Entertainment Profile

Closeup Magazine

 

“Love Trip”

JERRY KILGORE

            Jerry Kilgore’s career LOVE TRIP has been a delightful journey. LOVE TRIP is the title of Kilgore’s debut album and his first single with Virgin Records. It proclaims in strong, traditional tones, “It don’t matter, baby, where we go/ the Blue Ridge Mountains or Mexico . . . Now we could call the airlines, I heard the fares are cheap/ Or we could rent a ragtop, and drive it down to the beach.” Living out his lyrics Kilgore has left the comfort of home to travel from one end of the country to the other. He’s making a living off his passion of performing Country Music songs almost every night of the week.

He puts it like this; “My definition of success is getting to do something you love to do every day. I’m really fortunate - I know that. I love Country Music, and I’m getting to be a part of it. LOVE TRIP is in the stores. Being able to wake up everyday and write songs, meet fans, and meet with radio people – that’s success to me.

            “Music’s been such a part of my life for whatever reason,” he continues. “I don’t know if it’s just that I was introduced to Country Music at such a young age or what, but it’s just part of me. I was at one time and actually still am kind of consumed by it - I love it so much. It’s not about being a big star to me. I love the music, and I love going out with the band I’m playing with. When you get to go out and play music every night that you love, it’s the best ever to me. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Kilgore must feel ultra-successful because he’s definitely making the rounds with his music. Between the last week in May and the first week in July Kilgore’s performing in North Carolina, Colorado and California and ending the summer in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The real action started one Saturday morning in 1991 when Jerry woke up and decided it was time to make the life changing, career-catapulting move to Music City. Even after spending his entire adult life playing in honky-tonks and striving for stable gigs, he had never come to the point of conscious sacrifice all true artists reach sooner or later. The talents who are willing to take a risk, who at some point in their career honestly achieve the title “starving artist” are the ones the public clings to. Everyone admires tenacity and commitment. Like a prophetic dream the realization of what he had to do hit Kilgore in the middle of the night.

The spark that started his career six years earlier was still burning brightly enough to push him out of his comfort zone and into unknown territory. Kilgore remembers the beginnings that eventually led to his decision to move to Nashville. “The first time I was ever on stage was back when I was probably around 18 or 19, and I got up and did a talent contest,” he says. “I remember the electricity with the people when I got up there and sang that night. They really accepted me, and I actually won and got to go on to another competition. It was my first experience getting on stage to see what people would think of my singing, and it really went well.” 

Taking on the continental United States as his platform is the result of his decision to move to Nashville, made during the second distinctive stage of his career. He began playing in his home state of Oregon at Portland’s premiere honky-tonk, the Flower Drum and then spent three years at Country City, a club in Mesa, Arizona, before moving on to a gig in North Carolina. The dawning of the next stage in his career came six years later.

“I woke up one morning and told myself, ‘I’ve got to get to Nashville if I’m going to get serious about it,” Kilgore explains. “I was always serious about it, but when you’re playing music somewhere and have a good job singing, it’s hard to throw that away. There aren’t a lot of gigs around, and I was working at this place four nights a week and having a ball, having the time of my life playing music and carrying on. But I wasn’t getting any closer. I wasn’t meeting the people here in town to make a record deal happen. I told myself that morning that I was going to make it to Nashville. I had a garage sale the next weekend and sold what I had. What I didn’t sell I threw in the back of my pick-up.”

Although Kilgore was a talented performer and loved the electricity of the stage, he pursued songwriting as his primary goal when he arrived in Nashville. Tracy Byrd recorded his “Love Lessons,” which charted in the top ten in 1995, and the next year Mark Wills included Kilgore’s song “Leavin’ Comin’ On” on his debut album. In August of 1998 John Michael Montgomery took Kilgore’s “Cover You in Kisses” to number three. The ball was rolling and Kilgore was on his way to his definition of true success, doing what you love every single day.

Initially, Kilgore’s new life in Nashville was a challenge, but patience and perseverance eventually paid off. “I had it in my heart that I wanted to be a country artist,” Kilgore says resolutely. “Once I made the decision to move to Nashville a publisher named Pat Finch told me that if I would write for a year really hard, I would be ready to get a record deal. He said he would even fund a recording session for me. So that year I really spent time writing and letting go of everything. I was content as a writer and let the music do the talking.

“Well, a few years went by while I tried to write in town by myself. I held down some odd jobs and at least learned about Nashville. But the time came when I knew I needed a publishing deal to get somewhere - I needed some help. So I called Pat, who had taken over a publishing company in town called Famous Music. He said, ‘Come on over,’ and I got a publishing deal.

“A year went by before I told Pat I was ready to record. I had been chasing this dream for a long time, been in the honky-tonks and in the clubs, and I trusted Pat with it. He stayed true to his word that he would fund a recording session, and a lot of times that’s what it takes. It’s hard to just walk into town with 20 grand and go cut some music.

“Pat funded a major recording session at Emerald Studios with John Guess engineering and Jeff Stevens and Steve Bogard producing. We cut the material, and that’s what got me my record deal. I was very fortunate to have a guy like Pat Finch who believed in me enough to basically open up his checkbook and take a gamble on me.  I consider him an instrumental part of my career.”

Since his ambitious beginnings Kilgore has become the first male vocalist signed to the Virgin Record label, and he’s toured with George Strait, who recently played Nashville's Adelphia Coliseum for the Nokia Presents the George Strait Chevy Truck Country Music Festival.

            “It’s amazing,” Kilgore says of touring with his all time idle, George Strait. “To make a long story short – when I was eighteen I went to see George at the Flower Drum in Portland, OR. I heard he was in town. It was right when he released ‘Amarillo by Morning.’ He was so cool - I took pictures of him all night and ended up shaking his hand, and I loved the show. A couple of years later I played that club as a house band as I started to chase this dream. He’s been a large part of my music path. I’ve loved all his songs and loved what he’s doing, and to actually be out on his tour now feels like I’ve come full circle. I saw him then and I’m out with him now. You know, he’s the king of country. I really look up to him.”

            When asked what he esteems more in his career, performing or songwriting, and how the two intertwine, Kilgore responds, “In order to sell a song to an audience, a singer has to feel it completely, to live it so that he can sing honestly.” Kilgore’s had a part in writing seven of the twelve songs on his debut LOVE TRIP album, but even the ones he didn’t write have be performed with emotional intensity that can only come from experience.

            “My next single’s called ‘Cactus in a Coffee Can,’ a brand new song by Allen Shamblin and Steve Seskin,” he says. “When it was pitched to me in town, it moved me, but I knew if I was going to sell that song it had to be part of me when I sang it. As an artist you have to put as much into a song as if you were the songwriter. George Strait, for example, sings all those songs he didn’t write. He’s written a few songs, but his big hits are songs he’s found. You would think he’s written them, and that takes a talent, believe me.”

            Kilgore also admires the disciplined inspiration he’s seen in fellow songwriters and session players. “As an entertainer you have to turn yourself on at the point when you go on stage, and I think I’m still learning how to do that,” Kilgore confesses. “It’s the same thing in the studio. When you cut a song, you have to lose yourself at that moment. That’s what the session players in town do – when the green light comes on they can perform right then. It takes work.”

            The hard work involved has to be mingled with inspiration to get anywhere in the music business. Kilgore explains, “I love writing. Obviously, I’ve been out here doing a lot of radio stuff. I’m in a different town every night, so it’s hard to find time to write, but I still have a big passion for that. Even though I don’t have a lot of time for it, I need to do it because I love it . . . I’m definitely inspired. I think I get my best ideas maybe driving down the road and just getting an idea or maybe coming up with a melody, but you have to be disciplined, too. I write with guys in town who strictly write at 10:00 and 3:00.”

Kilgore attributes his success not only to his hard work and perseverance, but also to the encouragement of loyal supporters. He admits, “Through the years I’ve really been encouraged by my folks and my brother and sister and people who’ve seen me – without that encouragement I don’t think a guy gets to a place like me, you know? In any field you’ve got to have some feedback that’s positive to keep you going.”

            The future is promising hotter tours and more quality packed albums. “We’re looking for songs right now for the [next] record. I have some back catalogs with some good songs that I think may be up for making the record. I’m really just starting to get in that mode of finding new songs.”

            “Cactus in a Coffee Can” is Kilgore’s next single, a touching explanation of how even the hardest of hearts can flower under the harsh conditions of real life relationships.