Pauline Reese Treasures Her East Texas Roots
Photo by Pixel Peach
Pauline Reese always knew she was destined to be a country music singer. At age five, she practiced her Grammy acceptance speech with a cassette tape recorder.
Today, the singer with East Texas roots just wrapped up her seventh album featuring a duet with Willie Nelson, and was recently named the 2017 CMA (Country Music Association) of Texas Music Female Vocalist of the year.
Reese’s formative years in East Texas impacted her outlook on life and influenced her music.
“We lived in the country off a blacktop road between Mount Pleasant and Pittsburg in the middle of nowhere. I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Reese says.
Her father, a mechanical engineer for a large firm in Houston, decided to leave the stress of a big city and open a Western Auto store in Mount Pleasant, where Reese was born, the seventh of eight children.
“We had a garden and chickens, and spent a lot of time together as a family,” she remembers. “I enjoyed boating, camping, and playing softball.”
And making music.
Born to Sing and Play
One could say music is in her DNA. Reese’s mother sang in and directed the church choir, and her father played the saxophone when he was younger. Both sets of grandparents were musically inclined. On one side, her grandmother was a concert pianist and her grandfather played sax in a big band.
“On the other side, my grandfather played banjo, guitar, and fiddle, and enjoyed old-time bluegrass and country music,” Reese says. “My grandmother was choir director at her Catholic church. They lived in Argentina and spoke fluent German and Spanish. She was fascinated with the Spanish culture and I grew up hearing that music. I still have all her records that she used to play. That’s where the Tex-Mex flair in my music comes from.”
When Reese was 12, her family moved to Austin. While taking voice and guitar lessons at a local guitar shop as a teenager, she impressed a member of a local band who then encouraged her to try out for the band. Two years later, she fronted it as The Pauline Reese Band, adding more original music to her song lists and traveling around Texas opening for national acts and local Texas music stars, including Johnny Lee, Rusty Weir and Johnny Rodriguez.
A True Entertainer
Reese earned a reputation as an entertainer, riding her horse Blue Diamond into shows at famed dance halls across Texas and singing the national anthem at local rodeos and sporting events. Her mentor — legendary American cowboy singer Michael Martin Murphy — told her, “You don’t sing for yourself. You sing for the audience, and that’s really rare.”
Murphy is a major influence in her career, sending her books to study and videos to watch to help her in her songwriting craft.
She also met some big names in the Austin progressive country music scene that changed her life, including country singer/songwriter Freddy Powers, who introduced her to his good friends Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson.
Reese performed at six Willie Nelson picnics and two Farm Aid festivals. She recorded a duet with Nelson called “Trail of Tears,” which is featured on her seventh recently-completed album, Lucky Number 7.
Her music is described as a blend of alternative country, rock, Western Swing, honky-tonk, folk, and Tejano. Reese says the inspiration for her music used to come from her life, including an abusive marriage of seven years.
“But I didn’t want my records to be sad. So now my music comes from my friends, their stories, and their lives,” she says. “I’m really fascinated with history and ancestry. My great grandfather ran with Clyde Barrow and I have a song about that.
“Now everything I write is more of a global outlook of mankind. It’s Christian music without preaching to people — songs that you can relate to and actually help heal whatever you’re burdened with. It has a purpose.”
Her latest single, “Save Your Breath,” is available on her website at paulinereese.com. The site also features a list of upcoming performances.
Reese is currently planning a tour to coincide with the release of her new record. She plans to travel with her family in a vintage Gulfstream camper and perform at public parks, including stops in East Texas, in hopes of attracting a broader audience.
“Most bars cater to one age group. I want this tour to appeal to the broad range of people you see at a Willie Nelson concert: every age from eight to 80. I want people to bring their families.”
When she’s not performing, she can be found on her 100-acre ranch just outside of Austin, where she and her husband, Bill Herbert, raise their two daughters: Heidi, 8, and Henli, 6. Her husband is a professional saddle bronc rider. Both girls are musically inclined, often singing and playing ukulele with their mom on stage.
Where does she hope to be five years from now?
“I see myself becoming an even better me,” she says. “That’s the goal of life, constantly striving to be better, not just as a musician or songwriter, but better as a person of God, a person who inspires others in a big way.”
She’s particularly proud of her latest album, which features songs born from a different perspective after a personal tragedy three years ago — the loss of a child during pregnancy and a resulting stroke which caused her to have to learn how to speak again.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the past writing about other people’s experiences. But this album is something that is very personal for me,” she says, noting it has garnered great reviews from recording producers in Nashville and friends whom she respects. “Having recognition and respect is a big deal, but I don’t have to win a Grammy to be really proud of this record,” she says, adding with a laugh, “Although I wouldn’t turn it down.”
And just in case, she still happens to have an acceptance speech she recorded on an old cassette tape when she was five.