Robert Earl Keen Quit Nashville and Stayed Married | WBEZ
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Death, Sex & Money

Robert Earl Keen Quit Nashville and Stayed Married

When Robert Earl Keen moved from Texas to Nashville in 1985, things were looking up: He’d just gotten married and put out his first album, No Kinda Dancer. Nashville was the place to be for an aspiring country musician...but that ended up being part of the problem. All around him, the careers of his fellow musicians were taking off. Keen didn’t see that kind of success. "I was hitting the streets and knocking on doors and trying to get some attention and it just wasn't happening," he told me. One night, he and his wife, Kathleen, came home from a gig in Kansas to find that their house had been robbed. After 22 months, he gave up on Nashville.

But he didn’t stop playing music, and 11 albums later, he’s still making a career of it. Keen spends half the year on the road and keeps his band members on salary, giving them health insurance, retirement plans, and plenty of pizza backstage -- so there’s something to soak up the booze. 

Despite all that time away from home, Robert and Kathleen are still married, and have two daughters. Now in his late 50s, Keen spoke candidly with me about what growing older has meant, from prioritizing stability to noticing his sex drive fade.

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