows one gear: full-throttle.
Or as Choate puts it: "Once you get past that age of 'people need to know how cool I am,' that's where Josh lives. He wants to make music, and he's got something to say."
'Like lightning in a bottle'
Weathers first put his sounds down on wax with 2006's self-titled, full-length debut, a very confident first outing.
Yet looking back, Weathers doesn't know if that album or its successor, 2007's The New Serenade (which cemented Weathers and Choate's relationship; the latter credits Weathers with establishing his Blue Smoke Studios) really captured what he was after.
"Those first two records were about the songs," Weathers says. "I don't know that I was crazy proud about the recordings, but we didn't know what the hell we were doing."
It's both a rare acknowledgment of unintended rough edges and an insight into Weathers' deceptive perfectionism.
He doesn't appear outwardly driven -- when you meet Weathers, it's more like hanging out with an extremely friendly neighbor, enjoying a few cold ones -- but that insatiable need to nail it (along with the reality that studio time can be expensive, in financial and practical terms) could be what keeps Weathers from recording more regularly than he does.
The band, too, was in a state of flux, until Weathers got it just where he wanted it.
At one point, eight people were considered part of what has become the True+Endeavors, though that number has since been reduced to five. If the 2009 EP Better Days was crafted to showcase the sprawling new sound, Weathers has tightened up his team, stepping forward to assume lead-guitar duties and leaving drummer Sammy Boe (who's also Weathers' father-in-law), saxophonists Jeff Dazey and Bryan Batson and bassist Kevin Rennels to build up a funky head of steam behind him.
"I'm really proud of our live show," Weathers says. "That's where we've built everything.... It's like lightning in a bottle."
Soak up the records all you'd like, but until you see Weathers and his bandmates in person, you won't fully understand why they are one of the hottest tickets in town.
"I can't pinpoint a band out there that's doing exactly what we're doing," Dazey says. "If you put us in front of 20 people, we're gonna win 'em over by the end. Even the deadest rooms, every time, it never fails -- by the last few songs, we got 'em, they're invested."
It's not uncommon to see audience members singing (or, more often, shouting) the lyrics to songs back at the band, all but burying the quintet in rapturous applause between tunes.
"The people that come to our shows, they're unbelievable," Weathers says. "They genuinely love our music, love our show, love everything that's going on -- we couldn't ask for anything more. We see a lot of repeat customers, but we see a lot of new people. The objective is make what happens here [in Fort Worth], happen everywhere."
Juggling music and family
For as well as everything is going -- regular bookings; respect from his peers; a crack musical team; a loving, supportive family -- Weathers wants more.
"Creatively, I'm all about the ass-shaking, I'm all about the dancing and partying, let's have a good time, but every once in a while, just listen to what I'm saying," Weathers says.There's a troubadour lurking within the soul-rock enthusiast who gets up onstage nearly every night, a man reaching back to the sensitive coffeehouse pop of his youth.
While it may be syrupy, there's an undeniable pathos in those fluffy songs that speaks to Weathers' inherent sensitivity.
Weathers could ride the bluesy, R&B-streaked rock sound to a lucrative career -- the music industry is forever instigating mini-"revivals" -- but he knows he needs to tread lightly, while never taking for granted what he has right in front of him.
"Five hundred people show up and know the words to our tunes," Weathers says. "I could hover right there at 'all right' [but] I want 'all right' to be a little bit better. I don't think you ever stop kicking at it."
But unlike, say Ray Charles or Johnny Cash, Weathers refuses to rip apart his family to chase his dreams.
He and his wife, Kady, take care to build a schedule that allows for maximum exposure (Weathers embarked on a weekend tour of Colorado recently; in April, he'll venture to San Antonio and Tyler) without sacrificing his role as a husband and father.
"Josh is a very hard worker," says Kady. "We have talked about him cutting down his shows and getting a full-time job and only doing shows on the weekend, but because he loves what he is doing so much, we decided against it."
"A baby changes everything," says Weathers. "If you're serious about something, it becomes militant [afterward]. I don't want anything to stifle me. [But] it's hard being away from your wife and your baby.... I don't ever want [my son] to suffer from me being on the road, I can't stand the thought of that.
"That's why I play so much in town during the week, because I want to be home. I could probably make a living going all over, but that's not where my life is. It's home, with them. Everything else comes second."
So, Weathers will continue apace.
He already has shows booked into June, with stops as varied as MayFest, the cozy Lola's Saloon and Lochrann's in Frisco. He and the True+Endeavors have established rehearsal space at Choate's Blue Smoke Studios, where Weathers says the band is writing songs, in anticipation of a new album. Working with Choate, he's also stockpiling tunes for an eventual solo debut, although he warns that the studio and the stage will forever be entities unto themselves.
"I don't necessarily want the live show on the record," Weathers says. "That's what everybody always says: 'The record is good, but it's nothing compared to your live show.' They're completely different animals."
He will maintain this relentless schedule, expecting to play even more than the 255 shows he did last year.
But the inevitable question arises: Will he "break through?" Will Weathers be Fort Worth's next great musical export? Is he destined to break out of the Lone Star State and onto the national stage?
"It's not just being in the right place at the right time, it's being the right person doing the right thing at the right time and all these things have to align," says Jeff Dazey. "That said, I think, out of just about all the musicians I've worked with, if it doesn't happen for him, who will it happen for?"
Weathers maintains a healthy skepticism about the often ugly workings of the music business, electing to forgo a booking agent or a manager in favor of feeling things out on his own (with his wife's help). He's less concerned about marketing his music than playing it, perfecting it. The late nights and incendiary performances are all Josh Weathers needs.
"I was just going to take a semester off," he says. "That was like six years ago."