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Sunday, 15 February, 2009 12:47 PM

Jimmy Wayne: Believe Him Now (CMA)

Photo by Kristin Barlowe

Valory Music Co. recording artist Jimmy Wayne

By Bob Doerschuk
© 2008 CMA Close Up News Service

Fame is elusive. Once found, it can be fleeting. And when lost, it's hard to get back to where you were before you had won the world's attention. For Jimmy Wayne, that's only part of the story. Before signing with DreamWorks Records in 2001, survival was a more pressing concern than daydreaming about success. His childhood in North Carolina was a nightmare of poverty, violence and abandonment. Yet he rose from these dismal beginnings with music as his lifeline, and on the basis of his promise as a singer and writer, Scott Borchetta, who was then Senior Director, Radio Promotions and Marketing at DreamWorks, offered the young artist a record deal.

Wayne reciprocated with a self-titled album, from which four singles were released, one of which, "Stay Gone," peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. The media noticed, as USA Today heralded Wayne as one of the "Next Big Things" in music and People included him on its list of "Sexiest Singers" of 2003. Yet when DreamWorks folded, these developments seemed doomed to become a few more footnotes in a litany of lost opportunities and unattained ambitions.

Luckily, things played out far better than that. Borchetta, having moved on to found Big Machine Records, welcomed Wayne onto its roster and then, with greater success, to join Jewel on the new The Valory Music Co. record label. Once again, the artist paid back Borchetta's trust and faith, this time by delivering an album whose title track, "Do You Believe Me Now," rocketed to a two-week stay at the top of the Billboard chart.

There are at least two big reasons why Wayne has reclaimed his place in the spotlight. The first, his talent as a writer and singer, is evident throughout Do You Believe Me Now, produced by Mark Bright, Joe West and Dave Pahanish.

Wayne co-wrote five tracks, their subject matters varying yet each one - the painfully personal "Kerosene Kid," the romantically yearning Patty Loveless duet "No Good for Me," his rhythmically infectious and affirmative performance with John Oates of Hall and Oates on "Where You're Going" and the rest - share a quality of emotional directness that complements the accessibility of the music.

Equally important is how the lessons Wayne learned as a child translated into a combination of determination, realism - and, he candidly admits, an element of fear - that have brought him one more time from the valley and back to the summit of Country Music.

"There was a time I thought, 'What if? I'm not giving up, but what if they have? What am I going to do?'" Wayne mused. "It's hard, man, when you're not having any action, to get people on the same page with you, because it's a business. I understand that. I've experienced the phone not ringing and having to call people seven or eight times before they call you back. Some never call back. There was a lot of disappointment. But I got it finished. So in a nutshell, this album stands for believing in yourself and not giving up."

Too often in recent years, when a label has gone out of business many of its artists have disappeared along with it. What made it possible for Wayne to avoid that fate? "It's simple," Borchetta said. "He's a great artist. He's always been one of the best Country soul singers we've had, since he got to Nashville. But more than that, he kept digging. He would get up and go to work every day, whether it was going and listening to a song, writing a song, doing his charity. He was unflinching in his determination. And if he was going down, he was going down swinging."

"I guess the first thing is that you simply don't give up," Wayne concurred. "I didn't see the end coming when I was at DreamWorks because I was new, I was green and I didn't understand the business. We had momentum. Things were going well. We were selling records. And then one day, I remember, they said, 'The label has been sold.' I was thinking it was just kind of a lateral move; we'd keep moving forward. But that didn't happen."

Wayne had been in similar positions before, when one after another escape from the desperation of his early years slammed shut. As a result, he was more equipped to deal with this development than many others in the business might have been. But he benefitted as well from what he had accomplished through the success of that first album - not necessarily in terms of sustaining his visibility in the media but through the connections he had made with people who knew his story and had faith in his ability to keep going.

"I was getting mail from fans," he remembered. "They told me their stories. I remembered that 8-year-old boy who came up to me and told me, 'My dad's gone too.' Just that was enough for me to know that I'm supposed to be doing this."

And so, just as he had done when having to fend for himself at age 10, Wayne did what he had to do. He filled his schedule as much as possible with charity shows. And from those performances, he accepted opportunities that came his way, even if they involved the kinds of gigs that only beginning artists might be expected to accept.

"There was always somebody in the audience who would ask if I sang at weddings," he said, laughing. "And they'd hire me. Brian McCann, the catcher for the Atlanta Braves, called me to sing at his wedding, and I did. Debbie Parsley [Events Entertainment Manager at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum] had me come and do writers' nights. Gina Keltner [Talent Coordinator at the Grand Ole Opry] helped me out so much too. I'll never forget those people."

There's a moral here for young artists who find themselves professionally adrift. "Don't lie around," Wayne said. "Don't wait for the business to come to you. The longer you're gone, the harder it is to come back."

Having friends who can offer a hand makes a difference too. Borchetta was one such friend. And as luck would have it, Wayne came across the song "Do You Believe Me Now," written by West, Pahanish and Tim Johnson just a month before receiving Borchetta's invitation to switch from Big Machine to The Valory Music Co. With both a single and a record label he believed in, his timing could not have been better.

It was a good match all around. At long last, Wayne has indeed "come home." But in a strange way, as he looks ahead, this good fortune poses another new challenge: With his past having fueled much of his writing and contributed to the intensity of his performance as a singer, how will he keep the inspiration burning through a more sanguine and secure future?

"I write best when there's some drama going on," he agreed. "So I don't want to ever get too comfortable. When you get too comfortable, you lose perspective. I'm a songwriter for a reason. I want to continue helping people through my music, but I'm also working for that day when I can leave the drama behind."

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