Buddy Jewell Polishes His Star

Buddy Jewell appears on CMT Most Wanted Live Saturday (July 5) at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Nice guys don’t gloat, but Buddy Jewell is taking a small degree of pleasure when he considers how many people are suddenly anxious to become a part of his career. All it took was winning the grand prize in the nationally televised Nashville Star talent competition.

“Managers, bus drivers and drummers — I’ve had a big line,” Jewell tells CMT.com. “And if you could manage, drive the bus and play drums, you probably got a gig with me.”

Jewell has already scored his first hit single with his original song, “Pour Out the Rain (Lacey’s Song).” It’s the first single from his self-titled debut album for Columbia Records.

To recap his story, Jewell is a 41-year-old native of Arkansas. With a wife and three children, he has earned a good living in Nashville as a demo singer. Recording as many as 500 songs a year, Jewell was in high demand among songwriters who needed to have a tape of their songs to pitch to artists and producers. Until Nashville Star, however, Jewell was never given the chance for his own deals as a songwriter and major label recording artist.

“The big thing for me was that I couldn’t get arrested around here as a writer,” Jewell says as he sits in the conference room at Sony Music’s office on Music Row. “I had publisher after publisher after publisher say, ’I like your stuff, but it’s too country.’ And then [after winning the record deal through Nashville Star] we sat in here for four or five days in a row with people coming in and playing me stuff, and I go, ’It’s too pop.'”

Ironically, the rejection from publishers is now an asset because Jewell will be retaining a higher percentage of his songwriting royalties. “Darn near every publisher they paraded in front of me has turned me down at least once as a writer,” he says. “And now I’ve got what looks like might be a hit single that I wrote all by myself and own all the publishing on. So there’s some sweet vindication, I feel like. I’m trying not to be too smug about it, but, hey, they had their chance.”

As part of the Nashville Star prize, Clint Black produced Jewell’s album. It proved to be a good fit for a project that had to be recorded in just 10 days. Fortunately, Black and the record label offered a great deal of flexibility in planning and recording the album.

“On American Idol, whoever won had to sing this one particular song for their single,” Jewell notes. “It wouldn’t have worked if they tried to take the winner from Nashville Star and said, ’Here’s your album. Record these songs, no matter who you are.’ I’ve got to give Sony a lot of credit for not saying, ’Here’s the box. Jump in it.'”

How do you record an album in 10 days? “You take four or five days, instead of four or five months, to find songs,” Jewell explains. “Then you get great pickers, like we had, that come in for two days and record 13 tracks. I’ve got to give those guys a lot of credit. I was very impressed with Clint’s ability to convey what he wanted out of a certain player at a certain time. I think those guys were really pulling for me to make it because they’ve seen me for 10 years.”

Jewell recorded his vocals in less than three days. “My training as a demo singer didn’t hurt,” he acknowledges. “I’m sure that saved us a lot of time. And Clint, being an artist himself, I think all of those things factored in for us getting the record done in 10 days.”

As a veteran of the music business, Jewell is painfully aware that getting a record deal is only one of the first of many steps in becoming a successful artist. Asked about the misconceptions most people have about launching a music career, Jewell quickly replies, “I think the biggest one is that it’s all about talent. We know that’s not true. I guess the other thing was that I thought talent could overcome a lot of obstacles — the age factor, in my case — and not being somebody they’re gonna rush to stick on the front of GQ magazine.

“Another misconception, especially when I was out on the road, is that you could be playing somewhere like Nowheres, N.M., and somebody from one of the labels was going to stumble across you and sign you to a big record deal. More often than not, that’s not going to happen. It makes sense. Every day, these guys have people bringing them a complete package here in town. Why should they go out looking for it?

“Probably the third would be that it looks easier than it really is to become an artist and to maintain some level of success. A lot of people probably think that once you get the record deal, it’s all downhill from there. And nothing could be further from the truth. That’s when the real hard work starts.”

The exposure on Nashville Star brought Jewell the kind of national recognition that sets him apart from other new artists. Even though he never imagined a talent competition would lead him toward his dream, he welcomes the chance.

“About two or three years ago, I just kind of said, ’God, if you want me to have a record deal … I’ve busted my rear end trying to get one and can’t get it. And maybe you don’t mean for me to have one. If you don’t, that’s fine. Maybe I’m just supposed to be content doing this.’ And I could have been content. I won’t say perfectly content because the artist ego in me still reared its ugly head from time to time. But I could have certainly been happy just continuing on that way. Anybody in town will tell you this: For eight years, I’ve said, ’I’m the luckiest guy in this town.'”

Jewell doesn’t mince words when he talks about how he’d like his career to progress.

“I want to be a successful recording artist,” he says. “I want to win CMA awards and ACM awards and Grammys and have No. 1 songs that I either sang or wrote. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this record does.

“I’m a Christian. I feel like God’s put me in this position. He’s blessing me now. Why would He drop me on my head in the near future? Not to sound cocky, but I’ll be surprised if the record doesn’t do really well.”

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.