Jeff Bates first made a name for himself in country music with “The Love Song,” and he’s been singing about relationships ever since. Here, the Mississippi native answers fan questions about Conway Twitty, keeping it real and his biggest accomplishment.
1. What was the inspiration for writing “Long Slow Kisses”?
It was a relationship I was in at the time. I was headed for a songwriting meeting in Nashville. I was living in Little Rock, Ark., at the time. The last thing she told me before I walked out the door was, “I just don’t feel like I’m the most important thing in your life anymore.” And I said, “Baby, I’ve got to go do this. I’m sorry. Just know that I love you.” I walked out, and I got about 40 miles out of town and felt so guilty. And I realized that she was telling the truth that I didn’t make her feel that way anymore. So I turned around and went back home.
2. I have been to several of your concerts in the last year and a-half. Your dancing has become sexier than before. Do you practice at home in front of the mirror, or do you just do what comes naturally?
I just do what I feel on any given night. I’m not a dancer. I have two left feet. However I’m feeling the music that night and how the crowd’s responding to it directly affect how much I move my hips.
3. What goes through your mind when you’re singing your love songs on stage and women are screaming your praises?
I can’t hear! (laughs) Scratch that. You know what? It’s really awesome and incredible at the same time. It’s just a part of me that hears it. The other part of me is so busy living the song. When I sing a song, I try to live it, and that’s where my mind goes. If they’re screaming, that’s just enough feedback to let me know that they’re touched by it, that I’m connecting with them.
4. Where did you get the idea to give all us ladies that spine-tingling “hey, baby” after your shows?
It just happened one night. I always try to stay after every show and meet everybody and sign autographs. I hug everybody’s neck because I just love them. They’re so awesome. One night, when I hugged a lady, I said, “Hey, baby,” just as kind of a joke, and she almost fainted. Then it got to be a running joke, and then it turned into something that I just do. Everybody seems to like it. If they ever want me to quit, I’ll oblige.
5. I know one of your favorite artists was Conway Twitty. Did you ever get to meet him or at least see him in concert?
I never got to meet him, but one of my first concerts I went to was Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard and George Jones. … Conway came out and just blew me away because he hardly said anything. He just stood there and sang hit after hit after hit after hit, and all the ladies went absolutely nuts. I wish I had gotten to meet him, but I never did.
6. How do you feel about being your voice compared to Conway Twitty’s?
Well, I think Conway had a lot better voice than I do. So, having said that, I’d say that’s real good company to be in. I get compared to Conway and Barry White and Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings a lot. Sometimes Vince Gill. It’s very flattering.
7. With the date of the new CD being postponed several times, is the rumor true that the record company didn’t want so many songs about drinking on the record, so you recorded some more songs?
That rumor is actually semi-true. But it would be that I didn’t want that many songs about drinking on the record. I have to say it was a dual thing. We just sat down and talked about it and decided that I sing songs about relationships and try to say things that guys want to say that we’re not that good at. Let somebody else sing about drinking. That’s what I do, and I just wanted to be true to who I am and, at the same time, do the best stuff we could give all our fans.
8. Why don’t you cover more of the nation when you tour? You don’t ever come out West or Northwest. Is that a personal preference of yours to stay close to your Southern fans?
Well, that’s a loaded question. Man. We actually do go out West from time to time. We were out there with the Brooks & Dunn tour. I love playing the Southeast because it is close to home. Our first year out, we covered a lot of the North and Northwest. It’s been on a rotating basis for us. The venues we were in two years ago, we’ll probably wind up going back to them next year. They don’t want to wear anybody out in one certain place.
9. Of all the venues you have performed, which is your favorite?
There’s another loaded question. They’re all my favorites for different reasons. I think one of my very favorites is the Grand Ole Opry. It’s such a lifelong dream to sing there where so many other people have sung before me. People that were my heroes. People who I looked up to and who were my inspiration. To me, it’s like, “OK, I got to be a small part of this great tradition called the Grand Ole Opry.”
10. You work most every weekend doing concerts and traveling to many cities. How do you keep the family aspect in check?
Stay in contact. Try to include them where it makes sense. When I am home, go do whatever they’re into. And take time to drive home to Mississippi and go see my folks and hang out with them. At the same time, I just have to know that the music and the guys [in my band] are my family to me. It’s easy to keep that part of it together. I guess the main thing is I don’t take myself too seriously. I work. I love people. I love all my fans. At the same time, I don’t think it’s all about me. It’s about them and the songs.
11. What is a typical day for you?
A typical day for me is to get up, drink two cups of coffee, go run and walk, do my cardio. Then eat a bite. And then, if I’m in town, come down to my office on Music Row. (I call it my office. It’s actually a little small room with no windows that I write in.) I make writing appointments, do whatever I have to do on behalf of RCA and just take care of errands. If I’m out on the road, I’ll do about the same thing, but about the middle of the day, I’ll go take a country and western nap in my bunk.
12. What is your favorite Southern meal?
I like fried chicken, either rice and gravy or taters and gravy. I just wrote a song about it, as a matter of fact. “Hot corn bread, sweet ice tea, home grown tomatoes and fresh picked peas. Chicken fried steak and gravy cooked in a cast iron pan.”
13. Do you enjoy reading, and if so, what is your favorite reading material?
I love to read. I’m not a big fan of television. I have probably about 20,000 books on my computer in .doc format or PDF format. People send them to me quite a bit. Anytime I want to read, all I have to do is pull my laptop out and I’ve got my library there. It’s awesome. I just got through reading all of Nicholas Sparks’ novels. At the same time, I’m in the middle of reading about ancient history, antediluvian history about pre-flood civilization and things like that. I enjoy that.
14. I know you are a recovering drug addict who has been clean for five years. I am a recently recovering alcoholic, and I was just wondering if you had any helpful suggestions on how to deal with this problem and how to remain clean and sober?
On my very worst days, I try to find somebody else to help, and that seems to get my mind off me and any problems I might be having. I pray a lot. I try to always wake up and find something about my day to be thankful about, and that keeps me humble. And then, of course, sharing my story onstage and off, always. If it just helps one person, that means everything to me. That keeps me far away from even thinking about doing something like drugs or drinking.
I’d also like to include a little fact that I want everybody to know, if I can. I hope everybody knows that I don’t judge anybody that drinks or does drugs. That’s everybody’s own business. I have nothing against them. I just wanted to throw that in. My biggest pet peeve in life is being judgmental. I don’t think that we’re given that right. And I think that we’re created equal. If you and I are created equal, do I have the right to judge you? No. Well, then you don’t have the right to judge me either. So, I just want to let everybody to know that I’m not judging anybody who does drink.
15. What is the process for picking a song off your album to be determined which single will be released?
I don’t know. Ultimately that decision would probably be chosen by the label. But they listen to fans’ input. They put a card in the CD for you to fill out and send back as your favorite song. They actually read those. They count them. They tally them up. They see which song got the biggest response off your CD. They listen. They actually do a little research on radio. And they’ll play it to get response that way. … They pay attention to how many times your song’s downloaded on the Internet. There’s a lot of research goes into it — an incredible amount. And when all else fails, they ask me. And I let them know what people respond to at shows.
16. What keeps you grounded and real? In other words, what makes you never forget where you came from?
A lot of it has to do with the people I’m surrounded with. They’re real. They don’t mind telling me that my feet stink. You know, they’re honest with me. My fans keep me grounded — very much so — because we stay in close contact. They’re real people. I read something the other day, talking about ignorance. It said ignorance is one of the worst scourges of mankind, and solitude is the breeding ground for it. I think that applies to me. … I love my “me time,” but at the same time, I think the things that keep you grounded are when you stay in contact with down-to-earth friends and relatives.
17. What do you do to relax?
Play on the computer, go work out at the gym, write songs, go fishing, a little bit of turkey hunting. I just figured out that I like golf. And country and western naps. What makes a country and western nap better than any other nap? They’re slower. Slower and they last longer. They’re good for the soul.
18. What do you think your biggest accomplishment has been?
Wow, that’s so easy. Being clean five years. That would have to be it. I don’t think that I’m responsible for any of my accomplishments. I think that’s everybody else. I’ve had a lot of help everywhere. I can’t claim any of it.
19. I have always appreciated your openness and honesty when it comes to sharing with us some of the rocky roads you’ve been down. In everything you’ve learned from the past, what is the best advice you can give your fans about life?
Oh, I don’t think I’m qualified to give advice. Man, the best advice I can give anybody is learn how to love yourself the way God loves you. And that’s a lifetime chore right there. And if you can do that, loving everybody else is easy.
20. What is your idea of a romantic evening?
Wow. It kind of depends on a couple of different things — on how well I know the person, where we are in the relationship. One of the things I like to do is go to a really, really nice restaurant and make sure that I order exactly what she wants. Maybe have some flowers brought to the table. And just listen to her talk. Then later on, maybe go to a movie, sit there and hold hands. I’m kind of old-fashioned that way. I like holding hands. Holding hands is a big deal to me. Wow, I never think about romantic evenings. Pretty amazing. I like to go for a drive. Whatever it is though, it’s going to involve some long slow kisses, I can tell you that.