Long before Turnpike, Kyle Nix was a troubadour.
Best-known for the range of his fiddle that gives the Turnpike Troubadours their stomping roots sound, Nix has been making music for most of his life. The Perry native got his first fiddle at age 9 and was fronting bands in the late 1990s before he finished high school.
A few years later, he regularly played the college bars and listening rooms in Stillwater and Tulsa, part of the state’s burgeoning “Red Dirt” music scene, before joining the Turnpike Troubadours in 2007.
This summer, for the first time, fans can experience the depth of Nix’s music and his style as a frontman. His first solo album, “Lightning on the Mountain and Other Short Stories,” is set for release Friday, June 26. Nix confirmed the album and date recently on his Instagram page. In an interview, he said a solo album was an itch he needed to scratch.
“I just had these songs piling up, and the Troubadours are between records,” Nix said, nodding to the band’s well-publicized break from touring and recording announced in May 2019. “I didn’t think most of them would fit with what we did anyhow, so I figured I could probably make use of them.”
“Lightning on the Mountain” features 17 tracks, including its spaghetti-Western title song, and Nix wrote 15 of them. Another was written with Turnpike Troubadours bandmate Gabe Pearson and the last is an instrumental that Nix arranged.
“It’s an assortment of story songs, and a hoedown to top it off,” he said. “I mainly wrote these songs for me. I write because I love the process, the inspiration, the feeling of creating something that once was only a fleeting thought. My endorphins fire up when I get to dot a period at the end of the paper.”
The music is more than a showcase for Nix. He was joined by an array of local, regional and national Americana and folk stars to put the album together. For starters, Wes Sharon — producer for Turnpike, John Fullbright and Parker Millsap — recorded and produced the project. Ian Moore performed on the album, as did bandmates of established and up-and-coming acts. Haystack Foster (Jason Eady, Sunny Sweeney), Dan Walker (Ann Wilson, Heart, John Fullbright) Grant Tracy (Jason Boland & the Stragglers) and Kullen Fox (Charley Crockett) represent about a third of the contributing musicians.
“All-stars, every last one,” Nix said. But his favorite guest appearance came from Byron Berline, his friend and bluegrass icon from Guthrie.
Berline, who made a guest appearance on the studio cut of Turnpike’s “7 Oaks,” brought a collection of prized possessions into the studio with Nix — including a 1923 mandolin that he saved from a fire last year at his Guthrie fiddle shop.
“Getting Byron on the record is special,” Nix said. “The best story about him fiddling with me on the song, besides that Byron is fiddling on there, period, is that I asked him to record with a couple of incredible instruments he owns. One is a fiddle he played with Bill Monroe as part of The Bluegrass Boys. It’s the same fiddle he recorded ‘Country Honk’ with on Rolling Stones’ ‘Let It Bleed. The same one that he used on all of his Gram Parsons sessions (GP-Grievous Angel) and on and on. I don’t believe he’d played it in a session since the 1980s.
“The other is that mandolin. It’s one of the only instruments recovered from the rubble in that fire.”
The other highlight for Nix is that four members of Turnpike play on the album. R.C. Edwards, Hank Early and Ryan Engleman joined Nix and Pearson in the studio.
“They all volunteered their time,” he said. “I probably wouldn’t have set out on the maiden voyage without them. My boys.
“It’s apples and oranges when we’re talking about the Troubadours’ records and this one, except if the Turnpike albums are oranges, this one was a Granny Smith tree for me. Lots of work. When you’re in the studio with the Troubadours you essentially have five producers and helpers other than yourself. So if you get stuck someplace, you have five strong arms that have 50 different ways of pulling you out of the musical muck. With my record, I was essentially in charge of it all.”
Undoubtedly, plenty of fans will note the absence of one member of Turnpike — frontman and band co-founder Evan Felker — but Nix is banking on the quality of his songs and his supporting cast to win over fans and skeptics alike.
“As for the Troubadours and folks asking about us, all I can say is thank you,” he said. “Who wouldn’t want to be asked about them? I’m not into answering any personal questions about anyone, but thank you for the love.
“‘Hope you like it some’ is a line from one of my songs on the record. And, I do hope you like it some, but I also hope you get something out of it. Whatever that may be is up to the listener. That’s one of the beautiful things about music: — the listener’s experience. It’s definitely one of my favorite things. It’s like opening a present when you hear a record for the first time. Some presents you hold on to, others you discard. Hopefully, I have something you can hold on to.”