"My responsibility in the past, when I was sleeping outside every night, was just to survive.
My responsibility now is to stay real, stay grounded, and just tell the truth."
-- Jimmy Wayne
No one has more of a right to sing country music than Jimmy Wayne.
Country, they say, comes from real life; the richer that life, the more the singer can draw from the well. If that's true, then it's an ocean of hard times and triumph that feeds the music of this young man.
Jimmy Wayne has weathered emotional abuse and real violence. He has worked (as a child) to earn money for his mother while she was in prison. He has lived in the open and subsisted on his wits in order to eat from day to day.
None of this stopped him, and today, he looks toward a future full of hope. Because he's also sung on the "Grand Ole Opry," opened for Charlie Daniels before 7,000 new fans and delivered a debut album, Jimmy Wayne, that's sure to inspire all who believe in the power of song.
"He can't remember the times that he thought
Does my daddy love me
-- from "I Love You This Much"
Jimmy Wayne was born in Kings Mountain, N.C., but it's hard to say whether he ever actually had a hometown. He passed his early years shuttling with his sister, Patricia, back and forth from their mother to the homes of other families to foster homes. When in their mother's custody, they moved constantly, for reasons that were seldom clear to Jimmy.
Still, despite her difficulties, Jimmy's mother loved to sing. A fan of country music and rockers like Bob Seger, she also sang in church. Jimmy, too, sang on Sunday morning. He says there were musicians on both sides of his family. "My dad, who I was never around, played guitar, harmonica and piano," he notes. He recalls hearing a lot of country radio at the various homes he lived in. Songs about hard times particularly resonated for the youngster.
When he was nine years old, his mother married a man who only made things harder to bear. "He'd take the food stamps and sell them to buy drugs," Jimmy says. "All my sister and I had to eat was our free lunch at school. Sometimes, we wouldn't have eaten since Friday, and by Sunday, I was so hungry I couldn't stand it. One morning, I could smell bacon cooking at the neighbors' house. I went to their door and peeked inside. No one was at the table, so I went in, put every scrap of food inside my shirt, ran out behind the house and ate it all right there. I couldn't help it."
By the time he was 12, Jimmy's mother was in prison and he was living with his grandfather. He earned money for her picking blackberries – two dollars per gallon – or digging golf balls out of the bushes. He also collected marijuana seeds from local dealers, mixed them with dried tomato leaves, rolled it all up and sold "joints" to unsuspecting customers.
Clearly, this was an exceptionally difficult period in Jimmy's life, but the incarceration of his mother was also a catalyst for something good: "That's when I started writing, sort of as therapy," he says. "When my mom went to prison, it was hard, so I wrote. Though back then it was more like poetry than lyrics. It became a hobby and then it became a habit." He even took a turn at rap, trying to write rhymes in the style of the old-school hip-hop artists he was hearing, including Run-DMC.
There was certainly no shortage of things to write about. When Jimmy was 13, his stepfather tried to resolve a quarrel with Jimmy's brother by shooting into the house. "After that, my stepfather told me to get in the car and we drove away," Jimmy recalls. "We parked somewhere, and he started punching me in the face. I was bleeding and crying. He made me reload the gun. Then he took it back and held it to my head. He started mumbling something, and when I saw him turn his head away, I knocked his arm away from me just as he pulled the trigger. He shot a hole in the front window.
"The next night, my brother came back for revenge. My stepfather grabs the gun again and says, 'Get out of my yard.' Then he points the gun at my sister-in-law and shoots her three times. He paralyzed her. We all saw it; it was right in front of us."
This same man would later beat and stab Jimmy's mother – on Mother's Day – while Jimmy was visiting from a group home. Miraculously, she recovered. "My mom got me out of that group home, but then two months later she left again, and I had to go back there," Jimmy says. Shortly after that, he ran away and moved into an abandoned trailer.
But on his 15th birthday, Jimmy was discovered and arrested. He was sent to a detention center as punishment for fleeing the group home. "I was very, very angry," he confides. " wanted to be left alone. I felt very dangerous, to myself and to the world. I kept asking, 'God, if you're real, why am I going through this?' I didn't know it at the time, but now I realize he was only preparing me for my future."
"You're in my thoughts and prayers
No matter where you are right now
Remember God's right there."
- from "Paper Angels"
Eventually, something led Jimmy to a house he'd passed by a hundred times. For some reason on this day he walked through the door of a wood shop next to the house and asked the old man inside if he could do some work for him. "Ask the boss," the man replied, pointing toward his wife, who then hired Jimmy to mow their lawn every couple of weeks. The summer wound down, and one day they invited him inside and made him an unexpected offer.
Their names were Russell and Beatrice Costner. "I'd never shared anything about my life with them," Jimmy says, "but they invited me to move into a vacant bedroom they had. Their only conditions were that I cut my hair and go to church with them each week. I believe with all my heart that God was working through them."
But just two months after Jimmy's arrival, Russell died. Jimmy and Bea then bonded as a family of two. Jimmy attended school, never missing a day, and worked at the local textile mill. During the six years they had together before Bea also passed away, Jimmy's world turned inside out – light spilled into spaces once shrouded by darkness.
Beatrice encouraged his musical aspirations. "When I could, I'd stay inside listening to CDs," he says. "I wouldn't just listen to them – I'd listen into them, dissect them. I lived vicariously through the singers; when I'd hear them, that was enough for me to escape. It just helped me. I loved Motown and a lot of the great '80s singers, like Lionel Richie and Hall & Oats, but I was also into Queensryche, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest ... I started out singing in a rock band called Fantasyche. Beatrice went to every single show I sang at; she was very supportive. I had the love for music when I moved in there, but I didn't start taking it seriously until then."
It's not surprising when Jimmy says he was one of those kids who sang around the house all the time – and apparently other places as well. He remembers when he was 15, a girl sitting in front of him on the school bus turned around and said, "Was that you singing? It sounded good." Says Jimmy: "I was really struck by that. I went home and started thinking about it."
His love of singers made him a "huge" fan of Alan Jackson and also of Steve Wariner and Ronnie Milsap. But it was a country singer closer to home that set him on his true path. Jimmy reveals: "When I was in 12th grade, an inmate at the prison I later worked at came to our school as part of this 'Think Smart' program – you know, 'Stay off drugs, don't be like me, think smart.' He got up with his guitar and told a story and sang a country song he'd written. I looked around the auditorium, and he had everybody there in the palm of his hand. I thought, 'That's it. That's exactly what I'm supposed to be doing.'"
"He really inspired me, because I was searching. I knew I wanted to sing, and I wanted to be the best I could be – I even wanted to be an opera singer at one point – but I wasn't sure what I needed to do. About a week later, I bought a guitar for $30 at a yard sale and started teaching myself how to play. I'd already found myself singing one of my poems; pieces of melody started coming to me and I was, like, 'Wow – that's a song!'" Of his commitment to country songs, he says, "I wanted to share my stories, and you can't do that if you're screaming into a microphone with a heavy metal band."
Later, during a visit to that same inmate, whom Jimmy consulted about songwriting, the prison supervisor took him aside and told him if he ever needed a job, he'd have one there. In fact, after earning an associate's degree in criminal justice, Jimmy worked for four years as a guard at the Gaston Correctional Facility. But he knew his heart was in Nashville. Then, two days after quitting his job, he left North Carolina to hit the road to Music City.
"It's good to be back home
I waited way too long."
- from "After You"
Unlike most who'd preceded him to Nashville, Jimmy didn't rush into networking and playing everywhere there was a hat to pass. "I wasn't ready," he states. "Nashville can be an unforgiving town, so I wanted to make sure everything – my singing, my guitar playing and my writing – were up to par before I started making my move to get a record deal." He says he is deeply indebted to guitar instructor Ellen Britton, remarking, "She took me to a whole different level."
Through a connection with Mike Whelan, director of creative services for Acuff-Rose, Jimmy was invited into the legendary publishing house. For three years he worked alongside established writers like Dean Dillon and Whitey Shafer, polishing his writing skills and earning credit for co-writing (with Skip Ewing) Tracy Byrd's Top 10 hit "Put Your Hand In Mine."
DreamWorks Nashville staff songwriter Chris Lindsey brought Jimmy to DreamWorks, introducing him to Scott Borchetta, the label's senior executive for promotion and artist development, and James Stroud, the company's principal executive. After brief, enthusiastically received auditions, he was signed to a record deal. (Jimmy had met DreamWorks A&R exec Allison Jones by chance three years earlier. The two had struck up a conversation at a hair salon they both happened to patronize, and Jimmy ended up playing his music for Jones there.)
With Lindsey and Stroud co-producing, Jimmy began work on his debut album. Released June 24, 2003, Jimmy Wayne captures a foster child's yearning for love on "Paper Angels"; an encounter with a foster brother who'd become an inmate in the prison where Jimmy worked on "Blue And Brown"; a revenge fantasy painted in cartoon images on "The Rabbit"; and a wish that trouble would just keep its distance on first radio track "Stay Gone" (a Billboard Hot Country hit).
Asked how he's managed to come so far, Jimmy says: "It's the power of one. Right now, right here, I'm living proof that it takes only one person to make a difference." He's talking about Bea Costner. But as listeners immerse themselves in Jimmy Wayne, they will sense that it's never just the power of one. For from this moment, Jimmy Wayne is finally, fully in control of his life and his music. And in some ways, his journey is just beginning.
Birthday: October 23, 1972
Born: Cleveland County, NC
Hometown: Bessemer City, NC
Reside: Nashville, TN
Height: 5'9 ½"
Martial Status: single
Siblings: 3 sisters (Patricia, Rhonda & Kathy) & 2 brothers (Charlie & Kenny)
Musical Influences: Ronnie Milsap, Lionel Richie, Hall & Oates, Queensryche
Hobbies: work out, watch movies & take walks
Pet Peeve: people who are disrespectful
Boxers or briefs: both
I sleep in... boxers
I never leave home without... a guitar pic
Color: green & blue
Food: chicken & apples
Drink: sweet tea
Snack: goldfish crackers
Ice Cream: vanilla
Dessert: mixed fruit
Restaurant: Rendezvous Ribs (Memphis, TN)
Place: home in North Carolina
Book: "The Bridges of Madison County"
Movie: comedies (no specific movie)
TV Shows: news, geographic and historical programs & "America's Most Wanted"
Cartoon: The Flintstones
Song: "Sara Smile" (Hall & Oates)
Actor: Jim Carrey
Actress: I don't really have one
Musical Artist: Alan Jackson, Hall & Oates, Queensryche
Album of all time: I have too many favorites too list
Amusement Park Ride: water rides
I first realized I wanted to be an artist... when I was 14, I used to listen to the radio and pretend it was me singing.
I want to be a singer/songwriter because... singing is something that I love to do. I felt this was a good way to reach people and to give something back
The most exciting part of my career so far... signing my record deal with DreamWorks
Strangest gift I've received: when I was a kid my only Christmas gift one year was a deck of UNO cards
Most unusual thing I've been asked to do: autograph the back of an inmate's mother's picture Did I do it?: yes
Most unusual job: prison guard
First paying gig: a fundraiser in North Carolina
Job I would rather starve than do: doffing cloth in a textile mill
My hero is... my foster Mom, Beatrice, because of the way she treats people
Posters on my wall as a kid: heavy metal bands
First childhood crush on a star: Daisy Duke
Worst date: When I was 16 I dated a girl whose father was a retired Marine officer. He was very strict and wouldn't let me take her out by myself. He would greet me at the door and would always make a point to show me his Marine uniform that hung on the wall in plastic. He insisted on driving us to the movies and would wait in the car until the movie was over. I went out with her four or five times.
Ideal date: something spontaneous
If I could tour with anyone it would be... Alan Jackson, Reba or Patty Loveless
"My music is country with a little bit of soul influences added to it. I want to write and sing songs that people can relate to, songs that have a real heartfelt message."
-- Courtesy of DreamWorks Nashville
--- from the official Jimmy Wayne website