“So this is what it’s like when you get a No. 1?” Jimmy Wayne marveled aloud as he sauntered into a Music Row conference room packed with reporters.
The media had gathered at BMI headquarters in Nashville on Thursday (Oct. 9) to question Wayne on his first chart-topper, “Do You Believe Me Now,” and witness the celebration of the song’s three co-writers, Joe West and Dave Pahanish, who are BMI affiliates, and Tim Johnson, who is signed to SESAC, a competing performance rights organization.
A party at SESAC followed the BMI festivities.
Wayne told the reporters he was standing on the side of the stage on Labor Day at the annual Jerry Lewis telethon, ready to go on, when his publicist showed him a note on her Blackberry that “Do You Believe Me Now” had reached No. 1. He said the good news almost threw him off his performance.
He explained that he first listened to the song as a favor to West and Pahanish — and instantly fell in love with it. He lamented that he had gotten a reputation with his first album of being an artist who wanted to record only his own songs. That was never the case, he insisted, but he said it taught him the importance of looking for hits in other people’s songs.
It was during his early days as a songwriter for Opryland Music Group, Wayne recalled, that he benefited from another writer’s willingness to listen to his songs. That other writer was the award-winning Skip Ewing.
Wayne said people warned him to stay away from Ewing until he had enough songwriting experience under his belt to merit the veteran’s notice. However, he got an idea for a song that so excited him, he asked Ewing to listen to it. Ewing did and pronounced it “as strong as a new piece of rope.” Building on that idea, the two co-wrote the tune that became a No. 11 hit for Tracy Byrd, “Put Your Hand in Mine.”
Ewing’s openness, Wayne said, set an example that he’s been determined to follow.
In spite of having scored a Top 5 and a Top 10 hit with his first album, Wayne lost his record deal when his label, DreamWorks, closed in 2005. That shock taught him a lesson, he said, about the come-and-go nature of celebrity, when, instead of being in the spotlight, “you’re sitting on the back porch staining lawn furniture.”
When the ceremony got underway, BMI’s Clay Bradley told the crowd that “Do You Believe Me Now” was “the first No. 1 [not only for Wayne but] for everyone involved,” including the songwriters, West and Pahanish in their role as the song’s producers and the Wayne’s current record label, Valory Music.
Bradley also noted that West and Pahanish had been writing together for 16 years.
As the awards from BMI, the label, the publishers, the Country Music Association, Country Radio Broadcasters and various other institutional well-wishers piled up, Wayne announced, “I’m gonna have a ‘Do You Believe Me Now’ wall.”
“Where’s your entourage?” Bradley asked. “They’re supposed to hold all these things.”
“Man,” Wayne shot back, “I’m still eating lentils and rice and driving a Civic.”
Asked to say a few words, Wayne said a few hundred as his joy bubbled over. “I’ve never been so nervous to be in a room with two or three girls I’ve had sex with,” he joked. (Well, maybe it was a joke.)
Beginning with the Opryland Music talent scout who discovered him while he was working as a prison guard in Gastonia, N.C., and continuing through the staff at Valory, Wayne thanked a long list of supporters.
“I feel like I’ve forgotten so many people,” he said. “Please raise your hand if you know me.” He reserved his highest praise for Valory president Scott Borchetta, with whom he had first worked at DreamWorks. Wayne credited Borchetta with signing and encouraging him and for recognizing quickly that “Do You Believe Me Now” should be released as the album’s first single.
“If you ever need me down the road to push you in a wheelchair,” he told the youthful Borchetta, “you’ve got me.”
One of the most familiar faces among the guests was that of John Oates, of the pop duo Hall & Oates. He and Wayne first met by chance in New York, and Oates invited Wayne to write songs with him. Subsequently, each sang on the other’s album.
To wrap up the party, Oates joined Wayne in singing the Hall & Oates standard, “Sara Smile,” which also happened to be the song Wayne performed to get his first record deal. They finished with Oates chiming in on “Do You Believe Me Now.”
Johnson was the focus of praise after the partygoers migrated to the SESAC building (over the front door of which hung a huge banner adorned with the songwriter’s picture).
Johnson recalled that Pahanish and West brought him the melody for the song. “They were just kind of humming and scatting,” he recalled. “It took me forever [to complete the lyrics].”
Of his musical collaborators, Johnson said, “They’re just incredible writers. I hope someday to get another appointment with them.”