20 Questions With Buddy Jewell

He Talks About Long Hair, Sugar-Free Red Bull and Skipping School

After more than a decade of trying to break into the business, Buddy Jewell finally scored big by winning the Nashville Star talent competition in 2003. With memorable hits like “Help Pour Out the Rain (Lacey’s Song)” and “Sweet Southern Comfort,” the former demo singer’s major label debut is approaching platinum. With Times Like These in stores on Tuesday (April 26), the Arkansas native answers fan questions about not recording patriotic songs, looking for new ways to deal with stress and why he’s waiting on a phone call from Toby Keith.

1. In your latest video, “If She Were Any Other Woman,” is that your real wife?

Yes, because I don’t like sleeping on the couch. (laughs) The head of artist development and creative services [at Sony Nashville] and the director actually wanted TenĂ© to be in a video, so I was tickled that she was.

2. This may be a very silly question, but I have to ask: Are you an Apple or PC man or are you afraid of computers?

I’m a PC man, but I’m scared of them all!

3. Did you expect “Help Pour Out the Rain” to be so popular so fast? I cry every time I hear it.

No, I didn’t. I had no idea how powerful that song was going to be. I just thought it was something really sweet my daughter had said, and I thought it might make a nice little song. I never dreamed that I would have that kind of connection. We always dream of doing something like that as a writer. But, boy, I never had any idea it was going to happen, especially with that song.

4. How is this album different from the last album? Do you have more control over this album than the last album?

I think I had more control over the last one because we didn’t have very much time to make it. They didn’t have time to tell me, “No, you can’t do that.” (laughs) I mean, the last one, Clint [Black] and I made it literally in two weeks. And this one, we took almost a year to make — a lot more time — and that can be a plus or a minus. Really, I still had a lot of control over the new one, too. It came down for me to decide which songs I was going to record and which ones I wasn’t. They haven’t put me in a position where they say, “You have to record this song.” I appreciate that about Sony. They’ve been cool about that.

5. Did you like school when you were growing up?

I did, man. You know what? I never, ever skipped a day of school because I had so much fun at school. … I grew up in a relatively small town, about 8,000 people. I couldn’t see any benefit of skipping. Everybody else was in school anyway. (laughs)

6. When did you decide to be a singer? To be more specific, when did you decide to be a country singer?

When I was a sophomore in college, I did a talent contest. Some of my fraternity buddies talked me into doing it, and I came in second. I think that’s when I got bit by the bug. I thought, “Well, this might be cool.” I started playing acoustic guitar when I was 15 and grew up listening to Marty Robbins, Johnny Horton, Johnny Cash and all those guys. Of course, I loved the ’70s pop music and things like that. But I just loved how the acoustic guitar sounded. It went so well with country music, so I think that’s what drew me to country. And I loved how the lyrics of country music meant so much. So many great story songs.

7. What do you like most about being part of the country music business and why?

Oh, gosh. Aside from the fact that I’m getting to live out my dream, the coolest thing for me is getting to interact with the other artists, especially the ones I’ve always admired. Meeting guys like George Jones, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Kenny Rogers. Those four, I got to meet last year. I did a show with Kenny and got to open for him. I got to sing with George. How can it get any better?

8. I am very proud of you and pray you haven’t lost your faith. I would love to see you do a CD of gospel songs. Do you think that may happen in the future?

I certainly wouldn’t mind doing that. Johnny Cash had a great answer when it came to somebody asking him if he was going to be a gospel singer. … Johnny said, “You know, I’m a country music artist who happens to be a Christian,” or vice versa, “I’m a Christian who happens to be a country music artist.” There are a lot of people out there doing specifically gospel music, and that’s their area of expertise. Mine is country music. I can’t rightly say, “No, I’ll never do a gospel album,” because God may lead me to feel like I need to do that. It might be nice in the future to do something like that, but I wouldn’t look for anything like that any time soon.

9. You did a fantastic job singing the national anthem at the Bristol racetrack. Are you a NASCAR fan, and if so, who is your favorite driver?

I’m just now getting into NASCAR. I’d never been to a NASCAR event until I was on Nashville Star back in 2003. I really don’t have a favorite driver, although Jeff Gordon has been extremely nice to me. He gave me a hat he was wearing when he won at Martinsville that year, and he autographed it for me.

10. Which artists will you be touring with this year? Or are you and the band just going to be on your own?

I guess we’re just out on our own. I would love to be part of a big tour, but none of them have asked me. I haven’t gotten an invitation. And please feel free to put that up there: Why haven’t you called me, Toby? Alan? Kenny? Tim?

11. What is something you must take on the road?

(long pause) Gosh, you know … I’m thinking of something to be kind of silly. Put Reese’s Cups down. I’ll be getting a ton of those now. No, put Red Bull down. It’s more expensive. They can bring me Red Bull. Sugar-free Red Bull! (laughs)

12. After you put the guitar down, what other hobbies do you enjoy?

Right now, I’m kind of working on my family tree. The genealogy thing. I don’t really have any hobbies anymore now that I’m making music for a living. I haven’t had a hobby in the longest time. I enjoy fishing every now and then, but I’m by no means a fisherman.

13. Which sports teams did you follow growing up, and which do you follow now? Who is your favorite player?

Same ones. Dallas Cowboys. St. Louis Cardinals. Baseball. All my guys are either dead or retired. I keep up with the Arkansas Razorbacks, too, and all their teams. Roger Staubach’s my favorite Cowboy. And for the Cardinals it probably would have been Lou Brock.

14. My husband and I thought you would have a hit for sure with “One in a Row.” We just knew it would be released and were very surprised when it wasn’t. Who decides what to release next, and do you usually or always agree with this decision?

Obviously I don’t get that choice. It’s kind of a committee-type thing there with the powers-that-be at Sony. The radio promotion people, the head of the label and the A&R department all put their heads together and decide what they’re going to put out next. And, no, I don’t always agree with it.

15. Will you write or record a patriotic song?

There again, who am I to say what I will or won’t do in the future? I don’t have plans to, and I’m not knocking the other guys like Toby and Alan who have done it. Especially for me working in the demo world, when 9/11 happened, it seemed like everybody in town was trying to write a song about that. Some of them were probably very sincere. Others were just seeing the dollar signs. That’s a subject I really don’t go near because I don’t want people to misjudge my intent. There’s always somebody who’s going to say, “He wrote that song for the money,” so I just don’t write them.

16. Since you obviously think family is important, what do you think is one of the most important things we can do to strengthen our families today?

For me personally, it’s to go to church together. It’s the biggest thing for me and my family. A lot of times, my bus will pull in early Sunday morning. I go home, get a couple of hours of sleep, then get up and go to church with them.

17. The first time I saw you perform on Nashville Star, you had long hair. Why did you cut it? Was it your choice or something they made you do for the show?

The producers approached me at Nashville Star and said that it would make the folks at Sony really happy if I would agree to cut my hair. They weren’t telling me I had to. I was looking at it as my opportunity to show Sony that I was willing to be flexible if they thought it was something imaging-wise that was going to help me. I loved my long hair, but I didn’t come to Nashville to grow hair. I came to get a record deal. Besides that, last I checked, hair grows back. What’s the big deal about getting a haircut? Obviously, if I can grow it that long once, I can do it again.

18. Your voice is very soothing to me. When you are stressed what do you do to get away and relax?

(laughs) Let’s see. I’ve bitten off all my fingernails. Used to be that music was the thing that soothed me. Man, that’s a great question. I need some suggestions. Let’s think for a second. … I just quit smoking a couple weeks ago. I used to go outside and smoke a cigarette. So now I just try to do something else. I’ve got to find something else to do when I’m stressed.

19. Why didn’t you quit after you got turned down by so many record labels? I mean, I’m glad you didn’t, but why didn’t you?

Two things. Honestly, the biggest thing was I really felt that I was doing what God wanted me to do. Whenever I would think, “Maybe I should try to find something else to do for a living,” the biggest question that would come back to me was, “If He didn’t mean for me to use this talent on a bigger level, why would He bless me like He has and give the talent and ability He gave me if I wasn’t supposed to do something on a grand scale?” That was the main thing, and the other thing was, it seemed like every time I would get discouraged, there would be a light at the end of the tunnel. Something would happen. Maybe I’d have a writer call and say, “So-and-so in A&R at Record Label A listened to this song you sang for me last week, and they loved it and said you were a great singer.” There would always something positive that would happen to keep me hanging on.

20. Is there another life dream you hope to accomplish besides your singing career?

Oh, gosh. It would still be in the music arena. I would love to write a No. 1 song. I got close with “Help Pour Out the Rain.” I would obviously like to have a platinum-selling album, win ACMs and CMA awards. You know, the normal stuff that everybody dreams of doing. But outside of music, I don’t really have any big aspirations to start a huge company and branch out into other fields. I’m getting to do what I love. I want to watch my kids grow up and have grandbabies and be a good grandpa someday.