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Brush With Local Greatness, Vol. 2 : Ken Bethea of the Old 97’s

Last updated on July 13, 2022

When I got to Ken Bethea’s house, I didn’t know where I was. My son had gotten invited to a birthday party for a little girl in his Mother’s Day Out program and all I saw was her first name, sans last. The house, located near ours, is probably 40 years old and is homey, but it was the little things that I started to notice. Old 97’s posters, framed over an old piano, were the first clue. A guitar in the corner, pictures of a guy that I recognized from CD inserts. But the dad of the little girl in the MDO program looked older, a lot older, and I surmised that his brother was Ken Bethea, the guitarist for one of the few musical acts to break out of the Dallas club scene, the Old 97’s.

My wife, the ballsy one, asked the dad if his brother was in the Old 97’s.

“I don’t have a brother,” he said, sort of standoffishly. “And I’m in the Old 97’s.”

So that was it. The pictures were of Ken and his wife, but before the graying hair. Case solved!

He was genial enough. While we both chomped pizza and cake we talked about “Heroes” and a group watching party that a local comic book shop puts on at the Magnolia every Monday night. He talked about a Chili’s ad that they had done (a lot of money for one day’s work) and were happy with and how they were going to tour the following week. Maybe it’s just the way he talks, but he kind of had that “bask in my glow” way of speaking, and some of the other dads who were there were giving him those puppy dog eyes, which I thought was kinda gay, but, thinking about it, Ken has attained a dream that all men at some point in their lives dream – he plays guitar in a band that tours and puts out albums that you can buy on Amazon. And the band is marginally famous.

I wasn’t going to tell Ken that I had all of their albums up until Fight Songs (which bordered on being too poppy for my tastes) and sing their songs loudly as I drive because I didn’t want to be one of those people that slobbers all over celebrities. He’s not flashy like lead singer Rhett Miller, who I remember from high school when he went to ESD and dated a girl in my class. It looks like Ken leads a pretty simple life, with his wife and 2 kids. We just chatted and it was alright. Pretty nice guy.

It ended kind of weird though. I have one other tangential link to Ken – he dated a friend of mine’s wife. Not when they were married, of course, but before all of the matrimony stuff. When he found out that we knew him through our friend, he started telling a story to us about when he dated her. Ken said it was difficult going out with her, since he had the band and would be back in Dallas for a week before heading out on the road again for another month or so and he didn’t really know if he should call her his girlfriend or not. It all ended badly and he felt more than a little responsible for the whole mess, which, according to our friend, he did create. He said to say hi to her when we saw her.

When you know these people as people the high sheen of what they do seems to come off a little bit and you realize that the people that Entertainment Tonight and gossip rags hold up as famous are just people who want to have lives also, and they screw up relationships and stuff like that too.

But he does play a pretty mean guitar. And I like the pillow that says “Buenos Dias” on it in their house. Where can I get one of those?

Published inBrush With Local Greatness

One Comment

  1. D.perez D.perez

    When I had my brush with greatness it was at a place called aardvarks in south west Fort Worth. My lady and I seemed to be the only ones that knew who the old 97s were. They had just released “hitchhike to rhome”. Anywho, we screamed requests from our table all night! It was great. After the show Ken came over ordered a round of beers and drank with us! Solid dude! Fan for life!

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