It was January of 2006 that I caught a break–a five song demo I had made in Nashville got in the hands of country music legend Mel Tillis. Upon hearing it, to my astonishment, Mel wanted to meet me. It seems Mel liked my traditional sound. Also, I don’t think it hurt that I am a Florida boy–just like Mel.
Now, before all that, I had been kicking around Central Florida, playing at special events and local restaurants/bars on the weekends. However, the time came when I decided that if I was really going to try to make it in the big time, I needed to move to Nashville. I got all prepared for the move. My family threw me a “moving to Nashville” party, and then one day before I was heading to guitar town, I got a call from Mel Tillis himself. I told him I was moving and he asked me if I’d consider waiting a couple weeks. So I did. A few days later we had a meeting where he told me if I went up to Nashville on my own, I was liable to meet all the wrong people. He went on to say I could stay with him at his farm in Ashland City, TN, and he’d introduce me to the right people. That’s precisely what I did!
It wasn’t long before I signed a contract with Mel Tillis Enterprise–the date was March 16, 2006. What a ride I was on for the next 6 years! Mel introduced me to some labels–we didn’t have much luck. I wasn’t at all what Nashville was looking for–I’m still not. One listen to my recordings compared to what’s on country radio will prove that. Now, that last statement says a few things about me. First, I didn’t want to “play ball”–I wasn’t interested in changing to make myself commercially viable. Mel wouldn’t have let me do that anyway. Second, I am not pursuing a career in Nashville anymore. My music is geared towards a niche market–Nashville is a lot like Hollywood or New York these days in that it is a big business that markets towards the masses. Anyway, all in all, we recorded three albums, “Country To The Bone”, “Then There’s Me”, and “Trains and Pains–a tribute to Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers” which has never been released. I’ll forever be proud and thankful to have made those albums.
Moving right along, I got to tour with Mel–I never got a real taste of what it’s like to tour with three guys in a van. We toured on a million dollar bus with a ten piece band! I travelled with Mel Tillis and The Statesiders as far north as Canada, and as far west as Texas. I can’t think of a group that I could’ve learned showmanship better from. Mel Tillis is one of the last true showmen. I was taught from the old school–the same school as the greats from the golden age of country music (i.e. Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, etc). Touring with Mel even brought me to the top of the world for a country singer–the Grand Ole Opry. I sang at the Opry three different times.
It was during this time, touring and recording, I met so many neat people. People ask me all the time what famous people I met. I met a bunch! Some nice–some not so nice. Now, I’m not one to get star struck, however, I sure got star struck when I met Don Helms. See, Don Helms was Hank Williams Sr.’s steel guitarist. I’ll never forget how he asked me if I’d tour with him and sing Hank songs–he asked me if I’d mind driving, as he couldn’t drive anymore. Of course I said yes, however, nothing ever came of it. Another man that I’ll never forget meeting is Little Jimmy Dickens. I actually hung out with him for three days during a “Mel Tillis & Friends Celebrity Fishing Tournament”. I will forever treasure those times. Then, another memory that stands out is tagging along with Mel to see John Rich of Big & Rich in his private party room that overlooked Broadway–he had a thumb print scanner for entry! Last, I remember having dinner with Mel, Mel Jr., and Toby Keith at the Palms restaurant, then loading up to hang out at Loser’s Lounge–that’s Erv Woolsey’s bar. Erv is George Strait’s manager.
Then, something I’m very grateful for was that Mel taught me how to write a song. Mel Tillis is one of the greatest songwriters of all time, penning great classics like “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town” for Kenny Rogers, and “Detroit City” for Bobby Bare, just to name two. Not to mention, Mel’s son, Mel Tillis Jr., taught me a tremendous amount about writing–singing, too, for that matter. Mel Jr., or Sonny, was with me while recording all the projects I ever did. So, the time came when I wanted to record an album with all songs I wrote. Thus “It’s About That Time” was born. Mel gave me complete artistic freedom for that project. Most of it was recorded at Mel’s studio in Ashland City, TN with my good friend Ira Dean, formerly of Trick Pony, playing bass and leading the band. Ira is quite possibly the funniest man I’ve ever met. Ira and Sonny were with me every step of the way during my pursuit of the “big time”. I will always be so grateful for their support.
Since 2011, when Mel gave me total creative freedom for “It’s About That Time”, Mel and I have conducted our business relationship in that manner. These days, I talk to Mel about once a month or so–he’s like another Grandpa to me. No doubt he’s one of the most influential men in my whole life. Not just musically either. I can’t say enough about Mel, or “Merv”, as I have always affectionately called him. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t think of him.
Nowadays, my daughter, Nora, and son, Kenyon Jr., are staples in my show, as of course my wife, Jenni, has been for sometime. As of now, I primarily perform locally in my hometown of St. Cloud, FL, taking the occasional gig outside of the state here and there. This allows me to be the family man I believe God wants me to be–I have total peace with where I am in life. “I can’t say enough about my Jenni, and our two darlin’ little babies”, as I sing in a song on my upcoming album “Family Man”. I’m real excited about this album which is a musical journey that takes you from my Grandpa’s story, to when I met Jenni, to having our babies, Nora and Kenyon Jr. I hope you’ll stay tuned for that release and the next chapter God has in store for me!
December 23, 2015