The second single release from Texas Wild, an album celebrating 100 years of Texas State Parks, dropped July 6, further whetting appetites for the full release this fall.
“Possum Kingdom” by Oscar/Grammy/Golden Globe award-winner Ryan Bingham (with backup band, The Texas Gentlemen) is now available on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. Considering the wholesome family fun happening along the 300 miles of lakeshore and coves of this state park west of Fort Worth, the edgy ‘90s alt-rock Toadies’ song is surprisingly creepy.
To listen to the single, click here.
The April 30 drop of “Hey Baby, Que Paso?” by Fat Tony featuring Paul Wall sparked interest in Austin-based producer Walker Lukens’ pairings of classic Texas songs twisted into fresh takes by contemporary Texas artists. Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF), in partnership with Rambler Sparkling Water and Tecovas Boots, is sponsoring the digital and limited-edition vinyl album. Proceeds benefit Texas’ wild things and wild places.
|Frame from Toadie's "Possum Kingdom" video|
No other popular record has a Texas State Park in the title, so the Toadies' 1994 “Possum Kingdom” is perhaps the most obvious choice for a Centennial music project despite its serial killer vibes. Think ghost stories around the campfire to set the mood — no real danger in its fiction, just a satisfying frisson of fear up your spine.
Toadies lead singer Vaden Todd Lewis’ lyrics have sparked Reddit threads and social media debates for decades, linking it to various real crimes and fanciful vampire legends as well as the lake’s submerged ghost town, Pickwick. In 2019, he finally told Texas Monthly writer Sean O’Neill in a Halloween article the truth behind his cryptic words.
“I just made it up.”
After reading all the interesting theories, he wonders with amusement if he should have concocted a better story.
“Texans love that kind of storytelling, because it’s what we grew up with,” Lewis said. “The ghost stories—the metal hook on the car roof and all that. It’s just fun to sit around and scare each other.”
The simple, repetitive lyrics put listeners uncomfortably inside the mind of a man who seems to have evil intent, trying to lure a woman to walk with him around the lake to the boathouse and promising “eternal beauty” in return.
The Possum Kingdom setting came from summers spent at a family fishing lodge on the lake. With feature names like Hell’s Gate and Devil’s Island, it seemed like the perfect setting for a frightful tale, especially at night.
“Lewis says he never really heard any chilling stories about Possum Kingdom, specifically,” O’Neill writes. “No one ever told him anything about the vampires or vengeful ghosts or secret cults supposedly hiding in the woods. To him, Possum Kingdom just seemed like the kind of place where something bad could happen. And because he put it in a song, many people have come to be convinced that it did.”
Even the visual setting of Possum Kingdom can offer an aura of mystery and danger, attracting world cliff-diving events for daredevils.
|Fort Worth band Toadies|
“Possum Kingdom” was released as the second single from the Toadies’ 1994 album Rubberneck, breaking Billboard’s Top 40 chart and soaring even higher on alt-rock charts. Lewis said he wrote it as a kind of followup to another song on the album, “I Burn.”
The song seems to have grown in popularity through the past quarter-century, perhaps due to the accompanying music video that today has garnered an icy twist that makes us wonder what is real and what is imagined.
“Possum Kingdom” was even included in the setlist for the Xbox 360 edition of Guitar Hero II.
The new sound
|Lukens with The Texas Gentlemen in the studio|
Almost 30 years later, Lukens’ Texas Wild version aims to honor this fan-favorite while adding elements of blues, rock and country.
“Ryan Bingham wanting to do ‘Possum Kingdom’ is exactly what makes an album like this special; a big artist in one genre taking a chance by doing a popular song in another genre,” Lukens said. “Plus, Richard Bowden’s fiddle solo is one of the coolest things that’s ever happened at our studio.”
The Texas Gentlemen, who cover Lyle Lovett’s “(That’s Right) You’re Not From Texas” on another track of Texas Wild, provide backup as Bingham's band for this song.
“Ryan Bingham and The Texas Gentleman bring their own style to the tune, imbuing it with a uniquely haunting touch,” said Toadies guitarist Clark Vogeler, who’s also fond of Bowden’s contribution to the sound. “A lurid and chaotic violin pairs with the guitars creating an original appeal. This is a great cover that takes the song to new places.”
Bingham’s rough-edged but authentic vocals add a haunting quality to the repetitive lyrics. Even in the earliest days of his career, critics commented on the “old” sound of his voice.
“I love how Ryan made the tune his own, really brought out the swampy, gritty vibe,” Lewis said. “Cool stuff.”
Bingham found fame collaborating with producer T Bone Burnett on the soundtrack for the 2009 film Crazy Heart, cowriting and performing the film’s award-winning theme song, “The Weary Kind.” The title track earned Bingham an Academy Award, Golden Globe Award and Critics’ Choice Award in 2010, as well as a Grammy Award in 2011. He’s also been seen acting in the hit series Yellowstone.
A third single release is slated for later this summer, culminating with the digital and limited-edition vinyl release of the entire work this fall. Plans are in the works for concerts in state parks celebrating the album.
Texas illustrator Mishka Westell created unique block-print style art for each of the three single releases and the album. “Possum Kingdom” sports an aplomado falcon.
"Texas music has helped shape our inimitable spirit, just as the iconic landscapes of our Texas State Parks have inspired our last 100 years,” said Anne Brown, TPWF executive director. “In places like Garner State Park, music has inspired magical summer nights for decades; visitors have danced to Texas tunes beneath the stars at the historic pavilion since the 1940s.”
- Fat Tony featuring Paul Wall “(Hey Baby) Que Paso”
- Original Track: Sir Douglas Quintet
- The Texas Gentlemen "(That's Right) You're Not From Texas"
- Original Track: Lyle Lovett
- Shane Smith and The Saints featuring Hayes Carll - "Pancho and Lefty"
- Original Track: Townes Van Zandt
- Luna Luna - “Si Una Vez”
- Original Track: Selena Quintanilla
- Ryan Bingham - "Possum Kingdom"
- Original Track: The Toadies
- The Suffers - "My Maria"
- Original Track: B.W. Stevenson
- Shakey Graves featuring Jess Williamson - "True Love Will Find You In The End"
- Original Track: Daniel Johnston
- Sir Woman featuring Ray Wylie Hubbard - "Texas Sun"
- Original Track: Khruangbin and Leon Bridges
- Adrian Quesada featuring US and The Soul Supporters - "Say My Name"
- Original Track: Destiny’s Child
- Sarah Jaffe - "Flying Too Close To The Ground"
- Original Track: Willie Nelson
- The Toadies - "Since U Been Gone"
- Original Track: Kelly Clarkson
Fun spoiler: This album is packed with full-circle moments, with many artists doing double duty. Kelly Clarkson was seen and heard singing along to “Possum Kingdom” in her dressing room during an episode of “The Voice.” Another cut from the upcoming Texas Wild album will feature the Toadies covering Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone.”