ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
(Soundbite of song, "The Weary Kind")
Mr. RYAN BINGHAM (Singer): (Singing) Your heart's on the loose. You rolled them sevens with nothing to lose. And this ain't no place for the weary kind.
BLOCK: Ryan Bingham won an Oscar for that song from last year's movie "Crazy Heart." And like the lead character, Bad Blake, Ryan Bingham also used to be the singer fighting to be heard over the din of a bowling alley. Now, at age 29, he's out with his third CD called "Junky Star" - songs about people down on their luck or out on the road.
(Soundbite of song, "The Poet")
Mr. BINGHAM: (Singing) The moon keeps on shining, and the rich keep on dining. And, oh, how I love the highway sun. Out to the back, the poet writes his songs in blood.
BLOCK: Ryan Bingham grew up in New Mexico and West Texas. His family lost their ranch. They moved around a lot. Before he found music, Bingham found the rodeo - bull riding.
Mr. BINGHAM: You can almost kind of compare it to, you know, driving down the highway about 50 miles an hour and throwing the steering wheel out of the window. It's just - because you're dealing with, you know, Mother Nature, and it's not really something you can control. It's just something that you're trying to stay a part of and stay with. And it's - I know it probably seems like it could be something very physical, but it's really more of a mental thing than anything else. Just having your mind in that right place and kind of having the confidence to get out there and kind of make it happen.
BLOCK: The physical part must come in at some point too. I'm sure you got pretty banged up.
Mr. BINGHAM: Yeah. I mean, it definitely helps if you're in shape and everything because you do get beat around quite a bit.
BLOCK: Did that happen to you?
Mr. BINGHAM: Yeah, a few of them knocked all my teeth out and broke some ribs and broke a leg and a wrist and...
BLOCK: Knocked all your teeth out?
Mr. BINGHAM: Yeah, mainly just the front tooth and bit my lip off in the process, and they sew it all back on, and they put me back together.
BLOCK: You talk about that as if that's no big deal. It sounds like a pretty big deal.
Mr. BINGHAM: Yeah, I mean, I guess, it is. I just - I try not to think about it too much.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: Well, when did music start coming into your life?
Mr. BINGHAM: Music started - I learned how to play the guitar when I was 17. My mother bought me a guitar, and there was this guy that my parents knew that would come over and hang out afternoons, and he played the guitar. And so one day, I just got my guitar out, and he showed me how to play this old mariachi song called the "La Malaguena." And I'd practice it until I learned the whole song, and it seems ever since then, I couldn't really put the guitar down.
BLOCK: Do you remember that mariachi song you learned?
Mr. BINGHAM: Yeah, I do.
BLOCK: Can you play a little bit for us?
Mr. BINGHAM: Yeah, I can play a little bit for you.
(Soundbite of song, "La Malaguena")
Mr. BINGHAM: Yeah, that's pretty much most of it.
BLOCK: That's so great. He taught you well.
Mr. BINGHAM: Thank you.
BLOCK: I've been thinking that the first lines of the title song of the new CD, "Junky Star," the first few lines of that are just like a little - it could almost be like the opening chapter of a Cormac McCarthy novel or a Western. You know, it's got everything folded into those few lines.
(Soundbite of song, "Junky Star")
Mr. BINGHAM: (Singing) The man come to shake my hand, rob me of my farm. I shot him dead, and I hung my head and drove off in his car. So I'm on the run with a smoking gun, looking for the coast.
And, yeah, I think about it at times. You know, I'd get these kind of images in my head of West Texas and just kind of - these visions of these endless sunsets and things like that that come through in the songs as you're trying to describe something. It's almost kind of cinematic in a way.
(Soundbite of song, "Junky Star")
Mr. BINGHAM: (Singing) And here we'll have (unintelligible). And when (unintelligible) too far, I'd say...
BLOCK: The character in this song moves out from wherever he is - it sounds like West Texas to me - and heads out for the coast. And pretty soon, he's on the Santa Monica Pier, sleeping there. Who is this guy, do you think, who's narrating the song?
Mr. BINGHAM: It's kind of a lot of different people. Traveling around a lot, you see people, all the different walks of life. And, especially, you know, in the early morning hours, you see and meet a lot of characters that you usually wouldn't usually meet earlier - you know, in the daytime.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BINGHAM: And I'm - I've kind of always had this soft spot in my heart for the, you know, the homeless community, and mainly, like, homeless kids that live on the streets and growing up. And I guess, in some way or another, that could have easily been myself and some of the guys in the band as well. And so I think I really kind of - over the past couple of years, that you're traveling around and seeing the condition of the - that the country is in and the condition that the people are in, and I just really had to take all of that into consideration when I was writing all these songs.
BLOCK: Ryan Bingham, you have your guitar there with you. Would you mind taking us out with a song?
Mr. BINGHAM: Yeah. And, well, this is a song called "Lay My Head on the Rail."
Mr. BINGHAM: Would that be cool?
Mr. BINGHAM: Okay.
(Soundbite of song, "Lay My Head on the Rail")
Mr. BINGHAM: (Singing) Well, I'm back on that road again. Nothin' slows me down. I ain't seen a single smile since I left the old town.
BLOCK: The new CD from Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses is "Junky Star." At npr.org, you can hear another song he played for us, solo, in our studios.
(Soundbite of song "Lay My Head on the Rail")
Mr. BINGHAM: (Singing) The headlights are blindin' and the diesels are on fire. Haulin' ass down a mountain pass to the California state line. If you could see my bleedin' feet, my hangin' head and cry. But don't you shed a tear, my dear, for I'm comin' home tonight. And, oh, there's home. Layin' my head down on the rail, singin' my way back home.
BLOCK: Ryan Bingham, thanks so much.
Mr. BINGHAM: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.