Ontario country artist Jamie is a singer, songwriter, entertainer and a songwriting teacher. His hits on country radio over the years include “One Step Back”, “The Way Love Goes”, “Cried All The Way Home” and “Sunny Day In The Park”. Anyone who has been to a show of his will attest to the fact that you’ll get an equal dose of music and comedy. Fortunately for country music fans, Jamie is working on new music, to be released in 2017.
In your teen years, you had dreams of playing hockey professionally in the NHL and then later you went to Conestoga College to learn radio. Eventually, you pursued your love of music instead. What was it about music that made it your career choice?
During my last year of college, I won the Western Fair Talent Search (London). That win sent me to Memphis to compete in another talent show which I placed second in. The fair down south had a theme park called Libertyland and they offered me a part in a country show. This park was kinda like Canada’s Wonderland. Now up until this point, I was planning on being the youngest-ever GM of a major market radio station. I moved to Memphis the end of March 1983 and thought I wasn’t looking back. Green card problems brought me back a year later. The turning point for me was performing with this amazing 6 piece band in front of 5000 people at the talent show. I thought maybe I could do this and people seemed to like the way I sang so… I jumped in and realized I liked to swim. P.S.: When I turned 14, I started writing songs, so I kinda lost some of that athletic killer instinct. While my hockey pals were working out, I was busy singing songs and working on girls – lol.
Tell me about growing up in a musical family and the influence that it had on you.
My folks were a big influence on what I do today. My mom played piano and sang, and my dad played guitar and mandolin. I often think my dad would have liked a career in music, but feeding a family with a real job was his option. I had piano lessons at 5, guitar lessons at 8 and was the entertainment on Saturday nights for the break during the euchre parties. Lol – I remember you could cut the cigarette smoke with a knife as I performed with my folks for their friends on Saturday nights. Here’s where hockey enters the picture again: From the age of 8 through 14 my mom (at least once a year) would threaten to take me out of hockey if I didn’t practice my guitar. I’ve often said my parents forced me into a life of music. I love them for that, by the way. It all made sense when I started writing songs. As a teenager, that guitar became my best friend and got me through high school… and hey, it’s still a pretty good friend.
Who is your main influence as a country artist over the years?
Merle Haggard is my biggest country influence. Here’s a mind bend…I believe he’s the father of New Country and the country music that exists today. If you look beyond his 3 or 4 redneck hit songs, you’ll find a hundred other songs where the chord changes are more than 3 chords. He was also a master of push and pull phrasing. In my estimation, he created the conversational form of singing. He’s my favourite country singer. I also loved all the vocal groups from California in the 70s: The Eagles, Poco, America, Buffalo Springfield, CSNY – just to name a few – and the Beatles weren’t too shabby… just sayin’.
Have you had the chance to meet some of your music heroes over the years? Or any of your hockey heroes?
I saw Merle Haggard play in Memphis in 1983, but I never got to meet him. I’ve met many cool artists in my lifetime and I hope to keep meeting them. Haggard’s the guy that would have made me starstuck. But hey, this hockey thing comes up yet again. I’m in Calgary in the mid 80s and I just finished an interview with the country station (the big station was AM back then). On my way down, the elevator door opens and Doug Risebrough gets in. It’s the captain of the Flames. He said “Hi” and all I could say was “Hey.” I can say I’ve had a beer with Johnny Bucyk and Brian Glennie. I get a little starstruck with hockey players cause that’s kinda my childhood dream. I hang out with singers all the time… that’s not new and different like sports.
You work with Rick Hutt at CedarTree Recording Studio in Kitchener. What are Rick’s strengths as a producer?
Rick Hutt, first and foremost, is a great musician and has a great knowledge of cool music. His biggest strength – I believe – is his calmness. He believes that people perform their best when they’re comfortable. We’ve coined the term “Cedartree Time”. It’s important to have coffee and chat time worked into the recording process. You’ll get cooler stuff that way.
Your songs are no strangers to country radio. You have a long list of successful singles. As hard as it is to pick just one, does any one of them stand out in your mind as being extra special or unique in its journey to radio?
The first single from my first full CD, Fallen Angel, was “Ready To Run”. First of all, I had a bad cold when I sang some of the vocals, so my voice was raspy but kinda cool. I was in Nashville with Fraser Hill and we got the song mastered by the big mastering dude totally by accident and free. I now release this song as a broke independent. My wife Beth is tracking it ‘cause we don’t have any money. Three weeks in, I get a call from a big tracker (Mira Laufer). She asked to track my single. I said “No thanks”, ‘cause I’m broke. She said I misunderstood her and told me my song was gonna be a hit and she’d like to be involved at no charge. That first single went to #11, the highest charting position of an independent in years. I believe that song was meant to be and I was blessed to have people lend me a hand. Thanks, and I still try to pay it forward.
I’m a great lover of duets in country music, as I’m sure you are. Do you have any dream duet partners?
I would love to sing with Emmylou Harris or Alison Krauss.
You teach songwriting courses at Conestoga College. What can people who take the classes expect to learn?
If you take Songwriting 101, you’ll learn about the music industry (business of songs), you’ll get a structure template and tricks to better your writing, and you’ll get your songs critiqued. With Songwriting 102, you’ll learn to co-write and be given writing assignments, as well as learn where and how to demo and present your original songs. I love teaching. Out of high school, I was going to go to university for English but there were no jobs for teachers. I then looked at journalism but that seemed a bit boring, so I shifted to broadcasting. Lol – I’m getting back to where I started.
There are many songwriting lessons and tips that can be taught. For those reading this interview, can you pass along one or two thoughts on writing better songs?
You should steal as often as possible. I say that at all my classes, hoping for a laugh after the shock wears off. First of all DON’T steal. You have to read before you write. Pay attention to what the past writers have done. You can find a new chord change or someone else’s verse lyric that could be your chorus hook line. I have a bridge in “Sunny Day in the Park” that goes to the 1 minor and comes back to the 1 major in the 3rd verse. I think it’s pretty cool. Tim Louis and I got that from the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood”. And when you write lyrics, don’t “write” lyrics – be conversational and journal your story. Remember that you are telling a story that needs to make sense to people other than you. At the open mic nights. play your new song without explaining it. Just tell the audience the name of your song and see if you still get a good response after you perform it.
Co-writing is an important part of songwriting. For anyone who hasn’t co-written yet, what would you tell them are the benefits?
Co-writing means you’re not alone and that can be very helpful on most days. There can be a compromise made here and there but over all, it’s a win. I love writing with a partner. Nothing’s better than writing with a good writer and you’ll always walk away with some of that person’s energy and knowledge. If you can listen, you’ll always learn something.
For those who haven’t caught one of your shows yet, what’s in store for them when they do?
I think that most people laugh a bunch at my shows…and not just at me! I love the smaller acoustic shows where people are listening and I can talk a bit. This summer, I’m doing some rockin’ full band shows with Thomas Wade and Gil Grand. In the 80s, Tom and I were the young rockers. Lol – we looked loud. We’re gonna re-live some of that energy this summer with these shows. Us older folks can still shake it… just sayin’.
Can we expect brand new music from you in 2017?
I will release a new CD in 2017. I’ve got 4 songs written and I’m just finishing up a few more. We’re just demoing the new stuff and I think it’s gonna be a pretty cool CD. I believe the more you do something, the better you can get at it. By the way, I’m impressed with our new crop of Canadian country artists. I still listen to the radio; I always have. It’s a fun and exciting time in country music.
Dave Woods is a monthly columnist for the CMAO and has been hosting the popular online radio show “In The Country with Dave Woods” for over 7 years. To hear episodes, please visit www.inthecountryinterviews.com or www.soundcloud.com/dave-woods-3