Scotty Emerick was raised in Vero Beach, Fla., with one bare foot in the ocean to the east and one bare foot on the edge of a lake to the west. "It was probably the best of all worlds, an all-American barefoot-boy kind of life," he says. "I was outside all the time. I could be at the beach in five minutes, and in the other direction, freshwater fishing was just 10 or 15 minutes away. I guess that makes me a redneck beach bum!"
And though the life of a redneck beach bum doesn't sound bad, it wasn't exactly what Emerick saw as a long-term plan. In fact, his passion for playing, singing and writing songs brought him to landlocked Nashville. Now the all-American barefoot boy from Vero Beach is releasing his first album, The Coast Is Clear (due in fall of 2003 on DreamWorks Records).
The disc was produced by Emerick's labelmate and country music superstar Toby Keith (who shared that job with DreamWorks Records head James Stroud). It boasts 11 songs co-written by Emerick with a host of talented writers. Among those was Keith, who also sings backup on the cuts "The Coast Is Clear" and "I Can't Take You Anywhere."
"I wasn't really a surfer, or a full-blown redneck for that matter," Emerick clarifies. "I was responsible at school, but I didn't really take it to heart. As long as I can remember, I have been drawn to music. My dad listened to a lot of country music; he really loved Hank Williams Sr., Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris. When I was about six, my dad got me a little guitar. I learned the three chords I needed to play Hank's songs, and then I taught myself to play and sing listening to his records."
Thanks to a surplus of energy, Emerick had plenty of time to learn. "I got into trouble on a pretty regular basis when I was a kid," he admits. "Nothing real bad, just typical boy stuff. My mom would send me to my room a lot. But my guitar was in there, so it wasn't such a bad deal. I would sit up there and play. By the time I was 10, I knew the whole Red Headed Stranger album [by Willie Nelson]. That's when my playing really began to improve."
Though Emerick is left-handed and played that way when he first started, his father kept turning the guitar around to make him play right-handed, which is how he plays it today. His singing was immediately on target, however. "I always just sang out," he says. "People said I was a good singer, so that helped my confidence as far as singing in public. But first and foremost, I did it because it made me happy."
He had a fairly captive audience for his first forays into public singing. During the summers, he attended day camp at Life For Youth Ranch, and throughout the 30-minute ride from downtown Vero Beach to the camp, he sang. He'd resume his back-of-the-bus, a cappella workout on the way home. "I sang Glen Campbell stuff and Bobby Bare," he recalls. "All the kids would settle down and listen, which made it pretty sweet for the bus driver, I guess."
When Emerick was 12, he made his first semi-professional appearance, at the local Moose Lodge, where George Wilson And The Two Plus Two Band held the stage on weekends. In a small town like Vero Beach, everybody knows everybody, and Wilson had heard of the kid who could play Hank Sr. on the gut-string guitar and yodel, so he invited him to sit in one night and perform "Long Gone Lonesome Blues."
From there, it was on to VFW halls and other lodges. "I did a thing with a band a couple of times, but it didn't really suit me," Emerick says. "Mostly it was just me and my guitar, playing country music."
By the time he was in his mid-teens, he'd tired of playing someone else's songs, so he picked up the pen to try his hand at writing. "I didn't do real well at it - it wasn't something that all of a sudden came to me," he reveals. "I felt like I had to study other people whom I'd always admired as writers, and I knew I'd eventually have to go to Nashville to do it."
When Emerick graduated from high school, he attended firefighter school "to have something to fall back on," as his parents put it. Older brother Russ had done the same several years before. "I did it," he says, "but I knew in my heart that the sooner I got to Nashville, the sooner I could start getting serious about writing, and the better my writing would be."
So, at 19, he packed up his Mazda truck, and with $300 in his pocket, along with the phone number of a family friend, he headed to Music City. He moved in with the friend temporarily and got a job busing tables at The Spaghetti Factory in downtown Nashville. Another friend, from his high school days, knew of his musical talents, and that friend's father happened to know a Nashville songwriter, Bill Douglas. So Douglas called Emerick to his Demonbreum Street office to give him a peek into the Nashville publishing business. The day Emerick visited, Douglas had another newly arrived aspiring artist singing demos for him, Bryan White.
"I loved Bryan's singing," Emerick relates, "and one day after that, I just called him up out of the blue. He invited me out to his place. I met a guy named Derek George there, and we just hit it off. Bryan and Derek became my running buddies; we would just hang out at home and play and sing. Man, we were all about the music - that was it for us."
Those connections in turn led to a meeting with Bill Shore, who was then writing for Sawyer Brown lead singer Mark Miller's publishing company. "Mark had started a small publishing company called Club Zoo Music, and he signed me up as a writer," Emerick informs. "I quit The Spaghetti Factory that day and started doing music day and night, writing and singing demos. I felt pretty good about the way things were going."
Putting one foot in front of the other, Emerick committed himself to becoming a country singer-songrwriter. He contends that school was not his thing, but he nonetheless set about studying the craft of songwriting, the business of publishing, the particulars of live performance and the mechanics of the recording studio.
And he continued to call on his songwriting heroes, Red Lane for one. "I never did the writers' [showcase] nights in Nashville," he says. "I just called people up; I knew that being around a certain caliber of writer would enhance my writing. Being around the best pushes you to do your best."
Two years after moving to town, Emerick enjoyed his first Top 5 hit as a writer, "I Don't Believe In Goodbye," co-written with Mark Miller and White and recorded by Sawyer Brown for their Greatest Hits album.
In 1997 Emerick started playing on the road with White, by then signed to Asylum Records. The band opened for Vince Gill one year, LeAnn Rimes the next.
It was also in 1997 that he met the man who would become his good friend, co-writer and one of his biggest supporters, Toby Keith. "I met Toby backstage at the CMA awards," he remembers. "Somehow, a bunch of us wound up in a dressing room - Toby, Steve Wariner, Glen Campbell, some A-list session players and me, Bryan and Derek. We were all just playing and singing. It was so much fun. That was a magical night."
Keith was so impressed by Emerick that he invited the young man to meet him on the road so they could write together. But it would be two years before their subsequent songwriting session. Still, that collaboration yielded "She Only Gets That Way With Me," which ended up on Keith's "How Do You Like Me Now?!" album. In the meantime, Emerick had posted two more hits with Sawyer Brown and half a dozen album cuts, including songs recorded by White, George Strait and Ronnie Milsap.
The turn of the century marked a major turning point for Emerick: In 2000, he signed with Big Yellow Dog Music, a co-venture with Sony/ATV Tree. He quickly landed five cuts on Keith's Pull My Chain album, among them the #1 Billboard Hot Country and R&R country singles chart hit "I'm Just Talkin' About Tonight," a co-write with Keith.
"Toby and I just connect musically; we totally bond," Emerick explains. "We can sit down together and play the classics forever - we never run out. He knows so much music, and we are both such big fans of the old songs. As a writer, Toby is so gifted. He just coins these great phrases. It seems so effortless for him. And it does feel like the best songs I've been part of have sort of fallen out of the sky. It's hard to describe how that happens, but sometimes it just does."
Seven songs co-written by Emerick fell out of the sky and landed on Keith's 2002 disc, Unleashed. Emerick spent much of that year on tour with Keith, sometimes even joining him onstage.
"Just for fun, while we were doing that tour, we started writing what we ended up calling 'Bus Songs,'" Emerick reports. "Every night onstage we'd perform the Bus Songs segment; the band leaves the stage and it would be just me and Toby doing two Bus Songs. It was just us cutting up. The audience loved it!"
Earlier, when Keith convinced Willie Nelson - still one of Emerick's idols - to record "Beer For My Horses," which Keith co-wrote with Emerick, Emerick played guitar for the sessions. The song ended up as part of "Willie Nelson And Friends: Live & Kickin'," a two-hour television special celebrating Nelson's 70th birthday (as well as on Unleashed). It also topped the Billboard chart for six weeks. Nelson likewise recorded the Emerick cut "I Didn't Come Here (And I Ain't Leavin')," which appears on the Live & Kickin' album.
It was also in 2002 that Keith stated the obvious to James Stroud, head of DreamWorks Nashville and Keith's longtime co-producer: Scotty Emerick needed to make his own record. Stroud agreed and in January 2003, he, Keith and Emerick began recording at Ocean Way Nashville.
Says Emerick: "I selected 11 songs from my catalog that I wanted for myself." His cast of co-writers includes such heavyweights as John Scott Sherrill, Bob DiPiero, Dean Dillon, Troy Seals, Dene Anton, old buddy Derek George, longtime hero Red Lane, and of course, Toby Keith. Each and every cut bears Emerick's credit, with his strong, clear baritone further marking the territory. And he still plays his gut-string guitar, which he says just fits his voice and better defines his sound.
The first radio track off The Coast Is Clear is "I Can't Take You Anywhere." Both the title of the song and the title of the album seem the perfect calling cards for a barefoot, redneck beach bum. (Other tracks bear the titles "Where's My Beer?," "Enjoy Yourself" and "Uncomplicated.")
"I've been living for music ever since I was a kid," Emerick says. "Nobody made me do it; it was something I wanted to do. And I've been blessed with the opportunity to be around people whose music I've admired for a long time. That has made me a better player, a better singer and a better writer. I only hope I can take all that and leave behind some memorable music. Hopefully someday, some kid trying to break into the business will look to me the same way I looked to the ones who came before me."
--- from the official Scotty Emerick website