Steven Fromholz, a well-respected Texas singer-songwriter, engaging and witty performer, author, actor, humorist, “singing cowboy,” acclaimed whitewater rafting guide, and one-time poet laureate of the Lone Star State, died Jan. 19 following a hunting accident. He was 68.

Steven Fromholz (Photo: George  Brainard, Austin, TX)

Steven Fromholz (Photo: George Brainard, Austin, TX)

A pioneer among Texas songwriters, and considered a founder of the Texas Outlaw Country movement, Fromholz’ emergence as a songwriter preceded the burgeoning growth of the Texas music scene centered in and around Austin. Fromholz began performing in the 1960s after a stint in the Navy. He toured the west coast with long-time friend Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Fromholz attended North Texas State University, where he served as president of the Folk Music Club founded there in 1963 — the year that he enrolled at the school. He also was part of the Michael Murphey Trio, along with Patty Loman and the trio’s namesake of “Wildfire” fame.

Fromholz’ enduring, historically oriented classic, “Texas Trilogy” has long been recognized as the most definitive song ever written about the State of Texas. “Texas Trilogy” is actually a set of three songs portraying life in rural Texas during the 1950s and is meant to be played as one three-movement suite. Lyle Lovett also recorded it on Step Inside This House (1998), a loving tribute CD to his favorite Texas songwriters, with Fromholz singing harmony vocals. Set in the town of Kopperl, in Bosque County, — where Fromholz spent some of his childhood years before high school, living with his younger brother James and their widowed maternal grandmother following his parents’ divorce when he was 10, before reuniting with his mother and settling in Denton, TX — “Texas Trilogy” appears on Fromholz’ seminal first album, Here to There. The hard-to-find album was recorded in Colorado in 1969 with Dan McCrimmon, partner in his short-lived western fold duo, Frummox. It also is the basis for a play Fromholz wrote called Bosque County, Texas, the title of one of the books he later published, and the basis for one by two other authors entitled Texas Trilogy: Life in a Small Texas Town.

For a short time in 1971, Fromholz played guitar and sang backup for Stephen Stills in the group Manassas before embarking on a solo career. After marrying for a second time, he left Colorado and returned home to Texas, settling in Austin, where he became legendary not only for his songwriting, poetry and performing, but as a community activist.

According to his official biography, “In 1993, he organized a peaceful mooning of the KKK [that] made headlines all over the world, became a standard for opponents of the Klan, and has been repeated over and over in the ensuing years by many activist groups.” He and his late friend, writer Molly Ivins, also enticed a group of friends to stage a peaceful and apparently effective “sleep in” on the steps of the state capitol to protest the arrest of homeless street people of Austin who were sleeping under bridges. Fromholz also was a tireless advocate for Texas Parks & Wildlife and also devoted time and energy to charitable organizations in the state – particularly those benefiting children and the indigent.

“Steven Fromholz and his work will be remembered, enjoyed and studied as music and literature forever,” Lyle Lovett told the Houston Chronicle. “His insight into human nature was equaled only by his ability to write about it in such detail that he made his listeners feel as if they were standing in the shoes of his characters, seeing what they saw, feeling what they felt.”

In addition to Lovett, Fromholz recorded with Willie Nelson, whose rendition of Fromholz’ ”I’d Have to be Crazy” rose to #2 on the Billboard country charts. Hoyt Axton, John Denver, and Jerry Jeff Walker, among others, also recorded his songs. Fromholz was inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame in 2003, while the Texas State Legislature named him Poet Laureate of the Lone Star State in 2007.

Several days after his unexpected death, a folksy holiday message from Fromholz still graced the home page of his website:

“We’re blessed here in the Fromholz camp. – Everybody’s healthy and happy and it’s been an absolutely super year. For us ranchin’ folk we’re doubly blessed. It’s been a year with RAIN – kinda like manna from heaven – and makes for real happy cows, too!…

Our daughter, Dear Darcie, is engaged to be married to her sweetie, John, and daughter, Felicity, now has her Master’s Degree (and we’re bustin’ our buttons with pride). Grandson, Zoe, visited us here at the ranch recently and he’s growing like the proverbial weed… Y’all stay warm, happy and… keep lovin’ Texas!”