Make no mistake about Jordan Davis. He may have debuted with a couple of modern country songs with some pop around the edges, but deep down, the Louisiana native is a straight-up country boy.
So much so, that he recently recorded a cover of Jo Dee Messina’s 1996 debut single, “Heads Carolina, Tails California.”
And that’s the first thing we talked about backstage before his Chicago show on Saturday night (Jan. 11).
CMT.com: Of all the country songs you could’ve covered, why this one? I mean, I personally love it, but it’s kind of an obscure one as far as throwback songs go.
Davis: My uncle Stan (Paul Davis) was a songwriter, so that time in the 90s was the golden era for me. It was the first time I heard music that I really connected to. For me, songs like “Heads Carolina” and “Holes in the Floor of Heaven” take me back to being with my uncle or driving around with my dad. I remember he had this old ’96 Suburban, and that was the first place that I ever heard “Heads Carolina.” That’s how you know something is special, when you have that memory of your first time. They’re not all like that.
Do you think your fans will even know that one — it is, after all, almost 25 years old — let alone like it?
That song means so much to me, but I think it does to the fans, too. We played it last night and people lost their minds. And some of those people at my shows might not have been born when the song came out. Or they might’ve been babies. That’s what makes music so special and so timeless. Songs can outlive any of us. My dad always says that music in the 90’s was just different. And I’d almost rather have it be that way. He’s always saying, “Try to write a song like this one” or “try to write a song like that one,” but you just can’t. So instead of trying to write the next “Holes in the Floor of Heaven,” I just try to write what I feel.
Is that what led you to your new one, “Slow Dance in a Parking Lot”?
Yes and no. That was my first write with Lonnie Fowler. And I remember feeling bad, and saying, “Man, I’m sorry. But I’ve been writing every day and I don’t have any ideas left. I’m dry.” He said, “I know. Me too, man.” I hate doing that. I hate not contributing. But then he just started asking me about hometowns and first dates. Mine was nothing, I think my mom dropped us off at a movie and we walked to a Mexican place. I was only in middle school. But Lonnie’s story was that he and his girlfriend were at a college formal, and he was taking her home, but he wanted to dance one more dance. So he pulled into a parking lot and put on Garth Brook’s “She’s Every Woman” on and asked her to dance. They’re married now.
I know. I said that’s a country song if I’ve ever heard one. And a true love song. Very few days come together like that. Some days you finish a song because it’s your job, and that’s that. But then some days you have such a vision of what the song can be.
And this one sounds countrier that your first songs, “Singles You Up” and “Take It from Me.” Was that your intention, to move up and down the country barometer?
I’ve always loved traditional country music and I always will. I have my style, though, so when I sit down to write a song, I can only write the way I feel. But at the core of that, I was raised on singer-songwriters. So no matter where it blooms from there — I might go through a phase where I’m really into R&B or pop music or whatever — and how I take that in and write a song, the core is always coming back to a story I’m telling or a feeling I’m sharing.
When you say you have always loved traditional country, what were some of the first songs that you remember remembering?
Well I remember exactly where I was the first time I hear John Prine’s “The Great Compromise.” We were on the drive to Homer (Louisiana) on the way to deer camp. We listened to all the CDs in the car, but I knew Prine was different because I’d never heard songs like his. Isn’t there a bar here in Chicago where Prine used to do open mics with Kris Kristofferson and Steve Goodman? I’d love to go there, to see that.
That was Earl’s in Old Town, on Wells Street. But it shut down in 1984. Goodman actually Goodman recorded his Live at the Earl of Old Town there in 1978.
Just as well. I’d be nervous to meet him. I’ve seen him (Prine) I think about 11 times.
Have there been other songs over the years that stood out to you that same way, just not anti-war songs from the early 70s?
Well, I do remember hearing Jake Owen’s “Startin’ With Me” for the first time. I was staying at my grandparent’s house, and I woke up really early to drive to Baton Rouge. That song, and that line about pawning his grandpa’s guitar in college for a case of beer and a tank of gasoline. God, that song. Jake’s got some really special, amazing songs.
I wonder if that would make your dad’s wish list. Like, “Try to write a song like ’Startin’ with Me.'” But I bet you already put enough pressure on yourself every time you walk into a songwriting session.
I do, but there is something different that happens when you are in the room with greatness.
When I first moved to Nashville, there were two guys that were that kind of my dream writes. Songwriters I’ve been a fan of forever. And last year, they were my last two writes of 2019: Tom Douglas and Casey Beathard. Towards the end of year you’re usually burnt out. But for me, I’d never been more excited to get to work. I was like a kid at Christmas. Up early. Had a few more cups of coffee. And tried to be a little more prepared. Then you get there and you’re just blown away at how talented they are. With Tom, we talked about an idea, then you see him typing, you hear him clacking away, and then he turn his computer around and it’ll be this amazing verse or lyric. And with Casey, he’s so humble even after all his hits. He’d be like, “I have an idea but it’s probably stupid.” I just tried to not get in their way.