June 1, 2001
Hi. My name is Kelly Carnahan and I am Richard Carnahan's granddaughter and I have heard a lot about you. You know, hearing about who you were didn't affect me that much until I met Blaine Larsen, then that was when I got more interested in what you do.
Blaine Larsen is an awesome singer that goes to my school and I figured you could help him...
As a successful Nashville songwriter-people who regularly receive requests for help in breaking into the business----Rory Lee Feek could have been forgiven for paying no attention to the hand-written letter from someone he had never met, about someone he had never heard of, and handed to him by a distant relative at a family reunion. But thankfully---for Rory, for fellow hit writer Tim Johnson, for the unknown Blaine Larsen and for country music fans everywhere---Rory not only read on to the end of the letter, he took Kelly Carnahan's suggestion to drop by a studio on Music Row where young Larsen had come to record a couple of songs for a CD to sell at his live performances back home in Buckley, Washington.
Fast forward three years. Only nine months past his 18 th birthday, and the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, earnest young man-who still looks like he hasn't yet bought a razor---- is set to release the first single from his first album, Off To Join The World, for BNA Records, co-produced by Feek and Johnson. No one is more surprised about that than Blaine Larsen. "From the outside looking in, the music business seems impenetrable," he says one afternoon in the RLG offices, sitting in the same conference room where label superstars like Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, Martina McBride, Brooks & Dunn, Alabama and Sara Evans have also met the press, perused their photo sessions, screened their videos, and met with staff. In front of him is a camera that he used to take a photo of himself in front of his name, which had just that day been added to the list of artists on the wall of the label's 4 th floor lobby.
Rewind ten years ago, to 1994, when Blaine was eight years old, to the moment when his life turned on the kindness of a stranger, one who would alter the course of his life.
Born in Tacoma, Washington, Blaine lived in California with his mom, dad and younger sister until his parents divorced when he was just five, and his mother moved with her children back home, settling in the small town of Buckley. Though the move brought him close to his mother's family, and especially his grandmother, who cared for Blaine and sister Lindsey while his mother went back to school to get her degree, his father's absence was painful, made worse by promises made, and broken. "He would say he would call, or was coming to see me, and he never did," remembers Blaine. "It was a terrible thing to do to a kid. It made me distrust people, and not believe they would do what they said they would."
That began to change when a family friend, Woody (who Blaine now calls dad), started spending time with the young boy. A hard-working man with a side job as a contractor, Woody saw a fatherless child, and with his mom's permission, took Blaine with him on weekend jobs. One of those jobs---converting his grandmother's garage into living quarters---eventually led to romance between Blaine's mother Jenny and Woody. "At first I was a little wary, but he proved himself to me. He was good to my mom and my sister and me. I really admired him, and he taught me how to be a man. "Because of dad, I don't resent what came before him; I feel blessed. He wouldn't have been in our lives if that hadn't happened."
Along with teaching Blaine valuable life lessons, he introduced Blaine to what would become his life's calling: country music. "Dad couldn't sing or play, but he loved country music, and when we were going to jobs in his truck, that was what we listened to. He brought home some karaoke tapes, and we would all just have fun with them. That's when I started singing. I was pretty bad at first, I was only ten years old, but I didn't care, 'cause I just loved it. So I kept on singing, and I got better."
In particular, Blaine fell in love with George Strait-the artist and his music. "He seemed like such a good guy, he had integrity, his songs were clean, and I loved his voice. I bought all his records, and I spent hours in my room after school, singing to his records, until I knew the words to almost every one of his songs. Musically, he was and is my biggest influence."
When he was thirteen, he decided it might be a good idea to learn to play guitar, rather than singing along with records. Taking a cue from his dad, Blaine went into business for himself. "I started building bird houses, and I would load up a little red wagon with them, and sell them around town. When I got enough money, I went to a pawn shop to buy a guitar."
His first attempts at playing weren't immediately successful, and after a couple months of trying, he decided he didn't have "the gift" and set it aside. But, one day, listening to Alan Jackson's song, "It Must Be Love" he picked up the guitar to give it another shot, and didn't put it down again.
By his freshman year in high school, he was singing in assemblies and at school shows, and his geometry teacher, David Bleam, took notice. "Mr. Bleam played guitar and he let me come into his classroom during club time, and taught me chords and how to tune. We played together and I got good enough that I decided I wanted to learn lead guitar, so I saved the money I made working with Woody, and bought a Telecaster." He wrote his first song with the teacher, a tune called "Keep It Country" and burned a home CD.
He continued playing around Buckley, at sporting events, weddings, in Eagles clubs and sitting in on local jam sessions when he got a turn. People started noticing the young kid with the surprisingly mature voice, but as much as he loved singing and playing, doing it for a living didn't seem a realistic career goal. His plan was to join the Air Force and become a commercial pilot after getting out of the service. But, when he heard of a studio in Nashville that would make a record-for a price---he and his parents flew to Music City. "I wouldn't exactly call it a professional recording experience, "he says with a wry smile. "There wasn't any production to speak of. We were pretty na´ve about it. I just recorded the song Mr. Bleam and I wrote, and a few covers. We ended up getting 1,000 copies of the CD that I could sell at my shows and around town back home."
Though fame and fortune wasn't an immediate result of that first recording session, the meeting with Rory, set in motion by the letter from Kelly Carnahan, set Blaine on the path to stardom.
When Blaine got back home, he sent Rory a copy of the CD he had made. Rory listened to the disc with fellow songwriter and producer Tim Johnson and they knew Blaine had potential. The 15-year-old flew back to Nashville for a legitimate recording session with Rory and Tim.
Rory and Tim started a label, Giantslayer Records, and began recording their first artist at Dog Den studio in Nashville. "Tim and I had written In My HighSchool when I was a junior. It was a song I lived every day at White River High School. We felt it would have more impact if we could get it out while I was still in school."
The impact was almost immediately felt; when country station KMPS in Seattle began playing it, phone lines lit up, with listeners struck by the universal, slice-of-life experience of high school's joys and hurts, written so poetically and delivered in a rich, confident baritone that belied the singer's age. Serviced to secondary stations, and in KMPS's rotation, the independent label single charted in Billboard. In this unlikely chain of events, the song also struck a chord with a woman named Sandy Conklin, who works in distribution for BMG in Seattle. She believed so strongly in the singer's potential, that she emailed RLG chairman Joe Galante, suggesting he check out Blaine's website.
"Rory got a call from Sandy," remembers Blaine, "And she told him what she had done, and that she had heard from Joe, and he wanted to set up a meeting with me." Blaine returned to Nashville and a few days later they went to the RLG office. The audition for Galante and A&R head Renee Bell turned out even better than Blaine could have dreamed. "RLG wanted to sign me, and we got to keep the record we had already made. That was really important to me, because we are really proud of the record. It is who I am, and the fact that BNA wants me for who I am, and isn't trying to make me something else, means so much to me."
Like In My High School, many of the cuts---six of ten he co-wrote---- on his debut album are highly personal, particularly one titled The Best Man. "This song tells the story of my family," he says with unabashed emotion. "Dad is the best man I know, and when he and my mom got married when I was 12 years old, he asked me to be his best man. I was so proud. Just before I turned 18, he legally adopted me. It means everything to me to be able to say thanks to him through this song."
The Man He'll Never Be, another highly personal song for Blaine, was recorded in the shed behind his parent's home, with him playing every instrument. And while he didn't write How Do You Get That Lonely, (co-written by Rory Lee Feek and Jamie Teachener about one of Rory's daughter's friends), the heart-wrenching story of teenage suicide is one that sadly so many young people can relate to. "I never want to take advantage of a tragedy; my best friend's brother committed suicide, so it hits really close to home for me. But I feel that this song is so well-written, that it can hopefully touch people and maybe make a difference in someone's life."
Preparing to embark on the release of his debut album, Off To Join The World, Blaine said thanks and goodbye for now to family, friends and hundreds of his hometown fans at his final show at Godfather's Pizza, where he had a long-standing Friday night gig. "It felt really good, to have the people there who have always been supportive of me, before this ever happened. I just loved singing, and I met people along the way who helped me. It wasn't a goal, my whole life wasn't depending on me making it, and maybe that's why it all worked out the way it did. It is so much fun. If it ever stops being fun, I won't do it anymore. I'm 18 years old, I have lots of interests. I still want to learn to fly, but for now, I'll let someone else take me up."
-- Courtesy of BNA Records
--- from the official Blaine Larsen website