These days, Joey & Rory are playing every gig they can get, from rodeos to colleges, but one thing remains the same at every show: The crowd goes crazy for the “white trash ho” line in “Cheater, Cheater.”
“You’d think that like Keith Urban just walked into the room or something,” says Joey Martin Feek, the wife in the husband-wife duo. “It’s really pretty amazing the power of a song and how women — especially women — are really passionate about that song. … People go crazy over it. People hear the intro and they just start screaming. I just turn the mike over to them when I start that first ’no good white trash ho.’ That line and ’rot in Hell’ are their favorites. They just love it.”
The up-tempo song only crept up to No. 30 at country radio but remained a fan favorite on CMT and CMT.com for months. The duo won third place in the first season of Can You Duet and capitalized on their momentum by releasing their debut album just a few weeks later, with “Cheater, Cheater” as the lead single.
“We had to sell it to radio programmers a lot. There were a lot of people who were really hesitant because they felt like it might not be for their audience, which is understandable,” she says. “But at the same time also, it’s country music. That’s what we love and miss. It’s real life. So I think when the people got to hear the song, it was kind of a no-brainer because the reaction was really positive.”
“There was always reluctance from radio stations,” says Rory Lee Feek. “One played it, then another would play it, and it kept growing. Whenever they would play it, 99.9 percent of the fans would respond with a big hooray. But there was still a third of the panel of radio stations — big stations — that refused to play it. A bunch of big cities have never played it yet. They sort of had a moral objection to it, so it couldn’t have climbed any higher up the charts just because they wouldn’t play it. But it’s sure been a big smash in all the places that they played it.”
In April, the duo released a video for “Play the Song,” which finds them scrutinized by music executives for their hard-to-pin-down style. You can imagine the countless conversations with clueless bean counters about overalls and fringe.
Asked why they’ve relied on funny videos to get their music heard, Joey replies, “We’re a married couple, and we have a lot of fun out on the road. We have a lot of songs that are very serious and talk a lot about family and really serious issues, but we also love each other and we’re very real. We don’t ever want to take ourselves too seriously.”
In the new video, the duo plays along with bad fashion advice to hilarious effect — but the message of staying true to the music is not lost amid the laughter.
“We have costume changes that are just ridiculous. It’s fun,” Joey says. “We’re older adults than most artists are, but we still know how to be kids when we need to be and let our hair down, goof off and just have a great time. Rory makes me laugh all the time, whether I’m at home in a serious mood or if I’m in a sad mood or whatever. He knows how to make me laugh and make me smile, and I think that’s one of the things I love about him most.”
“On both of these songs, they’re both actually serious subjects,” Rory says. “They have really strong messages and so the best thing to do is just lighten it up a bit by having a good time. So the message is still there, but it’s a lot more fun to deliver it that way.”
But depending on the venue, you might have to wait to hear sensitive songs like “Sweet Emmylou” or “Heart of the Wood” until the car ride home. However, in quieter moments you might hear a tenderhearted new song called “It’s Important to Me” that they haven’t recorded together yet.
“Sometimes you play in clubs and it’s late at night and everybody is rocking, having a good time, so they want to hear ’Cheater, Cheater’ 30 times. So we keep moving and rocking and keep it going as best we can,” Rory says. “We feel bad for people because they’re missing a great opportunity to hear a lot of what we do. But at the same point, we want to give them whatever they want. … We’re all over the board. We like edgy and fun and really, really country and songs that you’ve never heard and songs that aren’t on the album. We do a little bit of everything. We mix it up, and we almost never have a set list.”
Rory had already notched some major songwriting credits, including Blake Shelton’s “Some Beach,” when he and Joey auditioned for Can You Duet, a singing competition from CMT and the producers of American Idol. Naomi Judd, who served as a judge, took a shine to the couple and even made a cameo appearance in the “Cheater, Cheater” video. The couple also made a guest appearance on the second season of the show, too. So, do they have any advice for future contestants?
After joking about buying bib overalls and belt buckles, Joey says, “You kind of continue to do what you do. Be who you are. Know what it is you’re going after. Rory and I were very traditional in our music, and we remained that way throughout the whole show. We didn’t waiver from that. I think it did well for us, and it really established who we are as country artists.”