I recently was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak with country singer/songwriter, author, advocate, philanthropist, and all around incredible human being, Jimmy Wayne. I learned a lot about Jimmy during our time together, including how he became involved with country music, the work he does to raise awareness of important issues, and the fact that he will never come visit me in South Florida (thanks to alligators and the “Stand Your Ground” law). Despite my disdain about the fact that he won’t be jet-setting my way in the foreseeable future, I feel like my conversation with Jimmy was eye-opening and life-changing. It is my honor and an incredible privilege to share with all of you my interview with Mr. Jimmy Wayne!
KIC: For those readers who may be ‘meeting’ you for the first time in this blog, can you give us a little bit of a back story as to how you became a singer/songwriter?
JW: I started writing poems when I was 12. I got serious about pursuing music at 17. I spent time in different types of bands, experiencing different genres. I learned country was my passion because of songwriting – I love great lyrics. I moved to Nashville 15 years ago and was signed to Opryland Music Group. I got my first song recorded by another singer, “Put Your Hand in Mine”, recorded by Tracy Byrd, and that song opened the door for me in the Nashville community and the music community. But the song that got me the record deal was “Sara’s Smile.” It’s sort of been my sword and shield my entire career. A song I didn’t write. A Hall and Oates song. I just fell in love with the song. I got signed to Dreamworks and released my debut record in 2003. First single was “Stay Gone” and went to #3 on Billboard charts and stayed there for 3 weeks. My second single was “I Love You This Much,” followed by a love song called “You Are,” which is still being played at thousands and thousands of weddings all the time. And the fourth was “Paper Angels,” which ended up becoming a fiction novel that I wrote with Travis Thrasher, inspired by the Salvation Army Angel Tree Program that helps children and families. The book since has been picked up to become a movie.
KIC: When can we expect the movie?
JW: It is supposed to come out in 2014.
KIC: How have your childhood struggles shaped you as an artist?
JW: Definitely affected my songwriting because I write lyrics based on, inspired on, where I come from. It’s not very popular in today’s country music to do that. Songs about being locked in detention center or in welfare. But those are the songs that I play at shows that [fans] send me letters [about]. It’s those kinds of songs that help people. There’s a quote by Charles Schulz about how you may not remember who won the Heisman Trophy, but we all remember that one person who helped us when we grew up. In other words, about what’s really important in this world. What is this? I think finding that out and being content and being happy and being satisfied with all of that and not being selfish is the key to me. That’s why I started doing what I do full time, because that really satisfies me and makes me happy knowing I can actually give back and help. And as far as pursuing certain things in my career, I have no desire to do that. I desire to help people the way people did when I was 16. That’s satisfying to me. I’m not on a grand tour, playing Madison Square Garden or big venues, but helping thousands of people … doing this is far more fulfilling to me. Knowing that I never stepped on stage and changed anyone’s life, but stepped on the road and walked half way across America (discussed below) and got a bill passed that will change people’s lives for generations. That’s incredible. I’m getting deep! I know you thought you were just going to talk to me about dog treats (*laughs*)
KIC: No! You’re fine. This is great! I’m a lawyer, so I have to ask, what are the details of the bill that was passed?
JW: It’s a bill to extend foster care from 18 to 21. It allows the child who is in foster care to have 3 years to transition. So if the kid has a job or is enrolled in school, they will have the resources, instead of just dropped off the face of the earth. In most states, when a kid reaches 18, resources are cut off and they don’t get support from government. Kids end up becoming homeless. Fifty percent of females become pregnant within first year. One out of 4, in 2 years, ends up in jail. What do we do? What do any of us do? We survive. The story that it all goes back to to me and resonates well is Billy the Kid. The first thing you think of is an outlaw, a bad guy. He wasn’t always a bad guy. He was an orphan who migrated west on the orphan train when the Catholics put out a program to help these kids. What this train used to do is go depot to depot, town to town, and the ranchers and townsmen and the kids would stand here and they would pinch the kids to see how fat they were. The hefty kids would stay and work, the skinny kids migrated west. Slavery. We don’t hear about that stuff. There is a museum in Kansas City called the Orphan Train Museum. Billy was on that train. It wasn’t until his resources were cut off that he got in trouble. He couldn’t get ahead and killed somebody. And that’s when we hear about somebody. The state of New Mexico still makes money off him through tourism. They attached this foster kid’s name to everything to make money. Why isn’t that money going to foster programs?
KIC: We’re getting closer to dog treats! But first, what surprised you the most about your walk from Nashville to Phoenix?
JW: The people I met. Despite the fact I actually did it and when I got in a car and tried to drive half way back. I couldn’t believe how far it is! It is a LONG way! (*laughs*) It is mind boggling to believe I actually walked from here to Phoenix. You can’t wrap your head around it because it seems so far when you are driving. Just when you think the world sucks and there is no one in this world … I met some of the greatest people on the back roads of America that heard about it or read about it who would meet me at the end of their driveway and they would be standing in the cold weather, freezing their butt off, but they would have me a thermos of coffee or food, the hospitality was over the top. They’d invite me in for dinner, a place to sleep, a shower, wash my clothes. The hospitality … man. If other countries who hate us so much because of our politics … If they could meet the people I met and eat the food they made for me, they would change their minds. Heart and soul. They would see what America is. It’s not just the men and women in suits. They’re important, but it’s not just them. It’s the backbone. It’s these people. The farmers, man. It’s all that stuff in the back roads. Small Town, America. I don’t care what it is. It is the backbone of this country. When it’s gone, we will be a jellyfish. And it’s starting to go away. We won’t have a backbone. It is going to be very sad for our kids.
KIC: I read that you are planning to walk all fifty states? When are you coming to Florida? I’m game!
JW: (*laughs most likely AT me and NOT with me*) When I got back from that walk, people said I bet you are in shape. My back, my elbows, my feet, my pinky, everything hurts. My podiatrist told me I will end up in a wheelchair. So, as far as walking again, I don’t foresee that happening again … It was crippling. No one asked me to do it. I did it. Not doing it again is not because of my will.
KIC: You are the youngest recipient of the Salvation Army’s William Booth Award, which awards an individual for outstanding service to the community. What went through your head when you heard you were chosen for this highly prestigious honor?
JW: I’m not really the type of the person … I appreciate the award, but I look at all of that as it’s what we are supposed to do. I don’t understand being awarded for it. I appreciate the awards, I gotta be honest, it’s the only award hanging on my wall. I’m looking around me … the only things that hang on the wall are the actual bill signed by State of Tennessee and the William Booth Award. I don’t hang music awards. I don’t believe they are necessary. I really appreciate the William Booth award. They mean so much to me. Being the youngest to ever receive the award, I felt like a song really earned the award and the people who got off their butt and went out in their communities that year “Paper Angels” came out on the radio … the people caused me to earn this award. I wrote the song. Country music played the song. People in the communities and America went to the Salvation Army and went out and said they want to help and they helped. I turn around and get an award. I know that sounds diplomatic or political, but it’s the truth. I wasn’t at the Salvation Army stocking bags and loading bags and boxes of food…I just wrote the song. It was the people who really generated so much awareness. Man, they really deserve that award. I wish there was one for everybody.
KIC: I also saw that you recently became involved with an organization called Ruby’s Pet Treats to help underprivileged children and pets. How can our readers help Ruby’s Pet Treats and where do the proceeds go from this organization?
JW: Genesee County Humane Society in Michigan. The owner of pet treat company is there, which is why we went there. The project is not a 501(c)(3), it is an organization to raise awareness. However, if people want to donate to Project Meet Me Halfway, they can contact the Nashville Community Alliance and say “Jimmy Wayne Meet Me Halfway.” Money goes in that account. They handle all the business, red tape, and everything else that goes with it. I don’t ever hold the money or checks. It goes straight there. Let’s say a group in Nashville needs school supplies, they reach out to me, I send a request to Nashville Community Alliance, they do an investigation and find out all they need to know. A hundred percent of every penny that comes in goes into a facility that I direct after Nashville Community Alliance does investigation to make sure company is legitimate. It’s the real deal. The pet treat company is in business to make a living. They have to pay for ingredients to make treats. Ten percent of every sale goes to Project Meet Me Halfway. Which is better than zero percent.
KIC: How did you become involved with the pet treat company?
JW: They heard me at a show. The owner, Rick Dally, and his wife were at a concert and they heard me tell my story. I tell some part of my story at every show. Doesn’t matter where I am. They heard it and said if I need dog treats, let me know. I didn’t have a dog at that time and didn’t intend on having one. Not until my walk. I rescued Ruby in Amarillo, Texas and she spent some time in a kill shelter. A cowboy and his wife let me stay with them. It was serendipity. I saw her sitting on a pillow. This little four pound thing. They were like “Do you want her?” I said “Yeah.” She adopted me that day. She’s laying here now looking at me. So, oh yeah, of course, it wasn’t long ago, I reached out to Rick. I have this idea. What if Ruby has her own pet treat? I know it’s a long shot. And I sent him a song I wrote about her. He played it for his wife. It was really his wife who made the decision (*laughs*). Once she heard the song and saw Ruby’s picture, it was pretty much all over. Or beginning. That’s when it began.
KIC: So, what’s next for you?
JW: I just got signed to Thomas Nelson and I am currently writing my life story, you know. Thomas Nelson is an enormous book company. They published the Bible. I’m co-writing this book with Ken Abraham. He’s a 13 time New York Times bestselling author. I’m very fortunate. I get in the right place at the right time and it’s divine. I know it’s divine. Gearing up for this movie and working on some music projects. Not ready to talk about the music yet.
KIC: When can we expect the book?
JW: Fall 2014.
KIC: Is there anything you want to leave our readers with that they should know about you?
JW: They can follow me on Twitter (*laughs*)!
KIC: (*laughs*) Of course! I will make sure to link them! (Here’s Jimmy’s handle – @JimmyWayne. Make sure to hit “follow”!)
JW: I would just recommend it’s not that people … people don’t care in this world … they don’t know what to do. The awareness is key to me over everything. You have to know there is a facility for children that needs help. We don’t know where they are. I would recommend or ask people just to research that. It’s not that you have donate money. Donate your time. If you have a talent, any resource you can donate. Let’s say you cut hair. Some of these girls are going to job interviews. Let’s say they want to work. They don’t have the money to have a nice haircut, so if you are hair stylist, donate that. That’s donating your resources to help that kid. And you are helping that kid look good at their first interview. If you can tutor a kid just one hour a week … helping a kid read, helping a kid with math. I think we get really caught up thinking we have to give money all the time, but we don’t have to give money. But if God has given us a gift, what we do with our gift is our gift to God. And passing that gift to someone else is what we are supposed to do. Give it to someone else. Don’t hold back. No one should ever say I’m so bored, I can’t stand it. There is plenty to do! Trust me! There are kids in these facilities who need someone to talk to. They need a mentor. Casaforchildren.org … I’m the national spokesperson. Want to talk about getting involved in a great program? You’re helping change the lives of children. Abused and neglected children. You are one on one with that kid, helping that kid change.
I would like to thank Jimmy for taking time out of his day to answer some questions. I can safely say that my “Five People, Alive or Dead, Who I Want to Have Dinner With” list has been amended to add Jimmy Wayne. I strongly suggest each of you similarly amend your lists, as there are few people out there who are as inspired and inspiring as this man. To say being able to conduct this interview was a blessing is an understatement. Please make sure to check out the following websites for information on Jimmy and his projects:
And, as always, stay tuned for any updates on Jimmy’s movie, book, and music, as we will certainly post here as soon as any further information becomes available!