Singer-songwriter, poet, actor, outdoorsman, and good guy Steven Fromholz died yesterday from an accidental rifle shot while hunting at an Eldorado ranch not far from San Angelo, according to the Schleicher County Sheriff’s Office.
Fromholz was 68.
Chief Deputy George Arista said Fromholz was moving a Rossi .44-magnum lever-action rifle in a soft case that wasn’t zipped at the bottom. The rifle dropped out of the case, struck the ground, and discharged.
The accident occurred shortly after noon on Sunday. Fromholz was still alive but unconscious when deputies arrived. He died en route to the hospital, Arista said.
The bullet discharged, went through the case, hit Fromholz at the bottom of his left wrist, passed through the other side, and struck him just below his right eye, Arista said.
“A Winchester lever-action has got a bar on the front of the firing pin that will not let the hammer rest on the firing pin unless you squeeze the trigger,” Arista said. “The Rossi didn’t have that on it.”
Fromholz, who was with his girlfriend at the time, was also carrying a .357 revolver in a holster.
“They were fixing to go hog hunting,” Arista said. “She was getting some wire cutters and some corn out of a pickup when she heard the gun go off. She thought he was shooting at a hog.”
Fromholz didn’t respond after she asked what he was shooting at. She walked to the other side of the truck and found Fromholz lying face down on the ground, Arista said.
Fromholz’s relatives released the following statement: “Steven John Fromholz died unexpectedly today at the Flying B Ranch south of San Angelo, Texas. The accident involved the unexpected discharge of his shotgun as he prepared for an afternoon hunt to address a feral hog infestation that had been menacing the goat population in Schleicher County. Steven died being a rancher, an avocation he heartily embraced with his sweetheart, Susan Buchholz, shortly after being honored as the Poet Laureate of Texas in 2007.”
Fromholz was a pioneer of the early Austin Music sound that evolved into the Willie Nelson-Waylon Jennings Outlaw era of the 1970s.
He tended to perform one-man shows for much of his career, relying on his strong baritone, crafty songwriting, and humorous stage patter.
His most famous song is probably “Texas Trilogy,” a poetic opus about growing up in rural Texas. But it was his quirky songs such as “I Gave Her A Ring (She Gave Me The Finger)” and “Bears” that resonated with fans at live shows.
His biggest commercial success as a songwriter occurred in 1976 when Nelson turned Fromholz’s “I’d Have To Be Crazy” into a near-chart-topper (the song peaked at No. 2 on the country charts).
I spent two days with Fromholz in 2003 in Houston while researching a story on him after he suffered a stroke that permanently affected his ability to perform music. He continued playing after the stroke, but his guitar skills and vocal abilities had changed. Rather than quit, he adjusted his performing style.
“There’s a little part back there that’s dead now,” he explained back then, tapping the back of his head.
His jovial demeanor receded for a while as he struggled to learn how to speak without stuttering, pick his guitar, and recall his lyrics. Depression frequently follows stroke victims. Fromholz could become frustrated and angry about the changes his hands, voice, and brain had undergone. Self-pity, however, wasn’t allowed.
“I never said, ‘Why me?’ or got angry at God,” he said. “Why not me? I never said, ‘This ain’t fair,’ because life ain’t fair. The fair is in Dallas in September. Life is life and sometimes it can suck but that’s all right too. This is the largest suckage factor I’ve ever been involved in — 10 on the suck scale.”
Humor was a big part of Fromholz’s personality, and it didn’t stay missing for long. Later he would begin doing shows with two friends who’d also had near-death experiences. Fromholz came up with their name: The Flatliners.
In the 1980s, Fromholz played often at a little bar called Crossroads in Nacogdoches. I was a journalism student working part-time as a waiter at an Italian restaurant nearby, and I’d been a fan of his since discovering his music in the 1970s while in my teens. Fromholz was an impressive celebrity in my eyes, and I’d get excited whenever he’d dine at the restaurant. He turned out to be a great customer to wait on. He’d come in about two hours before his show, sit at a table in the bar, eat a big plate of spaghetti, and drink a full bottle of wine. He was a good tipper and friendly, although I was surprised at how low-key he was offstage considering how talkative and funny he was onstage.
“He was laid back and mellow,” said Lynda “Texas Lil” Arnold, an old friend of the Fromholz family. “He was a cutie pie and a super nice guy.”
The outdoors beckoned Fromholz all his life. He was a horseman and a river guide in Texas for many years.
I’ll always be grateful that Fromholz allowed me to do the first interview with him after his stroke, which resulted in a Fort Worth Weekly exclusive (“How Long is the Road?” July 16, 2003).
I updated his situation two years later (“Walking Miracle,” May 4, 2005) when he was temporarily living in a trailer on Larry Joe Taylor’s ranch in Clifton.
Fromholz never became very famous outside of Texas, but he was well-loved and highly regarded in his beloved home state by fans and fellow musicians.