10 Time, Grammy Nominated Jamey Johnson
In this episode:
Success coach and former professional golfer, Christina Lecuyer interviews the kind-hearted, introverted, INCREDIBLE country music sing-songwriter, Jamey Johnson. This episode takes you on Jamey’s amazing journey into music, the twists and turns he took to get where he is today and how he always remembered to follow his gut. Plus, a special shoutout to a foundation close to Jamey’s heart, the Nikki Mitchell Foundation.
Christina Lecuyer’s Bio:
Christina Lecuyer is a former Professional Golfer, a three-time reality television competitor, Confidence + Mindset Coach, Motivational Speaker, and Founder of Women with C.L.A.S.S. Mastermind, as well as Decide It’s Your Turn: Women’s Weekend. Christina’s mission in life is to empower people to fully live in their purpose, confidently and successfully!
Jamey Johnson’s Bio:
Truth and tradition. These non-negotiable principles serve as the bedrock of the music of 11-time Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson, who is “one of the greatest country singers of our time,” according to The Washington Post. Indeed, the Alabama native has been acknowledged by many as country music’s north star, guiding us down a path of confession and conflict to a place of reflection and redemption.
He is one of only a few people in the history of country music to win two Song of the Year Awards – for “Give It Away” and “In Color”– from the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association.
He has received tremendous praise from The New York Times, Rolling Stone,
The Wall Street Journal and other publications, many of which have hailed his albums as masterpieces. He was among the artists asked to set Johnny Cash’s poetry to music in the new album Johnny Cash Forever Words: The Music.
His influential album, That Lonesome Song, was certified platinum for 1 million in sales, and his innovative double album, The Guitar Song, debuted at No. 1 on the country album charts and was certified gold. In 2012, he released a Grammy-nominated project honoring one of his heroes, Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran.
In addition to his own recordings, he has written songs for George Strait, Willie Nelson, Trace Adkins, James Otto, Joe Nichols and others. He and Alison Krauss recently joined Brantley Gilbert to record the song “Fire and Brimstone” for Gilbert’s new album.
Resources and Links:
- Jamey Johnson’s Website: https://www.jameyjohnson.com
- Nikki Mitchell Foundation Website: http://www.nikkimitchellfoundation.org
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- Hashtags: #justbe #worthaf #livealifeyoulove
If you enjoyed this episode, make sure and give us a five star rating on iTunes and leave us a comment about what you’d like us to talk about that will help you realize that at any moment, any day, you too can decide, it’s your turn!
Full Episode Transcript:
[Christina]: I have one of my good friends who I just found out has never done a podcast before.
Once you know who this is, you’re going to be unbelievably shocked because this human being is kind of famous, even though he pretends like he’s not.
Which is a hundred percent not the truth due to the fact that he has won numerous CMA awards, ACM awards, all the things.
My good friend, Jamey Johnson.
[Jamey]: Hello again
[Christina]: How are you?
[Christina]: This goes against everything you believe in, which is doing interviews, so obviously I’m so excited that you’re here today.
[Jamey]: Well, I couldn’t say no.
[Christina]: So I know you, you texted me randomly and then I asked you and I’m sure you were rolling your eyes going, “Fuck. I should have never texted her.”
[Jamey]: It’s all right. I don’t mind. I haven’t done an interview in a long time, so forgive me if I’m a little awkward and I don’t mean to be.
[Christina]: You’re not awkward at all. I love getting to talk to you. You know, I think obviously so many people know you from your songs, In Color and The Dollar, which I’m blown away by is the fact that those didn’t do well on the carts. It’s so crazy to me because actually I texted you the other night and I was watching the voice and In Color was one of the season finale songs.
[Christina]: And you’re like, “Oh, that’s so great.” And I’m like, How in the world was that song not number one? I’m just so confused. It’s so known, like if you don’t know the song In Color by Jamey Johnson, I don’t know what rock you live in under.
[Jamey]: Well, country radio has never really embraced me or embraced my music for whatever reason. When I first started off, I was told I was too country. Maybe they just kind of kept that stigma over me. But when In Color came out, they didn’t get behind it. They didn’t play it. I don’t think it ever
made it into the top 10, but now they play it all the time. So, you know, it’s evidently made its way as a, what did they call it? A new country classic or whatever, which is sweet, you know? Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate, I appreciate the people for playing it. At the time, it was kind of bizarre wondering how this song that everybody seems to love so much just doesn’t get played on the radio.
[Christina]: It’s so interesting to me. And you know, I’ve been to so many of your concerts now. Well, not so many, but I know you have loyal, diehard fans. And everyone in the audience knows verbatim every single word to every one of your songs.
You have an absolute following. They’re SO loyal to you and they love you.
And it’s, it’s interesting that they don’t get it on the radio because I’ve seen people like literally every single solitary word verbatim, every show you play.
[Jamey]: First of all, I loved them too. I’ve always loved live shows. I’ve always loved playing. And since I was a teenager, I’ve also enjoyed touring.
One of the first gigs I ever had, I was in a drum and bugle corps when I was young. I want to say about 12, 14 years old, and would spend the summertime traveling around in a tour bus playing at different venues, competing for this drum and bugle corps.
And it just kinda got in my blood, you know, the idea of packing up everything you own, get on a bus, go ride around and see the whole country, see everything.
We did it all in a summer, in a different town every night. And I think once I got a taste of that, I was, I was probably condemned to the life of a traveling musician. Now it’s like, my bus is kind of like my pirate ship.
Since March, we haven’t been able to do it. You know, we haven’t been able to go and I’m afraid for at least the time being shows are a thing of the past.
And until this pandemic gets under control, there won’t likely be shows the way we used to do them. Randy Houser and I are talking about doing some acoustic shows together, where they’re socially distanced. We’re going to do them outside. We’ll probably have to play some in Florida and South Texas and that sort of thing where people can still go outside and in the wintertime.
[Christina]: Yeah. Well, yeah, you said you played a couple of those shows this summer, which is nice to be able to still do that. I mean, no matter what you think about you being distanced and all the things, we all have to be safe. And the fact that like people want connection, which people need during this time. People need to have something like you. I mean, music changes lives. Music lights people’s hearts up. Like this is what you were put on this planet to do. And I think it’s super interesting for those who don’t know your background, I think it’s definitely a part where everyone needs to kind of know this about you.
You say that you’ve been playing in a traveling band and playing since you were 14 years old, living on a bus, but there’s a big gap in there where you are not in music.
I remember you told me how you kind of started and how you got into the game late. Like I’d love for you to talk about that because you know, this podcast is all about deciding and decisions and you becoming a musician hasn’t always happened since you were 14.
[Jamey]: Well, no, it hadn’t, but it’s always kind of been, I’ve been bent in that direction.
I went to college at Jacksonville State University, in Jacksonville, Alabama, and I had a music scholarship that I was trying to turn into something else, but you had to declare a music major to keep the music scholarship. Even if I tried to do a double major, I still had to major in music in order to keep that scholarship.
But after a couple of years worth of that, I realized, “Man, I don’t want to teach music and I don’t want to be a music education professional. I just want to play. And I had to figure out a way and you know, there wasn’t another option for me to stay in school. I couldn’t afford the tuition, couldn’t afford the books and everything else required.
So, I joined the Marine Corps. I kinda kid to say, you know, “I got tired of people telling me what to do to keep a scholarship. So I joined the Marine Corps.”
Somebody gonna tell me what to do. It’s going to be, it’s going to be a drill instructor.
When I joined the Marine Corps, one of the options that the recruiter gave me, he said, “Man, I can probably get you right into the Marine band.”
And I kind of laughed and said, “Okay. I appreciate the offer, but I don’t want to be that kind of Marine.” I don’t want to get to the end of my life and somebody says, “Yeah, what’d you do in the Marine Corps?” “Hell, I was in the damn band.”
I joined the Marine Corps infantry and became a mortarman – 0341. So for people who don’t know, that’s the guy who drops the rocket into the tube. (Laughs)
So yeah, I spent a few years walking around, blowing things up.
[Christina]: Oh my gosh, I love it. I’ve been on your bus many times and your Marine logo is all around the bus. It’s something that you’re so proud of, obviously, and we all thank you for that. And I think it’s just so amazing that that’s something that you were willing to do.
And then once you got out of the Marines, I’d love for you to kind of talk about that. Where was the decision of, “Okay. I’m out of the Marines now, what do I do now?” And it wasn’t direct to music.
[Jamey]: No. So believe it or not, I’m a bit of a control freak.
[Christina]: What! No way.
[Jamey]: I like to be in control of my destiny and as much as I can. And when I joined the Marine Corps, I didn’t want to be stationed somewhere else for four or five years. So I joined the reserves so that I could kind of control my active duty assignments, my time and in my way. I could sign up for this class, go do that class for two or three months, and then go right back to Montgomery. It just seemed like the best way for me to serve.
When my active amount of time was over, I did a contract called a six and two it’s a six active, two inactive. My active time was over.
I moved to Nashville in January of 2000, January 1st. I took a job at a sign company when I first moved to town selling signs at a company called FastSigns out of Antioch. And I did that for as long as I could do it. My boss knew I was colorblind. They could tell by the way I dressed most of the time, That job right there, I got sent home twice from that job to change clothes.
Cause I showed up and the girls in the office were like, “Nuh-Uh.”
I was in outside sales. So, my job is to go out and try to get us customers and that sort of thing. But on two different occasions, I got to work and the ladies in the office went, “No, this isn’t going to work. Tell you what, you go home and bring us back several other shirt options and we’ll let you know.”
[Christina]: And they were in control of your outfit that day.
[Jamey]: So I did that for as long as I could. And then, I finally just had to tap out and go, “Hey, I don’t, I don’t have the passion for this and also kind of have a natural handicap that keeps me from, you know, from being able to be very successful at it for you.”
But I had several other jobs. The next job I had after that was with an industrial pump company in Carbondale, Illinois, called Heartland Pump.
They serviced the pumps that drain rock quarries and mines and that sort of thing. So they could also bypass rivers so the bridges could be built.
One of the gigs that I was able to get for the company was the job of bypassing the Cumberland River in Nashville so that walk bridge could be built going to the Titan Stadium from downtown. It was one of the biggest jobs I ever got to see, so that was fun.
And after that I decided I was going to go ahead and dip my toe in the music business.
By the way, I was working for Heartland Pump when 911 happened. Um, in fact, Amy and I, my ex wife and I, we had just gotten married on the first and went on our honeymoon and got back and I had a corporate meeting in Illinois in Carbondale.
And I was sitting there at the conference room table in Carbondale, Illinois, when we got the news that the planes had hit the World Trade Center.
[Christina]: Wow. So when you were working for the pump company, in 2011, you had already written Give It Away and In Color?
[Jamey]: No, no, no, no. This was back in 01.
[Christina]: Oh, in 01! I was about to say, I was like, “How is this all making sense? Okay.
Yeah. And then that was that kind of like the decision where you’re like, “Oh wow, life’s really short. I’m going to do this music thing”?
[Jamey]: I don’t know that that was the cause of the decision, I had already been writing songs and singing demos in town. And I just thought about, you know, trying to get started with a publisher or try to get started with a label.
Nashville was kind of a different place back then, especially in music. Music Row was kind of like a campus. It was like a big college campus where everybody knew who all the players were.
We knew who the writers were, who the publishers were and while there was competition, it was really sportsman-like competition.
It was the kind of thing, you hated when somebody hit a home run off of your picture, but you still kind of admired the home run, you know? So that, that’s what the music business felt like back then.
I loved it when one of my friends had some success. You know, when somebody got a song cut and it changed their life. That’s, you know, one of the more beautiful aspects of our businesses is watching your friends succeed. And I kind of banded myself together with a few of those friends.
This was after the pump company. I started a business in restoration – insurance restoration. I’ve always had a hand in construction in one way or the other. And Amy and I started a company called Restoration Plus in Hendersonville. And we went to fix up fire damage and storm damage and all that sort of thing and did a good job at it.
But I wasn’t a business manager. I was able to bring in accounts. I wasn’t able to make it a profitable business for us. And we ended up having to close our doors, but we closed them right at the time that I had gotten a publishing deal and a record deal offered and was well underway in the music business.
So I dunno, it’s kind of like, you’re not supposed to trade horses midstream, but the old horse was dead and the new horse was fresh. (laughs) So it made sense to me.
[Christina]: Absolutely. What was the first, real big decision you had to make in the music industry? What was that first big thing that you’re like, “Oh, fuck, this is a real deal.”
What was that turning point, you think?
[Jamey]: So Randy Houser, Dallas Davidson and I got together and wrote this song, that for us, was a joke for lack of a better word. I mean, it wasn’t a joke. I
lost my breath laughing at the song. That’s because, for all of us at the time, there was nothing like this song in any of our catalogs and yet we’re the three guys that get together and pen this classic and we knew it right off the bat, that this was just stupid enough to be the best thing anybody hears for awhile.
It was something called Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.
[Christina]: Oh my God. I had no idea you wrote that. Are you serious? Oh my God.
[Jamey]: It’s been a carefully guarded secret for all these years.
[Christina]: First of all, it comes out of my podcast, AMAZING. AWESOME. Oh my God. Yes. Who did that Trace?
[Jamey]: Yeah. Well, there was kind of a back and forth over who was going to record the song.
Trace had put it on hold. Trace at the time was on Capitol records. And then Tracy Byrd was on RCA and of course, Tracy Byrd wanted the song, too. It was right up his alley.
And so there was some controversy over which one of them had the initial hold and was going to record the song first. And then RCA made me an offer to record the song and release it as my first single.
And so as an up-and-coming writer and wanting to be an artist to get your first record deal offered basically third-party from an email – they didn’t even email me directly. They sent an email to Gary Overton at EMI, the publishing company that had offered me a publishing deal, but I hadn’t yet signed with them either.
And so, this was a third-party from another company that I also don’t have a deal with. And so I didn’t like the idea of THAT being my first single, because I didn’t want to be that guy. To me, it was a surefire situation.
Any artist who puts that song out for your first song, that’s who you are from now on. You can follow that up with 10 great songs in a row. You’re still that guy, you’re the Badonkadonk guy. And I didn’t want to be that.
I don’t want to be 50 years down the line and still having to do that song every night when it was just a joke, you know, something I just wrote laughing my ass off in a writing room one day with my buddies. You know,
we write songs like that, too. I’ve written songs that are for NO ONE’S consumption.
[Christina]: And I know you well enough to know that YES, YOU HAVE.
[Jamey]: It’s not even good comedy, it’s just irritating, echoes inside my brain that kind of need a place to manifest themselves other than my head.
[Christina]: That’s good though. So that was your first big song. So you started writing for George, right?
[Jamey]: Well before Badonkadonk came out on the radio, I had already landed a deal with BNI records and got The Dollar on the radio. So my first outing for country music was as an artist.
And I can remember a week on the charts where The Dollar and Badonkadonk were right next to each other, somewhere around number 55 or something like that. But I enjoyed it, you know, I enjoyed going around and trying to get this thing off the ground. I thought I had a pretty good song.
Country radio begged to differ. They didn’t think I had anything worth their attention. So they didn’t play that song and it wasn’t too long after that BNA dropped me. It was just kind of a failed effort.
And after they dropped me in February of 2006, a few months had gone by and it started kind of sinking in that, damn, was my one shot. That was it.
I can’t believe that was it, but that was it. It was one and done. And Amy and I were separated at the time and I had written a lot of songs kind of dealing with that.
I was in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina I think in June of that year, about to do a show and I got a call from Irv Woolsey, my manager at the time. And Irv was also George Strait’s manager. He said they were down in Key West recording some songs at Jimmy Buffett’s studio down there. He called me up and he said, “Hey, just wanted to let you know that George loved your song and, in fact, he just got done recording it.”
[Christina]: Oh my God. What did that feel like?
[Jamey]: I said, “Hell, that’s the best news I’ve gotten in a while. What song? What the hell did you play him? What song?”
It’s a song I wrote with Whisper and Bill Anderson and Buddy Cannon called Give It Away. And that conversation right there brought me to tears.
I hung up the phone and I felt thankful, but also felt a reprieve and not just by anybody, by the King of country music, by the guy who knows country songs better than anybody on country radio. George Strait himself basically reached down and called me and said, “Where are you going?”
You know, that made me feel like I wasn’t done here, that I still had some order to offer up before they just threw me away. And they put that song on the charts and I mean, it went straight to number one, had a big old time with it, but it also broke the record for the artist with the most number one hits.
Before George, it was Conway Twitty, and then Give It Away was the one that he broke the tape with.
[Christina]: Wow. That’s so amazing. So you started in, what did you say? 2001 and it took until 2007?
[Jamey]: I moved to Nashville in 2000. I think I got my first record dealing in 2005 and was dropped in 2006. George recorded Give It Away that year.
And it kinda got me back in the right direction. I spent the rest of 2006 writing songs and then in 2007 went in the studio to record and we recorded that album, That Lonesome Song album. We recorded a version of it.
In fact, you might say that I got that album on the internet at the end of that year. And at the time nobody was releasing songs on the internet. We were still in the old format here in town where it had to go through the whole industry and pass the sniff test at every turn before everybody would salute and kind of help it gain some traction.
But I released it on the internet. When we got the needle moving on the album sales and that sort of thing. We got the attention of a couple of labels and Luke Lewis called me up and offered me a deal with Mercury Records in 2008. And they wanted to put In Color out as a single.
In 2007, after we recorded the session that we made that initial version of That Lonesome Song, Dave Cobb was a producer in Los Angeles, he was producing rock bands and we had a connection through Shooter Jennings.
Well, Dave would call me twice a week and go, “Hey, when are you coming in, when are you coming up? I want to make a record with you.” And I kept telling Dave “I’ve already made my record, man. I’m pretty, pretty focused on this right now.”
And he’d say, “Well, that’s fine that you’ve got all that stuff recorded. That’s fine. Go ahead and put that out. I’m talking about the next one. Let’s get together and work on the next one.”
Well finally I said, “Man, alright. You know what? I’m coming to LA to do this thing, I’ll be there for three or four days. Let’s get in the studio and record. I got nothing else to do during the day so let’s go see what else we can do.”
We got in the studio in LA and made an entirely different album. By the time the label was ready to release That Lonesome Song, I had better songs that were different songs. So I pulled a few off, put a few on and That Lonesome Song became a mix of the version my band in Nashville made and the Dave Cobb sessions.
And in fact, The Guitar Song was all of that, the cutting room floor of That Lonesome Song. It was 26 songs long, something like that. It was a double album and all it was was everything we didn’t put on Lonesome Song. It was, you know, basically a year’s worth of writing.
[Christina]: Wow. What made you not give up during two thousands? Basically from when they cut you to when you got that call from George? Because I think so many people, I don’t care what industry you’re in, we all have these moments in life where you’re like, “Okay, they don’t like me. I’m not good at this. I’m going to quit.” Like what kept you going?
[Jamey]: Well, it’s true in any regard at anything you do, but especially true in the music business that the last one to quit wins. That’s true in a boxing ring. That’s true in combat. That’s true in pinball. I don’t care what it is that you’re aspiring to do, the last one to quit wins, the one standing at the end of the contest.
I didn’t have any quit in me and I still don’t. I never have just laid down, but life just kicked the shit out of me for no reason. I don’t subscribe to that form of managing your fear. I’m definitely on the other end of it, where you grab the biggest stick you can find and get in there and you know, you’re either going to win or I’m going to make you kill me.
And so since quitting wasn’t an option, then everything else was. What are the tools? What did I have? Well, I’ve got the ability to write a song. I’ve got a guitar and I’ve got some time and I’ve got plenty of things I need to write about. Those songs were not necessarily for everybody else to hear.
And they weren’t songs that I was hoping would get me back on country radio. I didn’t write those songs for country radio. I wrote them for me. I wrote them because that’s what I was feeling, but it was also what I needed to hear.
And you know, since then I’ve had a lot of fans tell me that, “That song right there, it impacted me” or “That song got me through prison.” “That song got me through a divorce” and I get it. I’ve had songs that did that for me. I’ve had to tell Willie and Merle and George Jones, “Man, that song got me through a rough patch.” And so I understand it.
But that wasn’t the purpose of that song. It was to get me through a rough patch. Yeah. That was my therapy. And so quitting wasn’t an option. And I don’t know that there was this idea of ultimate success through that, but it certainly made for some healing for me.
And since then it’s made a career for me. And in spite of country music or the country music industry as a whole disregarding me, I don’t have to go away. You know, I don’t have to participate in the things that they do. Now, I like to think that country music radio, when I have a pact, they don’t play my music and I don’t play theirs.
[Christina]: Oh my God. I love that. It’s so good. I think that’s exactly it, right? So I didn’t even mention how we met. We met on a golf course at a charity golf tournament and you came over and just sat in my cart and I’m like, “Oh fuck. I know who this guy is.”
But we ended up talking and obviously we’ve been friends for two or three years now, but I think it’s something that most people may or may not know about you and probably don’t since you don’t do a lot of interviews, but you are so fucking smart. You are literally like a genius type of smart. But I think also the thing that you have, which most people don’t have, is you’re a hundred percent like, “I will not quit.”
I have that exact same thing. I know enough about myself that the only reason why I’m successful is because I don’t fucking quit and I am so fucking competitive. And I know that’s very similar to you. And I think that, you know, even during this pandemic where so many people are literally packing it in.
You a hundred percent are just like, “Okay, what can I get out of this pandemic? How can I still thrive? How can I still show up?”
And I love it. Before we turned the mic on, you started telling me about how you’re like after a few weeks of going, “Oh my God, yay. Amazing. I get to sit at my house. I actually get to sleep in my own bed for a few weeks.” And then you’re like, “Oh, fuck. This is going to last a hot minute. Okay. What can I do?”
And I love that about you. And I think that so many people need to hear that. I think people need to know that it’s not always gonna work out as planned.
Pretty much when you started back in 2006, you didn’t really realize that 14 years later you would not be able to play music. Like for the rest of your life, you were supposed to be able to play music.
[Jamey]: Yeah. Well, that was the idea, “Doing this until you die doing it.”
[Christina]: And you gave that a good whirl for a long time. Obviously we know that that’s a whole ‘nother conversation, but I think too, what you said is you’re just a hundred percent are never going to give up. You’re just going to keep going. You’re going to keep deciding your, you don’t let the fact that country music radio may not have accepted you.
You literally have people (I’ve seen it) live and die for your music and country music told you you weren’t good enough to be on their radio.
[Jamey]: Well, they’re probably right. I don’t make the decisions for country music radio. I don’t decide who gets “whatever of the year” at the hand me a trophy award show either.
You know, I’m glad for the people who those things are for but that’s not what music was about for me. I don’t have to have a plaque on my wall to tell me that I’ve done something good. I don’t put plaques and trophies out in my house for people to see that I’ve had a career in music.
They’re not necessary for that. The awards that I get are the fans telling me their stories, the fans sitting there singing the songs back to me at the shows.
That’s the reward that I get for the path that I’ve chosen. I get to know that the music that I’ve written and recorded and sang every night at my shows – that it had an impact on people’s lives, that was the purpose.
And in that regard, it has been successful, even if there’s no plaque or no trophy to show for it.
[Christina]: Something else that you’ve done that I want to make sure everyone knows about and obviously I was gutted that I couldn’t have been there last year and I was gutted that we didn’t have it this year.
I would love for you to talk about the Nikki Mitchell foundation because this is really important to you. I think that most people need to know about this and it touches so many people’s lives and this is a big deal to you. One of the blessings that has come from not only touching people’s lives and not only your music, like literally hitting people’s souls, but the impact that you’ve been able to make.
[Jamey]: So, I met Nikki Mitchell in 2002. We met through Richie Albright.
Richie Albright was a Waylon’s drummer all the way back to the sixties. And after Waylon passed away, in fact, this would have been the week before or would have been around February. I had a show that I had booked in my hometown in Montgomery, Alabama, the Jubilee City Fest.
I was going to be opening for Wayne Mills and Randy Travis and I wanted a good band to take down there and play this show. I called Richie Albright to come play drums with us, because I felt like his style would work best with mine. And he told me, he said, “Man, I haven’t been on the road in awhile and I’m enjoying not being on the road. I’ve got some drummers. I could aim toward you.” He said, “I like your album. I like your music. And I like your attitude.” And I think you are going to do well, but if you don’t mind, I’m going to bow out on the show.”
And I said, “Well, no problem! I appreciate all the help you can give me.” And he gave me this address and he said, “You need to go here and you need to meet Nikki.”
He didn’t have to explain why. I know he was trying to help. He said, “You need to go meet Nikki.”
I walked in the front door of Waylon’s office, which was at 17 and Grand or 17 and Edge Hill, one of those two.
Anyway, I walked into the front door and the receptionist, I said, “I’m looking for Nikki” and this guy just kind of pointed over that way. And I looked over and saw Nikki Mitchell and years later, I told her, I said, “”First time I saw you, my heart melted.”
She went, “Aww.”
I said “Right in my pants!”
And she went, “Eww!”
[Christina]: That’s exactly what you would say! I know you so well. That’s exactly what happened.
[Jamey]: It was one of those situations where I just got in a trance, I can see the little heart bubbles blowing around, drop dead gorgeous. She was just absolutely stunning. Beautiful.
But she was also the manager of all things Waylon. Nikki brought me into the Waylon Jennings family as it were.
And she always kind of held a special place in my life as a mentor of sorts because when I couldn’t figure out which door to open, which opportunity was the better one, Nikki was always the one they’re telling me, “You got to trust your instinct. I can’t give you the answers because only you know how you feel. And I’m just gonna caution you, you got to always go with that, even if it bites you in the ass, you got to trust that instinct.”
And so years later after Hank Cochran passed away in 2010 from pancreatic cancer, Nikki called me up. She needs to come to the studio and she’d had a doctor’s appointment and had some bad news. She came by and told me she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and, alright. Having just been through that with Hank, I knew we were in for a rough situation here.
Hank went a very long time with pancreatic cancer. I mean, he went years, which is not common. Most people who are diagnosed with that don’t go six weeks. Some are even shorter than that. For somebody to go that long, it’s just uncommon. And Nikki, I think altogether went about 31 months, 31 months with pancreatic cancer.
She did every procedure available at the time, including a Whipple procedure, which is where they remove all non vital organs, to keep it from metastasizing, to try to hold it at bay. And she had that procedure done at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. And through Nikki, I met Rhonda Miles, Rhonda and Nikki.
Rhonda was Nikki’s flight instructor when Nikki was getting her pilot’s license. And these two ladies did a trip around the world in a single engine
Maule airplane. For those of you who don’t know, a Maule is not much bigger than a paper airplane. I guess it’s similar to a single engine Cessna or a single engine Piper or something like that. I don’t mean to exaggerate it. It’s not that small, it’s a small plane. It’s about a 4-seater and a little baggage, they did a trip around the world.
They did a flight, I think it’s called the flight of the rotunda. Rhonda’d smack me in the head with a newspaper for forgetting.
But it was basically a flight that some female Russian pilots performed in World War II. Rhonda and Nikki went and performed that same flight as kind of a salute to these ladies.
It was like the 50 year salute to them in 1995. I think that’s right. [Christina]: Wow. That’s so cool.
[Jamey]: Rhonda, after Nikki was diagnosed, Rhonda basically retired from being a pilot and became Nikki’s caretaker. Took her everywhere she had to go to get treatments, took care of anything Nikki needed help with, Rhonda was there. Nikki introduced Rhonda and I before she passed away, told us that she wanted us to start a foundation, the Nikki Mitchell Foundation, and proceeds to benefit patients that have pancreatic cancer.
Rhonda and I were so gung-ho about the idea. It wasn’t the first time that either one of us had been challenged by Nikki to perform some miracle or some feat of extraordinary accomplishment – that neither one of us had any idea how to do.
We had to find out because neither one of us knew “What is a foundation?” “What do foundations do?” “We raise money, then do what?”
So we had a lot of reading to do. We had a lot of conversations back and forth and over the years, we’ve raised a lot of money, millions, to help families and to help people who are diagnosed.
You know, the first thing is you get diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. So you got to quit your job so you can survive. Well, when you quit your job, out goes your health benefits. You just lost your medical benefits and the next thing is you’re trying hard not to go bankrupt while you’re trying to survive.
So you end up with people who don’t have money to cover the power bill. They don’t have money to pay for groceries, they can’t put gas in the car to get back and forth to their treatments.
So the foundation initially began so that we could fund research for pancreatic cancer. But when we realized that we weren’t drawing the kind of money that can fund research, we don’t have millions to be able to build a facility somewhere and sponsor doctors to do this kind of work.
But what we can do with our money is gas cards, groceries, cleaning, hell, Rhonda bought somebody a wood stove because they didn’t have a way to heat the house. She bought him a wood-burning stove and got somebody that sets him up with firewood every winter. We’ve just done countless things like that because every need is different.
You may have somebody else that has a need for a cleaning service. We’ve allocated money to do all manner of things, taking care of these folks. So the Nikki Mitchell Foundation is dear to my heart, not just because it’s got Nikki’s name on it, but because pancreatic cancer has hit me, personally, and my family, with my uncle Barry passing away from it. TW, the guy who mixes all my albums and mixes our front of house, DW’s brother died from it. The countless patients who have come to our foundation over the years that have passed away. We were the last hug they got from humanity on their way out, was from the Nikki Mitchell Foundation, which it’s almost been set up as kind of a way to embrace those people to back to their maker.
[Christina]: Absolutely. I’ll be sure to tag that in the notes as well. And it’s so interesting, a friend of mine who I follow on social media before I knew anything about the Nikki Mitchell Foundation, obviously I know a lot of it through you and hopefully (fingers crossed) next year the golf tournament will be back on the golf tournament and the concert.
It was interesting because a friend of mine posted something and I was like, “Oh my God, the Nikki Mitchell Foundation” and his mom passed away from it. They live in Nashville. Actually his wife is a candle maker.
So yeah, it’s just a six degrees of separation when it comes to that, which is-
[Jamey]: It’s my turn to brag to you about coming to the tournament that year, last year. You initially said, “Absolutely.” I said, “We would love to have you come be a guest speaker because you’re just one of the most motivating people I know.”
And of course you said “Absolutely I will a hundred percent be there!” and then you called me a couple of months after that to backout. You go, “Hey, uh, I would love to come and do it. Please keep me in mind for next year. But I got to pull out this time.” Because you were going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
[Christina]: It was for sick kids.
[Jamey]: You had your own mission, which I absolutely respect. And in lieu of you being at the tournament, sent an extremely sizable amount of money and donation to the Nikki Mitchell Foundation.
[Christina]: Time and time again, I adore you and you did the same thing for me. You sponsored me and I sent a video and I sent a big cash check, and that’s what we’re supposed to do. I mean, you and I, we have not always had it easy. Obviously, we didn’t dive into all of the things all over the place. We could talk for hours and hours and hours.
But one thing that you know is very common between you and I is the fact that we have a very blessed life. We’re extremely excited for what we get to do, and we get to help other people along the way. And we connect with amazing people like you. And let’s be honest, we were at a really fucking posh ass golf tournament, getting treated amazing, doing all the fucking things.
And then we get to go out and bless other people from doing that. I’m not going to pretend that my life isn’t fucking awesome. And trust me, I’ve been on your million plus dollar bus, which is fucking boss, too. So you have a pretty damn good life there, brother.
[Jamey]: I’ll tell you that. The first thing that impressed me about you and this was what motivated me to walk up. I’m an introvert. I don’t think I can introduce myself to anybody.
[Christina]: I am so blessed that you’re even doing this.
[Jamey]: At the time, my golf game was just absolutely horrific. I couldn’t knock one off a tee. And you’re out there with all of these other golfers and I mean, some of them shoot as good as the professionals and I’m listening to you kinda talking smack with these guys.
I was like, “Where in the hell does that confidence come from on a golf course? And how the hell can I even get like 10% of that?”
Because if I just had a little more confidence, I think I could probably improve my game a little bit. And that’s when I walked up to introduce myself and go, “Hey, how do you do this? What is it that you know, that I need to know?”
And I’ll tell you what, over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two. I can not only knock one off the tee, I can send it a pretty good ways down range.
[Christina]: No shit you can. That’s one of the things that I love about you too, is like, yeah, a hundred percent, you are one of the most introverted people and it’s so funny because everyone wants a piece of your time. Everyone wants a bite of you, everyone wants autographs and signatures and all the things. And it’s great sometimes, but also too, for a person who definitely finds that difficult, it’s nice to know that it’s not that you’re an asshole.
It’s just that you’re like truly just such a good human being who likes quiet time. “I just need a little fucking alone time people. That’s all I need.”
[Jamey]: Well, most people don’t see the whole story. You know, if you can’t get your five minutes with me, it might be that somebody else got your five minutes. If my battery is dead, believe me, I’m the last guy you want to meet. You just think you want to meet me. And I don’t like disappointing people, if I know I’ve got nothing in the tank, I’m probably going to avoid the conversation or just stay home until I feel like I’ve got more to offer.
[Christina]: Well, next year you should have so much to fucking offer after this year.
[Jamey]: A funny thing happened, Kylie and I, we were like extended family to George Jones, George and Nancy, before George passed away. Every time George saw Kylie, he walked up and gave her a big hug, picked her up off the ground, back when she was three, four or five years old.
And, well, Kylie and I were walking into a store at the mall one day. And I looked in the car over there and I saw George and I said, “Come on, baby, let’s go over here and say, hey to George.” We started walking towards his car and without looking out the window to see who it was, he just felt somebody walking up close to them, cranked up his car and drove to the other end of the parking lot.
I laughed. I took Kylie and I said, “It’s okay, baby. He didn’t see us. He didn’t know it was us.” She’s like, “Where’s he going?” And I said, “He’s going over there. He don’t want to talk to us, babe”
[Christina]: I’m sure you pulled that one a few times too.
[Jamey]: I probably have, yeah. That’s, that’s how an introvert works. They’re like, none of that.
[Christina]: I love talking to you. I always ask one final question and I want to ask you the same thing.
What is one decision you were afraid to make, but when you finally made it, it either ended up better or you learnt, even if it ended up shitty, you learnt something great from it?
[Jamey]: Well, the decision to get into the music business was not an easy one. It wasn’t one where you had a sure foot you could put down. It kind of feels like, if you remember the old Tarzan movies or the show on TV, where
you go from one vine to another. Well, before you turn loose to this vine, you look to grab another vine.
Right. You’re like to make sure you got something else to go to. The music industry was a situation where you had to turn loose of the vine you had before you could grab the next one. And so for a period of time, you are vineless and suspended in midair. And if you don’t find something to grab soon, there’s going to be that sudden stop on the end of that drop. That hurts.
So that would be a situation where I would say that there was a lot of faith involved, but there was also a lot of momentum. There were also a lot of things in my life kind of pointing me in that direction. And it wasn’t very easy to turn loose the things that I had, but it was time and it was necessary.
And if I had tried to cling to any of those things at the time, I would’ve missed the entire thing. Without that faith driving that decision out I’d have crashed, I wouldn’t have made it.
[Christina]: I love that. I love that so much. Okay. So where can everyone find you right now? Or where can they find your music or where anything like, where can we just see you?
[Jamey]: Well, I’m in hiding,
[Christina]: By the time this comes out, you’ll actually be a certified pilot, but besides flying in the air, where?
[Jamey]: Oh, well, Randy and I are talking about doing some acoustic shows, uh, at the start of next year. Of course, that’s probably going to be February before we’re able to get it all put together.
Just me and Randy, not a band. It’s just going to be me and him sitting there telling our stories and playing our songs and that sort of thing.
Randy’s also working on a pilot’s license, so we’ll probably both be certified airmen by the time this comes out.
[Christina]: Amazing. Well, if by all means, you can fly by pick me up and take me to your show. Sounds great. I’m in.
[Jamey]: We’ll be able to do that.
[Christina]: So thank you so much for doing this. I appreciate you. [Jamey]: Yes, ma’am. Y’all take care. Bye bye.