Mayor Mike Reagor has issued a proclamation honoring one of Llano’s most illustrious citizens; this Thursday, June 10, has been declared “Darrell Staedtler Day,” and the public is invited to an “Evening with Darrell Staedtler” at 7 p.m. at the Fuel Coffee House on East Main Street, to be hosted by W.C. Jameson.
Darrell Staedtler was born in 1940 at the old Llano County Hospital on the second floor of the Haynie Building, now known mostly as the home (downstairs) of the Stonewall restaurant. “Women had to walk upstairs themselves,” Staedtler points out. “It’s amazing that there weren’t more babies born on the landing half way up the stairs.”
His family lived in a small house on Oatman Street. “We had four rooms,” Staedtler recalls, “but we rented one room to a boarder. The whole family slept in one bedroom, and the boarder slept in the other.”
Not too many people played the guitar back then, but Darrell’s parents (Richard and Ruth Staedtler) were both musicians, and his mother and his aunt had a radio show in Fredericksburg. Darrell started playing the guitar and writing songs when “my mother showed me a few chords” at about fifteen years old (he still has her old guitar). “Elvis was a big motivator,” he recalls. “He came to Buchanan Dam and Cherry Spring in the fifties, but I didn’t see him then. I saw him once in Nashville in the late sixties.”
After graduating from Llano High School, Staedtler went off to Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, where he majored in art and English, but kept on writing and singing songs. In 1962, he was at a club called “Pat’s,” in Fredericksburg, where popular Austin singer/songwriter Ray Frushay was performing; during an intermission, Staedtler asked “if I could get up and sing.” When he was done, the manager asked, “Did you write those songs?”
Staedtler was taken to a recording studio in Austin, where he “put them on tape.” He soon got a call from the hugely popular Wilburn Brothers (Doyle and Teddy, who also helped launch Loretta Lynn’s career) asking if he would write songs for them. “Of course I would!” Staedtler said.
In December of 1963, an article in The Llano News announced that he would be the headline entertainer for the Jaycees Western Party. “Staedtler,” the article said, “who sings folk and western songs, has written several and has had some of his songs recorded.”
In the summer of 1964, he went on tour with the Wilburn Brothers Also that year, he was invited to sing at the Grand Ole Opry. In 1965, the Wilburn Brothers took his song, “It’s Another World,” to #3 on the Billboard magazine charts. “I had a #3 hit before I graduated from college,” he recalls. With a $3,000 royalty check in the bank, he bought himself a powder blue 1966 Ford Galaxie convertible. Another of his songs (“I Can’t Keep Away From You”) reached #9; he graduated from college in December of 1965.
In October of 1966, he moved to a Nashville boarding house, and spent much of his time in Music City for the next ten years. “I hated Nashville,” he says, but there were some benefits. During his time backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, he met “almost everybody in country music,” and superstar Loretta Lynn became a good friend.
Staedtler came home to Llano in 1975, but continued to write songs from his home. In 1977, he met a young country singer named George Strait. At the time, Strait was singing Staedtler’s song, “Honky Tonk Stardust Cowboy,” which had been recorded by Lefty Frizzell. “He jumped off the stage like he’d just met his hero,” Staedtler recalls. A short while later, the two went to Nashville with Kent Finlay (the owner of the Cheatham Street Warehouse, where Strait had been performing). There, Strait recorded six demos for Staedtler’s publisher, Chappell Music. There was little interest right away, and Strait came home disappointed, but eventually the demos helped him land a major contract.
A magazine article in 1977 quoted Strait as saying, “We will go into the studio to do an album I’ve got some original songs that will go on the album, and we also intend to record some of Darrell Staedtler’s stuff. Something might come of it. We are going to record at the Sound Masters Studio in Houston. That’s where Frenchy Burke and Kenny Dale record. It’s a good studio.”
Strait eventually recorded several of Staedtler’s songs, including the #1 hit, “A Fire I Can’t Put Out” in 1983. “Back then, George would phone me for advice,” Staedtler recalls. “But I haven’t heard from him now since 1987.” Three of Staedtler’s songs were included in the 1995 box set “Strait Out of the Box,” which sold more than two million copies.
Staedtler continued to write songs, but pursued other interests as well. He became one of the top chili cooks in Texas, and ran a chili cook-off in Llano during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. In 1987, he was invited by a friend to go on an “Emmaus Walk,” an ecumenical spiritual renewal program sponsored by the United Methodist Church. During the weekend retreat, Staedtler “had a born-again experience,” and began reading extensively on Christianity, “because I wanted to write Christian songs.”
These days, Staedtler lives by himself in a charming little house (which he designed) on the east side of Llano. He and Brandy Lee Sanderson write and perform songs together as a music ministry for the Fuel Coffee House, in conjunction with Fuel’s “Free Burgers” event each Sunday afternoon. They are considering a tour of cowboy churches in the area.