Why Jordan Davis Swapped Sharks for Nashville

"I Felt That Tug to Give Music a Chance"

When he was faced with a fork in the road, and he had to make a decision, Jordan Davis chose happiness.

“It sounds so cheesy,” Davis told me when we caught up this week, “but it was really just a happiness thing. It was one of those things where I felt like my heart wasn’t fully in what I was doing. I felt that tug to give music a chance. I was only 24, and I told myself that if I was ever going to give Nashville a shot, that was the time to do it.”

Before he’d made his choice to chase that neon rainbow, Davis was already well on his way to a lifetime in environmental science. He’d graduated from Louisiana State University with a degree in Environmental Science and Resource Conservation, then worked at Ocearch tracking sharks through the ocean. (There is even one white shark pup that Ocearch named “Singles You Up” in honor of Davis’ debut single.)

After he made the move, and he was where his heart told him to go, the move meant that Davis would have to give up his steady paycheck and turn to his go-to college job: bartending. He did that for three years, at a bar just east of downtown Nashville. “We live in such a keeping-up-with-the-Jones world, and that made it tough to see my friends excelling in their careers. I was 27,” he said, “and I was still bartending.”

But that said, the silver lining for Davis was surrounding himself with songwriters. “I was meeting people who have been songwriting full time, for a long time. And I feel like that made me a better songwriter during those years,” he said. “I was much happier being in Nashville, and waking up to write songs every day.” That was also the time when he was honing his show skills. “My first paid gig was at a bar down in Jacksonville, Alabama. I made $200. But I had to pay my whole band so we didn’t make money. And there were only about seven people in there, on a Monday or Tuesday night.

“But it was exactly what I needed.”

(Davis eventually got comfortable on all the stages, even when that stage is just Jake Owen’s bus.)

Now that he’s in Nashville — writing, singing and playing for a living — Davis told me that some of the songs he loves the most are the ones he grew up on. The ones that make you ask questions.

“My dad was a huge fan of singer-songwriters, like Don Williams, Kris Kristofferson, John Prine, and Jim Croce. They’d write lyrics so well that I’d always have questions. Like, ’Who is bad, bad Leroy Brown?’ And so my dad would have to explain that, and he loved that. Until I was about nine years old and he had to hide some stuff from me, like when I asked what it meant when there’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes,” he laughed. That famous lyric is from a 1971 Prine tune, “Sam Stone,” about a veteran with a drug problem.

Prine was obviously a vast influence on Davis, because when I asked him for a few of his favorite songs, ones he wishes he’d written, he said this: “Anything that Prine has written, like ’Hello in There,’ ’Spanish Pipedream’ and so many more. But I also wish I’d written songs that are out now, like Brothers Osborne’s ’Stay a Little Longer’ and Cole Swindell’s ’Break Up in the End.'”

Davis’ next tour stop is on Saturday (June 15) in Peoria, Illinois.

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