When you first meet Jimmy Wayne he's a respectful man; the genuine article. He looks you in the eye and feels out the conversation like a pro. He is open about his past, as well as his future with a candor that immediately relaxes you. He's a testament to the good nature of people due in part to the family that took him in when he didn't have anywhere else to go and other people in the music industry.
I caught up with Jimmy Wayne on and extremely cold day on the outskirts of Chicago just before his performance at the two-day Country music festival Mega Winterfest at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles. We met at a Cajun themed restaurant at the hotel. During the interview he sips on a Pepsi (his only drug) and in-between questions inhales handfuls of Garret's Carmel Corn. The adouie sausage appetizer arrives and we dug in but it was a little too chewy; kind of like an alligators wet toenail. This was a far cry from his native North Carolina cuisine, believe it or not.
Jackie Lee King: What do people have a hard time believing about you?
Jimmy Wayne: What do people have a hard time believing about me? That I'm not a whore.
JW: You're probably doing that. No... Probably the fact that I never drink or take any drugs. You know, they don't believe it. You know, they're like there's just no way you could be... Yeah. They just don't believe it.
JLK: A lot of your songs are about relationships. What do you look for in a relationship?
JW: Man, the main thing I look for in a relationship is the old typical trust. Do you know what I mean? Just being able to trust that person, because it's real hard for me. Being able to know that they've got my back and not with a knife. You know what I mean. If they're going to be honest and they're not after me because they want to walk up the red carpet and all that bullshit. You know. Just that they really want to be with me because of who I am at home in my pajamas and my hair's all messed up and I'm drinking coffee and I'm-- I don't feel like talking in the morning. I mean, that kind of stuff. I mean, are they going to really be that excited about me when they see me in my bedroom shoes? You know? When I'm choosing my guitar over them because I got a song idea. You know, it's like-- they're not going to get mad. You know-- and say, "Aw man, I understand."
JLK: Yeah. Like a kindred spirit type of thing.
JW: Exactly. And someone funny, man. Not depressive! I'm depressive enough!
JLK: You need some balance.
JW: Yeah, man. Yeah.
JLK: Exactly. And there was something that I couldn't resolve in my own life to give up so much of my spirit and my light to somebody who just doesn't care. What about your past still haunts you and what do you think it will take for it to go away?
JW: Writing always kind of helps with that. I use writing as a therapeutic exercise, if you will. You know, channel all those thoughts. You know a good run through the woods sometimes. A good run on the treadmill always takes care of that. Yeah. I mean, I know how to treat it these days. It used to... man, I'd stay depressed for forever, but now I can just-- I've figured it out. I just go run or get off the bus and go for a long walk through a town. Yeah, man, because out on the road it don't go away just because you're out on the road.
JLK: Right. It follows you.
JW: I think it gets worse.
JLK: Yeah. It's sort of like how people run away from their problems. The problem is still there. It's not leaving you until, you know, you acknowledge it and you put it away.
JW: When you get on the bus, man. You're in that little cooped-up trailer on wheels. Sometimes it gets tough, man. You get depressed.
JLK: Well, it's because you've got nothing else but that little box that you're traveling around in.
JLK: Yeah, and you seem more like you're more like rock--more rock country. It seems like that's where country starts doing now. You know it's like filling in the void.
JW: Yeah, I think too, man, that a lot of the people from the 80s, I'm from the 80s. A lot of those people who were rockin' in the 80s have kind of settled down maybe? You know, and when I'm working in the business I notice that the sound engineer or the roadie or the guitar tech or, you know, the songwriter or the producer... whatever. They're all guys from the 80s who were rockin' the free world back then who have come, you know, settle down in Nashville. It's not like they're settling for less. They just kind of found out... you know, kind of followed their heart, man. You know, this is what I love to do. And I'm settling-- I'm settling in and writing some great stuff and love to sing. But at the same time, you know, bringing those influences--you know I grew up in a multi-cultured family, so I can't help but to rock it out a little bit or sound a little soulful or a little (edginess?) to it.
JLK: So are you going to do Crossroads? The last one that I saw was Taylor Swift and Def Leppard.
JW: Def Leppard. Oh yeah.
JLK: That was-- That was weird seeing little Taylor Swift and Def Leppard just sort of like rockin' out to each other.
JW: Yeah. I remember when they were filming that thing. Scott told me that they were doing it. And was like, "Man, I'd love to go down there and check that out." I'm a huge Def Leppard fan.
JLK: So who would you a Crossroads with?
JW: Hall and Oates.
JW: Yeah. I'd love to do a Crossroads with those guys, man. I've actually talked to John about it and he said, "Man, we'd do it in a heartbeat."
[Jimmy got part of his wish when he traveled to Aspen on March 19, 2009 to join Patty Griffin, Tift Merritt and rock legend John Oates for The Stories Behind the Songs Series as part of Jazz Aspen Snowmass. He was personally invited by Oates to close out the three-part performance and storytelling series this evening.]
JLK: How does one find a band in a city full of talented musicians like Nashville?
JW: Pretty easy. Word of mouth.
JLK: Really? I figured it would be-- you've got like three hundred really great guitar players or three hundred violinists or...
JW: Well you find somebody who's-- you find one person. You find the core... and you ask this drummer--you say, "hey man, do you know a bass player?" And he'll say-- he will know a player that's up to par. He will say, "out of all three hundred bass players, this guy right here is the one that I would recommend." And then you ask the bass player, "You happen to know a keyboard player?" And then it just starts going like that. First thing you know, you've got a good band.
JLK: So how did you find all of your band members?
JW: Well, my drummer I met at a New Year's Eve party at my producer's house. He and his wife were there and my producer introduced me to him and said, "This is Johnny. He's the drummer on the song 'Do You Believe Me Now?'" I was like, "Wow, man. You did a great job. We ought to get together and talk about maybe coming out on the road and playing drums for me" and sure enough he ended up doing it and becoming the band leader. Jake, my utility guy is a guy I met in Taylorville, Illinois. He was nineteen years old at the time and just played twenty-seven instruments and I thought to myself, "man, that guy's incredible." So I hired him. My guitar player, Rob, I've known him since I was sixteen. He and I started in our high school band together after I moved in at the Costner family and started going to work at a local textile mill.
JLK: What was the name of the band?
JW: F...A...N...T...A...S...Y...C...H...E! (Sings) Fantasyyyyyche!
JLK: Wow! Maybe you should do a Crossroads with Queensryche then.
JW: Oh yeah, man. That's exactly why we put "syche" at the end of it, because it kind of sounded like "ryche." Fantasyche! Oh, we tried to be like that, man. I couldn't sing that high or that good-- couldn't sing that good at all.
JLK: So being a rock and roller, with a country twain, what are your tattoos like?
JW: Well, the major... I would say the only tattoo... a lot of the other stuff is just graffiti. It's like crosses on my knuckles. They're all on the left side of my body because I'm right handed and there's one cross on my arm that I actually cut off with a knife when I was 14. I actually didn't cut it, I scraped it off and I was an angry 14 year old kid who didn't care. Would I scrape it now? Absolutely not!
JLK: They've got people to do that for you
JW: Yeah. Absolutely not. I'm not that tough anymore. But the big tattoo is the one on my chest on my left side. It's "FTW" and below it is an axe and its a cross and it's... well, it looks like a pair of scissors It doesn't look like a pair of scissors, but it crosses each other like a pair of scissors like one's an axe and then there's a cross---actually a cross and it's religion and war. It's what I felt like I was... I thought I knew what I was doing when I was 14 by putting it on there, but it makes absolutely no sense. No sense at all. And you know over the years I've always been trying to work out and figure out what that thing... what else that FTW could stand for and a fan came up to me one day and said, "that stands for 'found the way." And I said, "Damn!" Yeah, I've tried to figure out something new, cuz you know, I don't want to say "F the world."
JW: I don't mean that now. When they said that I said, "That's it!" You know, that's it. And that's what I call it now. "Found the way."
JLK: Excellent. After completing your degree and getting a job in your chosen field in criminal justice. What made you trade it all in and become a part of a very unstable music industry?
JW: Well, the prison system and the music business, believe it or not have a lot in common. With the exception of the barbed wire fence there's a lot. You know, you deal with all kinds of personalities. The prison system definitely--believe it or not-- was such a great experience. It taught me so much about a person's word and about how important that is. I've grown up, you know, kind of speaking my mind and being very straightforward and honest. That's all you got in there is your word and your name and if you ruin that, it follows you throughout your entire prison sentence. I mean, once you get that mark, it's a life and death situation. So coming to Nashville I kind of brought that experience with me of just being very straightforward, but I learned very quick that it's not always that way on the outside.
JW: Yeah. And it was a hard adjustment for me to make because I wasn't used to someone looking me in the eyes and telling me a lie.
JLK: Yeah. I noticed you make a lot of eye contact with people. That's really good.
JW: In the prison system I worked with guys who had been on death row, and I had one guy to tell me, you know. He said, "In here if you look at a guy in his eyes and start talking to him, that's a sign of respect. If you look away, that's a sign of either you're lying or being disrespectful or maybe you're just not a man. You're just not man enough to look at someone in their eyes because... why wouldn't you look at them and talk to them? Because you're hiding something? So, it can be intimidating to some people because some people think that you've gotta be a tough guy. But I'm not. Heck, I'm 170 pounds. I'm not that tough.
JLK: Yeah. Sometimes, with some people, it's that you acknowledge them as a human being. Even with the homeless people I've seen in Chicago. More times than not they just wanted to connect and realize they're still alive...
JW: ...you said it, dude...
JLK: ...that they're more than just, you know, trash.
JW: You said it brother!
JLK: Sometimes that's more valuable than giving them a sandwich or money.
JW: You know what, man? I was visiting a home one time. A children's' home and there was a young man in there. His eye contact was terrible. So he was talking to me, but he was looking at the ground and looking at my hands and feet or whatever. He was staring at the walls and stuff. And I just kind of stopped him-- respectfully I stopped him and I said... this is the way I handled this... I said, "I've noticed that for our entire conversation you've never looked at me. So, I just want to let you know that you are a very important person and you are special. You've been chosen to go what you have to go through for a reason. You deserve for people to look at you when you talk to them." And I didn't turn it around on him and say, "You should look at me when I'm talking to you." It would sound like I was fussing at him. I just said, "You deserve peoples' respect. So that when you talk to someone, you should look at a man and demand that respect from them." That you deserve, and man, I'll tell you, I got a phone call from the staff and they said that that kid went back and it has changed everything about him. They said, man, if it's the hardest thing he does he stands there and he will not stop, he will not take his eyes off of you when he's talking to you. And it's changed his whole [life]. It's changed everything about him. He just feels more important now. They said, "Man, you wouldn't believe it." They said that one thing changed him.
JLK: Yeah. It's just those simple little things that make us human.
JW: Yup. Eye contact.
JLK: Do you still connect with people from your old job as a prison guard?
JW: Yeah. I do, man. I talked to Dee Dee yesterday. He and I stayed on the phone for about 30 minutes talking to him and man, he was an old convict from the prison that I worked in and he was also a delinquent kid that I was in one of the facilities with when we were kids. We're still talking. He hasn't beat me up yet.
He jokes with me because I'm, you know, about 100 pounds lighter than him and I'm always joking with him about his weight because he's always telling me that I'm doing the Jane Fonda Workout. He's still doing his prison workout. So I told him I could outrun him. Yeah, he was like, "you wait until you come home." He's preparing to outrun me, and I said "that ain't gonna happen like that"--you look like that guy that made the touchdown the other day at the Pittsburgh Steelers game who did that badass interception and was about, you know, right near the 20 yard line and was almost out breath?
JW: That's what you're going to look like. Oh, he was mad. Yeah man, we do stay in touch, man. I talk to him. I also talk to an old sergeant from that prison. He and I still keep in contact. When I was at home over Christmas break I actually stopped by the prison and talked to another sergeant there and you know...
JLK: ...that's not the same one who was referring to other people as trash [Editors Note: from the song, It's where you're Goin']
JW: No, no, no, that's the juvenile detention center.
JW: Yeah, I don't know what happened to that guy [the one from the song]. I haven't seen him.
JLK: Well, people evidently know a lot about him, I mean, we're talking about him right now.
JW: They do now! If I could go back to that night when I was arrested and find out who that officer was who checked me in. I could find out and find out his name because he would have to sign a document. His name's there.
JLK: So, if you could go back in time and give yourself advice at the completion of your first record, what would it be?
JW: My first record. Give me some advice? Probably to record more outside material, because I feel like, you know, I don't want to make this sound like I know everything and I did everything right, but I really never really burned any bridges out there. Or feel like I did. I'm proud of what I've done. I'm proud of the route that I took. Umm- let go of some of the responsibilities you know, let somebody else who does their job better than I try to do their job-- let them do it. Yeah. It's just those things, man. You know, I grew up, again, being very independent and it's hard to let go and let someone else do stuff for you.
[There have been a couple of milestones in Jimmy's life. Getting a record deal was one. His number one single Do You Believe Me Now was two, and a third one is being the opening act for a major tour this summer. This isn't the first time that Jimmy has struck gold. He's made a life out of second chances. When he was a troubled youth a good family took him in when his own family was in all kinds of disarray, taking him out of the foster care system. He had a record deal several years later, but when the record label closed the Nashville office he found himself abandoned again without any support. But there has always been a silver lining for Jimmy; he had already attained some notoriety with his hit's I Love You This Much, Paper Angels and the timeless classic Stay Gone.
For some, that would be enough success for their lives. It had bought him a house and allowed him to travel around. But Jimmy isn't the type to sit back and rest on his laurels. Somewhere in the back of his mind he new that his career wasn't over. He spent this time doing charity work and helping out causes that were dear to his heart. This was the time where he could help out. Then about three years later record executive Scott Borchetta called Jimmy up asked him to, ‘come home.' He signed to The Valor Music Company, the sister label to Big Machine Records (formerly Dreamworks), which includes artists Jewel, Justin Moore, Reba and Emerson Drive. Now in the midst of getting ready for a national tour with a new record he's about to achieve more milestones. He's drivin' up from the country back roads to the interstate highways bringing his music to an even greater audience.]
JLK: So you took some time off in between releases. What were you doing?
JW: I spent three years and a half doing charity work. I just did as much of it as I could because I just knew in my heart that I was going to get a second chance and I knew when that second chance came around that I was going to be as busy as...you know...as I am. I wasn't going to be able to do as many free charity shows as I wanted to. So, three years and a half I figured, "well, this is the perfect time to just give as many shows away as I can." So I just did as much charity work as I could, and enjoyed it. Yeah, I mean, there were some nights we'd do shows and fifteen people would be in the audience and that was it! You know? But it didn't matter, really. We raised some money and there's fans out there. It's just amazing, man.
JLK: Tell me about your sister's program and how that got developed.
JW: My sister, believe it or not, was working in a factory, you know. She was working sixty hours a week hardcore, man. Just blue collar workin', man. And this family--this elderly couple just like Beatrice and Russell [Costner] who helped me out--this other elderly couple used to come to my concert all the time and hear me play, and they heard my story about my sister so they wanted to make that connection with my sister. And we were both very cautious about making--you know, having any relationships with strangers who only wanted to have relationships because of me and because of what I do and... I just didn't want anybody to hurt my sister. I just didn't want to build a friendship off of something that wasn't real.
JLK: Right. There's a lot of trust issues in the music business.
JW: Oh yeah, man. So my sister--this family eventually made that connection with my sister and offered her a job at their... It's a non-profit kidney association [Cleveland Rutherford Kidney Association], and they put my sister in charge of raising funds for this charity event for the association, which the first person she called was me. They could make more money with me than they could a hot dog sale.
JLK: Well, I don't know-- I mean, hot dogs are pretty good.
JW: (Laughs) Again, you know-- with mustard and chili...
JLK: Oh no, man. You're talking Southern. I'm talking Chicago style hot dog.
JW: You see, man! There's a big difference. I got to have my Southern hot dog! Chili slopped---man...
JLK: Yeah a heart attack is what you want.
JW: But my sister, man--she got this position and then she... you know we did the first charity event which was the Cleveland Rutherford Kidney Association -- CRKA show. And my sister had this idea the first year. She said, "you know, why don't we invite all the kids in the [foster care] system to come to this show for free and the way that we can afford is if people want to donate ten dollars per kid?" And man-- 1,172 kids came to that show last year for free, and even the year before that and the year before that-- I think there was over a thousand kids each time. Just amazing, man. Now that is incredible when you see those kinds of kids who have never been to a concert. They all have a story. They've all been there. They're all going through it right now. When they come to that show, man, it's no longer about me; that's for sure. It's not about anything other than making sure they get a good word. You know, and have a great time and leave there with something, you know? With some hope and seeing somebody like them up onstage playing. Man, there's nothing like that. They think that that's just gives them hope!
JLK: Yeah- yeah. It's funny, I can't remember how many shows I've seen and I'm sure you've been to a lot of shows and you've played shows so it must be like second nature for you, but giving it to somebody who may not have a home or parents or anything like that, can be profound. Giving them something, like a show can turn them around. They're like worried about food, worried about this and that. They don't have time to worry about, you know, music and stuff like that, but it's those little things like that that give us that spirit to move forward.
JW: Well, what's cool, man is when they realize when they get there. They see all the lights. They hear guitars. They see all the music. And I try to make it different for everybody, you know, because it is a multi-cultured audience. So the first year I had a rap group come with me and--and man, they got up there and tore it up, and it was just fun, you know? But the country listeners were expecting a pure country show, but I was doing it for the kids, man. I wanted to make sure that none of them felt left out. And my show rocks out and, you know the storytelling part, you could hear a pin drop in this little small arena. A little college basketball arena. It was just amazing, man. You have to see this thing. It's incredible.
JLK: So now that we know where you've been, where are you going?
JW: Well, Brad Paisley put me on his tour. I'm definitely looking forward to that milestone. You know, writing more great songs. That's what I do and that's my next goal-- is to write another great song. I mean, I'm always thinking about it. Always trying to get to that point and... Where do I see myself down the road? You know, just building this empire, if you will. Trying to make this thing... you know what? I'm going to say this and without being humble about it. Number one. That's where I see myself.
JLK: That's how you got to do it. You just got to put it in your mind and you'll get it.
JW: Number one. Period. I mean, I'm not... I think that that's the only way-- if you don't have that kind of bar... I mean, if you settle for number three it's like, "well, gee..." (laughs) "Yeah! I want to be number three!"
JLK: Yeah...You mean you didn't come here to lose?
JW: Yeah. Exactly.
[The next morning, after this interview, a pipe burst at the hotel and before anyone knew it Jimmy was out there helping with the clean up out in the cold Chicago winter. He's never been afraid of pulling up his shirt sleeves and helping out. In the following months Jimmy lent both his voice and carpentry skills to an ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition project in Montgomery, AL. He spent two days helping construct the frame for the home, performed a fundraising concert and even jammed with host Ty Pennington on stage.]
Interview by Jackie Lee King ©2009