Jack Ingram is an electrifying performer and a fixture on the Texas music circuit. With five albums and five videos, he also has built a strong fan base outside the Lone Star State. But here’s the question: How to re-create the famous raw energy of his live show in a secluded Nashville studio?
Answer: Guitars. Lots of them.
Ingram’s ambitious sixth album, Electric (released June 4), unites some raucous players including Richard Bennett, Bob Britt, Kenny Greenberg, David Grissom and Jay Joyce. In a city crowded with guitarists, their names are always near the top of any session’s wish list.
“I wanted to create a space for the guitars on this record so I could let them speak for me,” Ingram tells CMT.com. “I chose guitar players carefully. I wanted people to hear the guitars; I wanted them to be a part of my voice.”
Longtime fans of Ingram may be surprised initially by the decibel level of Electric, but upon repeated listenings, it’s clear he and producers Frank Liddell and Mike McCarthy have nearly captured the concert experience.
“You know how when you’re in that part of a relationship at the front, and it’s intense, and when you’re with them, there’s nothing else going on in the whole world? That’s the moment I’m trying to get to, musically, in the studio. That’s what happens at live shows, too. It’s that moment when there’s no other place, and the world stops breathing,” he says. “The loudest that I can get and the quietest I can get is in that same place. It’s like that moment in the middle of the night when no one else is awake.”
Ingram learned to play guitar at Southern Methodist University in Dallas where he earned a degree in psychology. He put out independent albums in 1993 and 1994, and with every gig, his core fan base -– often the beer-drinking college crowd –- multiplied. In 1997, fledgling Rising Tide Records enlisted Steve Earle and Ray Kennedy to produce Ingram’s first major label studio album, Livin’ or Dyin’.
Word got around that this young, handsome Texan was going to save country music, which by then had largely fallen out of favor with younger listeners. However, his singles barely climbed the Billboard charts, and the label folded shortly thereafter.
Lucky Dog Records, an imprint of Sony Nashville, signed Ingram and released Hey You in 1999. Singles such as “Work This Out” fared a bit better, but by then every major country label was promoting its teen acts or Dixie Chicks rip-offs, and Ingram’s integrity again went largely unnoticed.
In recent years, his Texan contemporaries Charlie Robison and Pat Green also have been proclaimed the Next Big Thing, only to struggle at radio. A decade earlier, Earle, Nanci Griffith and Kelly Willis fought a similar battle. Today, Ingram competes for attention against potent newcomers like Kevin Denney, Blake Shelton and Chris Cagle . They may want to be the next Keith Whitley , Randy Travis or Garth Brooks — Ingram doesn’t.
“Whether or not it saves country music, or whether or not country music needs to be saved, is a thing of the past for me,” says the 31-year-old Dallas resident. “I feel an urgency to step to another level. … As far as wanting it all right now, I do, but I’m not going to let my music suffer for that.
“I want to be as big as my music will make me. I don’t plan on playing the fair circuit. I don’t see me stepping into some pre-blazed path where you have a Top 10 hit, then you get $15,000 gigs all summer long at fairs across the country,” he says in his slightly raspy speaking voice.
“It’s more important than showing up to the fair and coming to see me play for the price of admission to the fair. I want to play places where I’ve driven to town to play for these people, whether it’s 500 or 20,000. These people have come to find me and paid their money to see me play, and we speak to each other. That’s why my live shows are what they are, because all have chosen to be here; we’re all paying a price. That’s when you’ve created something that’s lasting.”
Ultimately, turning his huge regional success into national stardom means more touring (in Texas and beyond), more videos, more good press and, one hopes, significantly more radio airplay.
“When I am at that place where [the powers-that-be] say, ‘OK. You’re on. Go!’ -– man, I’ve played 1,500 shows. I’ve written loads of songs — six batches of them for six records. I never want to leave myself open and too vulnerable to failure, but everything I’ve done has made me arrive right here. That’s not saying if this record doesn’t sell many copies that it’s over. It means that if it’s going to happen with this record, I’m certainly ready. If it doesn’t, I’ll patch myself up, write and play some more songs and do the next thing.
“It’s vulnerable to sit here and tell you I want to sell out the American Airlines Center [in Dallas] in front of 20,000 people. It could make me look like a fool, like a delusional. But hey man, look, I’ve played all these shows, and these people that have seen me play say they dig what I do. When I come back, they pay 20 bucks to see me play and buy my records. If they dig it, you’ll dig it.”