Keith Kallina

Interview: Keith Kallina and the Ghost of Etta Place


Keith Kallina and the Ghost of Etta Place

On a vast southwest landscape as the bright sun starts to rise Keith Kallina pulls into a traveler’s outpost. He fills up his SUV for a busy weekend of touring as he tells the legend of Etta Place, one of the most compelling members of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch.

“There’s lots of mystery surrounding Etta Place,” Kallina said. “That’s part of what was alluring to me about her character. She seemed to have this aura of mystery and adventure.”

Kallina grew up in Nada, Texas, a small town outside of Houston with a graduating class of less than a hundred students.

“A little farm town,” Kallina said. “Black land and more cows than people.”

Kallina hit the road to Austin at eighteen and started to travel across the country, seeing great cities like Chicago and the beauty of the southwest at the Grand Canyon.

“I really had a thing for road trips,” Kallina said. “If anybody wanted to go do something we would just hop into the car and go do it. I never said no to the opportunity.”

After a few years in the Live Music Capital of the World, Kallina relocated to Bryan, a small town in the shadows of Texas A and M with a thriving music scene, and started performing on the Red Dirt circuit.

“It was a great place to be exposed to Red Dirt Texas country music,” Kallina said. “Some of the first bands I saw were Whisky Myers and the Turnpike Troubadours. They were still up and coming bands at that time and really made an impression on me.”

Through his trials on the road and pitfalls that romance can lead to, Kallina found an outlet with Etta Place. He felt a connection to the adventurous lifestyle and developed a concept album that tied the past and present together.

“In a lot of ways Etta Place is just a victim of her heart,” Kallina said. “She fell in love with this outlaw and became a part of his world. There’s something very romantic about that notion of love being the conquering force that drug her into this world of having to fight for her survival.”

The calling that songwriting gives is Kallina’s inspiration to follow this road. Driving across the state with a guitar and a dream is home for Kallina, just as Etta Place ran from the threats of the law and never stayed tied down to any particular area.

“It’s not an easy road,” Kallina said. “I have to be the one to show up and put in the work and not let my dream die. Sometimes it feels like the whole world is against you, and I feel like that’s maybe a notion that me and Etta had in common. You’ve got your band of people around you, your gang, and you’re all in it together, and sometimes it’s just you versus the world.”

Kallina takes inspiration from the Wild Bunch on these open highways as he travels from town to town.

“I love what my imagination does with the idea of Etta Place,” Kallina said. “Distracting these guards, being alluring and seductive and getting them off of their game so that the gang can come in and basically mop up and rob them blind, and they’re just standing there going ‘what just happened?’. Before you know it, the band is there and you’re caught up in the moment and we escape into the night much like the Wild Bunch Gang did.

Through the pause of the Covid pandemic, Kallina refocused his attention on the mystery of Etta Place and moved to San Marcos where a thriving songwriter scene is scattered throughout the Hill Country.

“I’m really excited to get the project out there and let it grow on its own,” Kallina said. “It’s a concept from top to bottom. The songs are personal to me but they fit in the context of the Etta Place project. It’s adventure, it’s freedom, it’s romance, it’s the road and all the things that go along with that. If there’s anybody that needs to itch that sense of adventure maybe they can do it the same way I have with Etta Place.”

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