Texashas produced some of country music's biggest legends, and Jody Booth could well be the next member to join that near-cosmic lineup. With a gritty edge that defies convention and a lyrical vulnerability startling in its honesty, this intense guitar-playing singer/songwriter from the tiny town of Livingston, Texas is hovering on the borderline between regional acclaim and national fame - and he's reaching out for the "big time."
"I'd be happy enough to sing for free, just for the camaraderie with the band and the audience's energy," Jody says. "But to make a living and provide for my family, I've got to take a chance and believe that this new CD will take things further along."
The "new" CD is Booth's upcoming HEAVEN AND HELL; a 12-track tour-de-force akin to Jamey Johnson's much-heralded debut disc of 2008. Produced by veteran hit-maker Doug Deforest (Todd Fritsch, Doug Spartz, Jonathan Edwards), it's country, offering the soul-baring truths of Kristofferson paired with the vocal chops of Haggard or Jones. Jody's music is pure and heartfelt; his writing forged by a life lived in the trenches of responsibility while dancing on the edge. "I don't always write about my life," Jody states. "But I think I'm a good observer of the human condition and I think it shows in my songs."
HEAVEN AND HELL kicks off with the Waylon-esque "Heartache," a chicken-pickin', banjo-laced portrayal of a man leavin' the blues behind with a whiskey-drinkin', cigarette-smokin' run at freedom. A disc highlight is the starkly personal "Devil In A Bottle Of Jim Beam," a song Booth wrote about his father who passed away in April of 2000. "He was a whiskey drinker but he was also a good man." The album's first single, "Gold Digger," is a honky-tonkin' tribute to high-maintenance women. "I wrote it in 10 minutes flat," he says with a laugh. "It's a real-life story that makes for a pretty good country song."
"Small Town News" picks up the tempo with an insider's look at small-town living. "When I play it live, I always tell the audience that the story is true, but the names have been changed to protect the guilty. And the names really have been changed."
Another outstanding track is "Loneliness," a song Booth wrote in a Louisiana motel. "Back then I was working in the seismic exploration industry. That's a whole 'nother story, but basically I was away from home for six to eight weeks at a time. That kind of solitude can eat at a man."
Booth knows about loneliness - and hardship - and accountability. A father at 16, Jody set aside his early dreams of "stardom" to do "the right thing," taking a job at a local convenience store when he was
JODY BOOTH, PAGE 2
just 15. "I worked there every day after school and in the summers," he says. In spite of the long hours at work, Booth graduated high school and was accepted at several colleges. But Jody knew that a few years at college wouldn't pay the bills, and he was hearing music's call. He separated from his first wife in 2000, and devoted himself full-time to songwriting and performing.
"I released my first CD in 2001, without any marketing or promotion. It was pretty disappointing when it didn't really go anywhere, but I kept on doin' shows and writing up until 2003 when I took a job in oil exploration in Louisiana," Booth says. "My first trip out into the swamps was pretty scary. I walked within five feet of a 'gator with water snakes swimming between my legs." Jody worked seven days a week, 10 hours a day, for weeks at a time. "It was hard work," he says. "But I needed the money for my daughter Laci, and I did write a lot of songs during the day and in my motel room at night."
Music is a family tradition for Jody, who was raised in rural Texas surrounded by talented aunts, uncles and cousins. His mom taught him to play the guitar when he was just eight years old. "She handed me a guitar tuned to an open E and gave me a kitchen knife to use as a slide," he recalls. Once Booth got his A and B chords down, his mother taught him G, C and D. The two now play together whenever they can, with Mom on fiddle and Jody on rhythm guitar. "Our family reunions were nothin' but an excuse to eat, drink beer and play music. Nothing's really changed there," he adds with a laugh.
The youngest of five children, Jody joined his first band while he was still in high school. "Getting up on stage wasn't any different than singin' at the family gatherings," Jody recalls. "The crowds never intimidated me. Heck, I've been playing live since I was 14."
Now, Jody's playing an average of 15 shows a month, both acoustic sets and with full-band. He's made a name for himself across Texas, playing honky-tonks, festivals and fairs and, while he doesn't like to "drop names," he modestly admits to opening for the likes of Willie Nelson, Tracy Lawrence, Jack Ingram and Roger Creager. Jody's enjoying his first #1 as a songwriter with Creager's recent hit, "I Love Being Lonesome," a song he wrote with Roger, Allen Huff and John Slaughter. Booth just wrapped up his first-ever video shoot for "Gold Digger," and when he's not writing, he's playing golf or poker and getting ready for hunting season. Jody's promotion and publicity specialists are on board; his new wife Brandi and five-year-old daughter Bailey are encouraging him, and Nashville's record labels are finally starting to take notice. "I've got a great team now," Booth states. "And I think this record is gonna bring me everything I wanted before - and never had a fair shot at."