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You can tell a lot about a person by where they have been and the things people have to say about them. Nashville-based recording artist Jimmy Wayne has been through a lot in his relatively short life and has managed to turn that fact to his distinct advantage as a songwriter. This is evidenced by the growing number of letters from fans and supporters littering the refrigerator door of his well kept apartment. 


Born on what many would consider the wrong side of the tracks in North Carolina in 1972,  Jimmy Wayne was abandoned by his father at a young age, raised alternately by his troubled mother, and then in a series of foster homes while she was in prison. As if that trauma was not enough, on his 15th birthday Wayne saw his stepfather shoot his stepsister three times, paralyzing her, and surviving a murder attempt himself. He entered, and then ran from, a county home and became a homeless youth who did what he had to do to survive on the street—hardly the image of the up-and-coming, handsome and young country music crooner he now embodies. His sophomore release Do You Believe Me Now is currently on the charts. 

Jimmy Wayne - Do You Believe Me Now


Perhaps due to the pressures involved in being forced to survive on his own from such an early age, there is a deep creativity and unbridled passion for life that infuses Wayne’s music and live performances. It is this passion that reverberates through every track on Do You Believe Me Now


Writing songs that were truly unique became Wayne’s mission while working on the new album. His 2003 Dreamworks debut nabbed him four hits-- “I Love You This Much” “You Are,” and “Stay Gone,” with the latter tune peaking at No. 3 on Billboard’s Country Singles chart. The poignant “Paper Angels” spotlighted the plight of abused and abducted children and earned Jimmy the “William Booth Award” from the Salvation Army. 

However, when Dreamworks shut its doors his mission was put on hiatus. When the dust settled and Jimmy was no longer obligated to Universal Music Group, he got a call from Scott Borchetta who had become Music Row’s latest success story with Big Machine Records. Borchetta told him, “Come home!” Wayne now had a new home at Borchetta’s ssecond label, The Valory Music Company. 


Dish recently caught up with Wayne at his home in Nashville, to talk with him about his amazing story of survival in the real world and in the music business.


Dish: I understand you were homeless as a teenager until the age of 16. How did you find yourself in such a desperate situation?


Wayne: I was actually living on my own on the streets for a while. I was a teen-aged runaway and I lived that lifestyle for a long time. When I was younger I went to 12 different schools in three years. I moved around so much that it just got to the point where I just stopped depending on people. Every time I moved into a new home I would be there no more than a month or so and then I would have to leave for whatever reason. I got tired of moving around so much and I decided that if I didn’t have to depend on anyone there wouldn’t be so many ups and downs. So I found myself just out and about taking care of myself and making money my way and supporting myself, but it just got worse until I ended up outside without a place to stay.


Dish: What did it take to finally get you off the streets and how did this experience inform your later life as a country musician? 


Jimmy Wayne

Wayne: I was in Bessemer City, North Carolina and a family that I ran into when I was 16 gave me a place to live. I would stay at people’s houses that would let me hang around. The couple were in their 70s, and I ended up staying for six years. It was absolutely amazing. Living with them really prepared me for the ups and downs of the music business. It really helped me to keep my head straight. I function very normally under almost any situation. After being hungry and living outside for long periods of time, there is nothing that can be harder than that. It’s given me drive and an incredible work ethic. I feel like because of where I have been in my life, I have a real appreciation for everything I have and don’t take anything for granted. 


Dish: Before you really ever recorded anything you got your first big break when you worked at Acuff-Rose writing songs alongside Dean Dillon and Whitey Shafer. During this time you co-wrote Tracy Byrd's Top Ten smash "Put Your Hand in Mine," with Skip Ewing. What was that like?

Wayne: Talk about your bingo rush! The first time I heard it, I was sitting in the car pulling into the gym when it came on the radio. I just couldn’t believe it. There were a few seconds where I wasn’t sure what to think. I thought I recognized the melody and then suddenly I realized that was my song. I really didn’t know what to expect because at the time I didn’t even know how the music industry ran. I had moved here to become a singer. I wanted to write my story and get it out there so that it would hopefully inspire other people, but my intention was never to write songs for someone else I didn’t even know that Tracy had recorded it, but I was excited when I found out!

Dish: How do you feel your work has evolved from that first record with Dreamworks to now?


Wayne: With my first album I had no perception of touring and what it was like to be out on the road. The second album, instead of going out with four ballads like I did the first time around, I learned to have more up tempo stuff.  I feel like the experience of being on the road made me more creative and more open to possibilities. 


Dish: What is it like knowing that you share a label with so many industry greats like Reba and Taylor Swift?


Wayne: It’s true that I share the label with Reba and Taylor and Trisha, but I pinch myself more over the fact that I’m on the label with Scott Borchetta. That’s the big deal. He was the reason why Dreamworks had any success. He is the reason Vallory and Big Machine are doing so well now. He is so sharp, that all you have to do is look at the line of people he has worked with to see the results of what he does. He took Dreamworks to that level with Toby Keith. He is putting together the best team of people I have ever seen in this business. When you look at who had #1s on Dreamworks, who had #1s on MCA and who had #1s on Valory and Big Machine, most of the time you will find Scott there. He’s the reason why I’m here.


Dish: Being someone who has had his fair share of ups and downs not only in the music business but also in your personal life, what advice would you give to people having a hard time right now? 

Wayne: Just keep going. It will get better no matter how bad it looks now. It can always be worse and there is always a way out. You just have to look for it. I tell all new artists that are just getting started to get to know their promotion people. They are the gatekeepers between you and the radio. Without the promotion team—if your song isn’t on the radio—none of that other stuff matters.    

Dish: Why is getting your story out important to you? 

Wayne:  I still feel like I have so much to say. Some people say my music isn’t country, but I disagree. Growing up on the streets was country for me. Being homeless was country for me and I think that message resonates in my music because there are more and more people who can relate. I don’t want to oversaturate anyone with my story but as long as there are kids born every single day that story has to be told. I’m not the Dali-Lama of country music or anything but I feel like I have a message to share and that is what drives me. When I do shows there are always people who tell me how each song has touched them and helped them. I saw a woman crying on the side of the stage the other night when I was singing and I was incredibly moved that my music had that effect on her life where she was at that moment in time. 

To find out more about Jimmy Wayne, go to / Issue 93 - September 3781
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