A couple of years ago, Lori Dickinson saw her old Boyd classmate on the “Tonight Show” with Jay Leno and fired off a text message to him.
“You’re on Leno; you’re famous,” she wrote.
Her former classmate Murry Hammond returned the message: “You think? It’s the fifth or sixth time.”
Since graduating from Boyd High School in 1982, Hammond, as bassist of Old 97s, has toured the world, appeared on TV and in a movie, and cut a solo album.
Hammond and the Old 97s bandmates Rhett Miller, Ken Bethea and Philip Peeples, are getting set later this month to launch another nationwide tour, celebrating the 15th anniversary of their most critically acclaimed album “Too Far to Care.”
The tour will start Aug. 23 in Houston and will continue with a date at the Dallas House of Blues the next night.
Hammond, who currently lives in Pasadena, Calif., talked recently about the upcoming tour and chance to revisit the 1997 album that helped launch the band’s popularity and build a major fanbase in the alt-country and pop crowd.
“It’ll be fun to get those songs out and play,” Hammond said. “This will allow us to play the music night after night. We’ll also dig out some unreleased stuff.
“It’s funny it became a classic album. We didn’t know it at the time. It was just a pile of songs at the time. We were young. [The songs] came one after another. It was fun to do.”
While he’s been gone from his hometown for nearly 30 years, Hammond still looks back on his time in Wise County fondly.
“It was a good raising,” Hammond said. “It made me a small-town oriented person.”
He added about growing up rural Wise County: “It made me a dreamer. It has more to do with what I do now. It’s something about that environment that made me pay attention to nature and become a dreamer.”
He is planning to make his 30th high school reunion in October in the middle of the Old 97s tour and an appearance at the famed Austin City Limits Festival.
Dickinson said he’s actually been helping with the planning for “Pasture Party 2012.”
But following graduation in 1982, like many teenagers, getting out of his small town and his mother’s birthplace was his first priority.
“I was anxious to get out in the world,” Hammond said. “Boyd was too small for me. What it gave me, I wouldn’t trade for the world. I was friends with everyone and knew everyone.”
At the time, Hammond didn’t play an instrument, but he was drawn to the music industry. He began publishing fanzines for underground, independent bands and penpalled with artists.
“I felt the music was important,” Hammond said.
That experience helped influence him when he learned to play the guitar, which he has now been doing for nearly three decades.
In the early 80s, Hammond landed in Dallas during the birth of the Deep Ellum scene that gave rise to the New Bohemians and other bands. Hammond began playing and writing material for the Peyote Cowboys.
“It was a fun time,” Hammond said. “There were clubs that would let the band practice for an afternoon for $20. There were a lot of little bands like mine.”
During his time playing with the Peyote Cowboys, Hammond met Miller and helped him line up some gigs as an opening act.
A few years later in the early ’90s as Hammond’s musical tastes began to change, he and Miller along with Bethea formed the Old 97s.
“I had been in various bands, and by 1992 I had become fed up enough and rediscovered roots music and country in a very new way and became passionate about it,” Hammond said. “Rhett and I were lucky to meet two other people that enjoyed the music, and we’ve been four brothers for two decades.”
It’s that 20th anniversary of the band that arrives next year that gives Hammond a bit of pause.
“It feels incredible for it not to be an oldies act by now,” Hammond said. “We’ve never lost that hunger for great records. I count my lucky stars for that.”
There have been a few breaks in the almost two decades together as Miller has tried his hand at going solo. He released another solo effort – “The Dreamer” – earlier this year.
Hammond himself cut a solo album in 2008 – “I Don’t Know Where I’m Going But I’m On My Way.” Hammond called the album a hobby.
“Rhett is trying to do an offshoot as a solo artist,” Hammond said. “Not me. I’m a hobbyist. I was doing the solo thing as a hobby.
“As a hobby there was no pressure, and it doesn’t have to be good. It was like stamp collecting. I feel like a real musician with the Old 97s.”
Hammond said proceeds from his solo recording went to charity.
Over his career with the Old 97s, he’s appeared on TV with David Letterman, Leno and George Lopez.
“Everything that big was surprising,” Hammond said. “When I grew up, good bands didn’t get on TV.
“The first time we were on Leno, I remember saying, ‘I don’t remember the last three minutes.’ This band has been very lucky.”
Another neat point of notoriety for the band occurred in 2006 when they appeared in the motion picture “The Break-Up.”
“That freaked me out that we were in the script, and they didn’t give us a fake name for the movie,” Hammond said.
Hammond and his wife, Grey DeLisle, a voice-actress and singer who has appeared in multiple Pixar movies along with several cartoons, have a son, Jefferson Texas Hammond whom they call “Tex.” He’s adapted to life in California, but misses Texas intensely. Luckily with the Old 97s, he gets back often.
“I’m lucky the band gets back so much that I never lost the accent,” Hammond joked.
He’s not made many trips back to Wise County since the death of his father in 2004. But the band has made mention of where Hammond grew up. In the song “Stoned,” there’s the lyric: “Hitchhike to Rhome, take a Greyhound to Fredrericksburg …” It’s also the name of their 1994 album.
“[Rhett] wrote the lyric hitchhike to Rhome,” Hammond said. “He liked the way it sounded. I’m probably the only one that’s taken a Greyhound through Rhome.”
Along with getting a chance to play music from “Too Far to Care,” Hammond is excited to get back out on the road with the band.
“It’ll be a fun one because of the novelty aspect,” Hammond said. “[Touring] fun for me. The other guys and me are brothers. We get to be four goofballs and mess around for three weeks. It’s a lot of fun.”
Dickinson and several of Hammond’s classmates and friends from Boyd will be at the Aug. 24 show in Dallas. Dickinson said a contingent usually tries to make any of the band’s local shows.
“They are a lot of fun to watch,” she said.
After the tour, Hammond expects the band to return to the studio and release an album sometime in 2013.
“I’ve been writing for it. and Rhett has been writing,” he said. “After the ‘Too Far to Care’ tour, we’ll convene for real. We hope to be into something by next spring and have it in a little over a year.”