It's a fitting addition to the yearly tribute to Jimmie Rodgers, the Father of Country Music,
the singer/songwriter whose heart fueled the music that inspired the world.
On May 16, The Heart Behind The Music show comes to the Temple Theater in Meridian
as the opening act of the 59th annual Jimmie Rodgers Festival. The show is part of the festival’s
Songwriter’s Night and will include Lenny LeBlanc, Teddy Gentry, and Mac McAnally, three
artists with deep connections.
As a member of country super-group Alabama, Teddy Gentry recorded McAnally’s “Old Flame” in 1980, which became Alabama’s third consecutive No. 1 song on Billboard’s Country Singles Chart and McAnally’s first No. 1 song as a songwriter. And McAnally co-wrote his 2009 hit “You First” with LeBlanc.
They also have deep connections to Jimmie Rodgers, but in entirely different ways.
“I’ve been a Jimmie Rodgers fan all of my life,” LeBlanc said. “I was introduced to him through TV specials that I saw growing up. I loved the way he wrote about the common man and the common man’s struggles. He was definitely a pioneer of songwriting.”
Gentry also became a fan at an early age. “My parents introduced us to his music, and it had a huge impact on me. He was one of the pioneers who forged ahead on his own track. We did that in Alabama. We wanted to be a band, even though that wasn’t done in country music at the time. But you take your influences and move forward on your own path.”
McAnally, a Mississippi native and four-time CMA Musician of the Year, grew up with a history teacher for a father. “Mississippi folks are proud of Mississippi folks, so I definitely knew who he was. My dad was also an antique collector, so he had a bunch of old 78s from Jimmie Rodgers. Growing up, it was one of the only things I heard aside from gospel or classical music. He was really out there by himself, being at the inception of country music.”
Rodgers recorded his first songs, "The Soldier's Sweetheart" and "Sleep, Baby, Sleep,” in October 1927, in Bristol, Tenn. The following month, he entered a studio in Camden, N.J., to record four more songs. One of those songs would become one of the most enduring songs in the history of popular music. “Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas)” has since been covered by countless artists including Waylon Jennings, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dwight Yoakam, the Felice Brothers, Townes Van Zandt and Memphis Slim.
“Spare time is our greatest export. Mississippi is 50th in a lot, but we’re first in the creative arts,” McAnally said. “Country, blues, rock, soul – they all come from the same place. They’re all tapped out of the same thing – the same human experiences – and apparently that’s not too far below the surface in Mississippi.”
McAnally is a perfect example of this, having written songs for, produced, and performed with artists from numerous genres.
“When I left home, my mama told me ‘Make use of yourself.’ But she said it like I wasn’t going to,” he said. “I’ve always tried to live my life that way and do whatever is called for - songwriter, singer, musician, producer, whatever. I’ve always tried to be of use, but I also know the difference between being of use and being used.”
Gentry says The Heart Behind The Music show is one of his favorite events. “You get to explore the creative side of the song,” he said. “You never really know what a song is about. It could be about an old love or somebody’s dog. You don’t always hear that story on the radio.”
LeBlanc, who has written hits on the country, pop, and Christian music charts is also excited about the show. “Great songs are timeless. I have younger musicians telling me that they’re listening to the same things I did when I was their age. It’s a great thing, because I feel that a lot of times in recent years, the art of songwriting has gone by the wayside.”
During The Heart Behind The Music , an acoustic concert, each singer/songwriter will talk about the inspiration and back story of their song, followed by its performance, allowing audience members to get to know the stories behind the hit music on Billboard Country and Gospel charts.
Tickets to The Heart Behind The Music show on May 16 are available at the Temple Theater box office, the Jimmie Rodgers Museum, and online at www.itickets.com.