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Number One With a Bullet

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After a hard-luck childhood, country singer Jimmy Wayne finds major success

Photograph by Kristin Barlowe

In 2003, when country singer-songwriter Jimmy Wayne made hisentrée into the music scene with his exceptional self-titled debut album, the world was introduced to an emulsion of pop-rock-flavored blue-eyed country soul delivered in earnest by an artist whose turbulent childhood paralleled the type of raw heartache that country songs can only aspire to conjure.

Impacting the industry with hits “Stay Gone,” “I Love You This Much,” “Paper Angels” and “You Are,” the North Carolina native showed loads of promise. But after the collapse of the DreamWorks Nashville label in 2005, Wayne found himself without an anchor for his music, swimming upstream with no lifejacket against the turbulent tides of an unsympathetic industry hungry to move on to the next big thing. But Wayne’s time under the radar was well spent playing benefit shows for the underprivileged and hunkering down to write and search for the perfect songs to record, if he ever got another precious chance at stardom.

And when the talented troubadour finally did get his warranted second shot, from the Valory Music Co., he delivered in a big way, rocketing all the way to the pinnacle of the Hot Country Songs Chart last summer and sending a jolt down the spine of country music with the riveting “Do You Believe Me Now,” the first single off his brilliant sophomore album that shares the same name. The future continues to look bright for Wayne: “I Will,” the soaring second single off Do You Believe Me Now, has already charted in the top 20s and climbs higher each week. While the road to a number one hit has been an arduous one for Wayne, the former foster child is now enjoying the fruits of his labor out on the road, playing his heart out to eager fans who have endured the wait for him and with him. In November, New Orleans Living magazine moseyed on over to nearby D’Iberville, Mississippi, to catch an ecstatic Wayne in concert at Guitars and Cadillacs, where his over-the-top performance gained him an invitation to come back and put on another moving show for the Gulf Coast on January 31 at the beautiful new venue. And after spending quality time with the easy-on-the-eyes velvet-voiced crooner, we now believe that Wayne is definitely country music’s next big thing!

Jimmy, it must feel great to be back with a brand-new album! And man, you really came back swinging! Your first single, “Do You Believe Me Now,” landed at number one on the charts for three weeks last summer. Congratulations!

Thank you, Christine! After three and a half years, it’s hard to explain how I feel, other than saying that it’s like a shaken soda bottle that’s finally been released. It’s been over-the-top exciting for me. And it was quite an accomplishment because many folks didn’t think I was going to be able to make that comeback. People believed in me, but they just know how hard this business is. And for anybody to make a comeback after having a shot like I did with my first album is just unheard of. But I was determined; I didn’t lie down or stop for nothing in between both albums. I did shows for free. I worked harder playing guitar. I posted songs on my MySpace page so people could hear new music, and I just kept going after it. I just wanted people to hear what I had to say. And I wanted to get involved, so I did a ton of charity work and raised a lot of money for people. And karma paid off in a big way.

You wrote some songs on your new album, and others were just too good to pass up. Coming across the song “Do You Believe Me Now,” which sounds like nothing else out there, was like finding the needle in the haystack, I bet.

Oh, yeah. Finding that gold nugget amongst the thousands of songs in Nashville is sometimes impossible. But I’ve learned how to listen to songs. There are good songs and there are great songs, and there are songs that work for me that may not work for someone else, and vice versa. People say to me about songs on the charts: “Man, that was a great song, why didn’t you record it?” But if I recorded it, it may not have ever gone to the Top 40.

You’ve passed on songs that wound up being huge hits for other artists, like John Rich’s song “Hicktown” that Jason Aldean recorded. You’ve always listened to your gut and stuck with recording and writing songs that are true to who you are.

That’s right. It has to make sense and be a musical and lyrical snapshot of who I am. I have to really believe in it. I’m very convicted, and when I go out onstage I want to be me. Lyrics I record are something I’ve either experienced or want to experience, and it’s just stuff that I love.

You’ve had top 20, top 10 and even top three hits off your first album, Jimmy Wayne, but how does having a number one hit change things for an artist?

Well, it definitely puts you at the top because there’s nowhere else to go! [Laughs] And once you hit number one, people see you differently. It creates momentum and puts you in a different category for the rest of your life. It creates a lot of opportunities for you.

I remember you played “Do You Believe Me Now” for me back in 2007, and I told you “Keith Urban better watch out. This is definitely a number one hit!” And then I saw that Keith Urban was right under you on the charts. That was crazy!

Oh, yes, I remember that! [Laughs] It was very cool to look at the charts and see big-time artists like Brad Paisley and Keith Urban under me. Not that I’m better than them, but that was quite a feeling because they’re amazing artists.

You got the news that “Do You Believe Me Now” was number one right before you took the stage at the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon last year. Were you freaked out?

Right before I walked out to perform, my publicist showed me an e-mail that said, “ ‘Do You Believe Me Now’ is at number one.” I started shaking, ’cause I was pretty nervous and I couldn’t believe it, and I was thinking, “Man, this is going to be live.” And the fellow who was hosting announced, “Next is Jimmy Wayne, singing the number one country song in America.” When he said that, it resonated with me, like hearing news that shakes you; you just can’t get yourself together. I could hardly believe I was getting ready to perform the number one song in the country!

Let me guess how you celebrated that exciting news: You had a cup of coffee and wolfed down a bag of Goldfish by yourself …

You’re close! I had a cup of coffee and wolfed down about five Popsicles.

Dude, be careful, you could hurt yourself doing that! So what’s your favorite song you’ve written on the new album and why?

“One on One” is my favorite, because I love the melody and I think everyone can relate to the lyrical content of the song. We all find ourselves working our butts off, and if we’re in a relationship, sometimes we just need to find the time to take a little breather from work to spend quality time with that person. It’s actually one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. I love the song. I hope others like it, too.

How much did you love having John Oates from Hall and Oates and country legend Patty Loveless, two of your musical idols, contribute vocals to your new album on the songs “Where You’re Going” and “No Good For Me”?

They were both really cool. Patty and I go way back; we actually lived on the same street at one time back in North Carolina and didn’t even know it. Of course, when she sang on the album I couldn’t believe I was hearing her voice on a song I’d written. That was amazing! And I’ve been a Hall and Oates fanatic since I was nine years old. To think that I met John because we happened to be in the same building on the same floor at the same time in New York, and I had sang their classic hit “Sara Smile” that day in a satellite radio studio, is just surreal. We’ve become friends. And for someone to be considered half of the most successful duo in rock history and to be as humble as John Oates, well that’s just something he should bottle up and sell. You can definitely learn from him as an artist, for sure. Both Patty and John are just the real deal.

You were a presenter at the recent 42nd Annual CMA Awards, and you were looking sharp in that black suit! I just couldn’t believe you didn’t have on those old beat-up, electric boots held together with electrical tape you’re famous for wearing. Your stylist must have pried them off your feet that night!

[Laughs] Yeah, well it wasn’t my fault! My stylist, Sandi Spika Borchetta, is a pro. Her talents are amazing. She makes all those dresses for Taylor Swift, and she made Reba McEntire’s dresses back in the day. I trust her and go along with what she tells me to do. But I’m still gonna wear those boots! I wore them last week, I sure did.

You have been dubbed both the Hot Guy of the Month and one of the Sexiest Singers by People magazine. How do those labels suit you?

Oh, man, that is kind of funny. Hey, whatever! If it makes people inclined to listen to my music, it’s okay with me.

Unfortunately, saying that your childhood was a rough one is an understatement; you spent part of your childhood either homeless or in and out of the foster home system in North Carolina. Your new song “Kerosene Kid” is autobiographical.

When a kid smelled like kerosene at school, you knew they came from a tough life; trailers and old houses use kerosene or wood heaters, and kids at school that smelled like kerosene were made fun of, including me. When I presented that song, I had music business executives ask me, “What if people don’t know what ‘Kerosene Kid’ means because of geographics and stuff?” I’m like, “Well, it’s like “Coat of Many Colors” by Dolly Parton or “Coal Miner’s Daughter” by Loretta Lynn. You don’t have to be a coal miner’s child or a kerosene kid to relate to the song.” I’ve had lots of folks tell me they relate to that song. You can be the underdog or just feel you’ve been treated badly. That song speaks up for people who are feeling low, and says no matter who you are, don’t let people get you down.

That song is right in line with the positive message you’ve sent throughout your entire career, which is to be aware of the plight of others who are faced with adversity and try to lend them a hand.

Definitely. I’m very proud of the music we put together on this album. I’m very thankful for “Do You Believe Me Now” and “I Will,” which is rocketing up the charts right now. Those songs are great songs, and they need to be out there. But I made sure to include songs that say something for the people who expect it from me, like “Kerosene Kid” and “Where You’re Going,” which is a song with the premise that it’s not where you’ve been, but where you are going in life.

You not only play lots of benefit shows, but you actually take time to sit down with children in the foster home system across this country and talk to them about your experiences in the system and about hope. That is incredibly admirable of you.

I enjoy doing those shows way more than playing at the clubs and stuff. It’s important for me to do that, because you know the story of mine: Had it not been for this family that took me in when I was young and on the streets, I might be dead today. So why not take a little bit of your own time and keep giving forward? If we would all do that, some of these kids out there wouldn’t be going through what they’re going through. It’s rough.

You have a dream to open your own orphanage one day.

It’s definitely the next big goal in my life. It would be important to me, because if it wouldn’t have been for the family that took their time for me, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now. It’s my passion to give back. I would just love to do something like that and help kids who are in a situation like I was. Man, that would be incredible to be able to give back like that.

You played a benefit show in New Orleans for the Raintree House back in 2003, then you never came back to see us! What are you afraid of? Hurricanes? Voodoo? Alligators? What?

[Laughs] I am definitely afraid of some dang alligator! You can forget about that! I was actually out doing charity events at the time of Katrina. I had heard that the venue I played at in New Orleans, the Dock, got washed away. But I’d love to come back and play New Orleans, definitely! I had a good time there. And I’m a big fan of Louisiana cooking. When you eat the food there you can taste the difference—it’s no joke. They really know how to do “homemade” right. The cooking at these New Orleans–style restaurants they have around the country usually isn’t the same as it actually is in Louisiana.

Well, come back down and bring your appetite! But at least you recently put on a heck of a performance close by at Guitars and Cadillacs in D’Iberville, Mississippi. Did you enjoy playing that new venue?

I liked it so much that we’re playing there again on January 31. That place was fabulous! They rolled out the red carpet and treated my band and me like kings. And the crowd was super, just the nicest people. And people had traveled from New Orleans to see us play, which was really cool. I can’t wait to see everyone again!

We’ll have to bring you some gumbo or something from New Orleans.

Sure! Anything but those alligators. [Laughs] Leave ’em behind!