Times Staff Writer
At 23, Bullard's knocking on back doors is starting to pay off. He's savoring the glory of a potential country hit single.
Bullard's "Amarillo by Morning" is wearing out country radio station turntables all the way from Macon, Ga., to Lovington, N.M.
A month after release, "Amarillo" hit top 20 on the country charts in Macon, Ga. And some music industry "bibles" like Cashbox and Billboard list the song as a recommended country single hit.
Cashox placed "Amarillo By Morning" among contry singles worth watching right along side of Roy Clark's "For Love;s Own Sake."
Around el Paso, KHEY's Charlie Russell predicts Bullard's "Amarillo" will hit top 20 on the national chars. The song still sizzles on KHEY's request line.
"It's just beginning to do well," Russell says.
The El Paso country deejay says Bullard's country singling style is not as original as someone like Willie Nelson. "But I don't think he tries to imitate anyone," he says.
The song tells a simple story about a rodeo performer trying to make it to Amarillo.
Record world calls it a "melancholy song" that has a "pretty melody that grows on you from first listen."
"Bullard's strong vocal lends a special flavor to the story of a guy traveling home with is belongings on his back," the music industry publication says.
Terry Stafford wrote and recorded "Amarillo" as a B side single back when Bullard was just starting out as a very young guitar picker. The song made top 20 on the national country charts when it was first released.
Bullard recorded "Amarillo" on an independent label (Cole-Cash) with the song writer's blessings. He counts on Staford's name recognition to bounce him to the big time from relative obscurity a a popular, regional country entertainer.
Bullard admits he's got a long way to go before he embraces a major country hit. But since the record came out, he's had to install an answering service at his El Paso apartment and bookings just keep pouring in.
Everywhere he plays, young women hound him for autographs.
In Albuquerque, a woman in the audience gave him a $50 tip to play a song. And Bullard's still packing them in at El Paso's Caravan East where he regularly performs between on-the-road gigs.
"All this attention is nice. But it took me 13 years to even get a song playing on the radio like this," Bullard says. "It takes six months for some people to even get on the charts. So I'm not too discouraged."
Bullard says "Amarillo" is the foundation for the next song he records, one of many he has written from personal experiences.
"Success for me would be a top 20 hit that would really help me on the basis of my next record," he says. "But it's impossible to get on a major label nowadays. You have to go around the back door."
Bullard figures he can make more progress recording a nationally recognized country performer's song on an independent label.
"When you start getting your records circulating around the majors will see it. If you start getting up there on the charts, they'll call you. That's the way I hope to break through," he says.
Former Dallas Cowboy fullback Walt Garrison is plugging the record. And Bullard plans a U.S. and overseas tour to do a bit of plugging himeslef once the song commands more attention on the national charts.
It hasn't been that long since Bullard started earning a few bucks pickin' guitar as a young kid growing up in Las Cruces.
Roberta Bullard, his mother and personal manager, remembers Bullard learning a "cord from everyone that came along." He was only 10 then and later Bullard and "a bunch of kids started playing to where they didn't sound too bad."
Bullard and his friends were the big attracting during breaks in the Vaquero days gunfights on man street.
"After 11, I was booking him constantly almost every weekend," Mrs. Bullard says.
He played drums and bass for various groups doing weekend gigs at Las Cruces night spots. He later formed his own group and started developing his singing.
"I've always wanted to sing. Every time I see a good singer on sage I get chills. I feel more at home in front of a lot of people," Bullard says.
Mrs. Bullard says her son was a homebody, preferring to practice music to "hanging around Coke joints" as a teenager. Between gigs, Bullard became a champion junior rodeo bull rider and calf roper.
His father, Robert, took him on the rodeo circuit. And his mother worked around a 40 hour week to accompany him on nightclub performances because he was always under age. She is now completing two terms as Dona Ana County treasurer.
"I used to play paces here I didn't know someone was going to cut myth throa or shot me," Bullard recalls.
Bullard also remembers wanting to play drums at Mayfield High School. "But they wouldn't let me play. I guess because I just learned to play stuff my way. They wanted to put me on the horn because I had the teeth for it," he says.
After high school, he got a standing ovation playing drums at a Dolly Parton concert in the Pan American Center.
Bullard's musical career was interrupted a couple of years ago when his brother, Scooter, was critically injured in a traffic accident. Scooter, 20, escaped from the grips of near death and now drums for Bullard.
"Everybody prayed and he made it. When he got out of the hospital, we had to teach him to eat and everything else all over again. He wasn't ready but I put him back in my band," Bullard says.
Right now, Bullard uses El Paso as his home base. He is beginning to get bookings in some of the larger markets like Dallas and Nashville.
"When I'm not sleeping I'm writing songs," he says. "I write the music first. A lot of people say it's backward. But it's just my kind of style. I never had any formal music training."
He also spends a lot of time writing songs for a new album which he says will have a bit of hard-core, middle-of-the-road and easy-listening country music.
"My roots are country," Bullard says.