It's been a long haul for Shelly Fairchild, but on Tuesday (May 3), her first album, Ride, finally arrived at record stores. The Clinton, Miss., native moved to Nashville in 1997 and, after a few detours, signed a contract with Columbia Records in 2003. Her album was originally scheduled to come out in January of this year but was delayed because of a pending endorsement deal.
So far, Ride has spun off two singles, both accompanied by music videos. The first, "You Don't Lie Here Anymore," was released last October. It topped out at No. 35. The second and current single, "Tiny Town," has yet to hit the Billboard chart.
Although Fairchild has an extensive background as a stage actress, she says her heart has always been set on singing.
"I really decided when I was a little girl -- like 5 or 6. I used to watch my best friend, who was about six years older than me. I'd watch her sing in church, and she would practice in front of me and my sister and cousins. Just the feeling and the excitement of that made me think that's what I wanted to do."
And before long, she was doing it. "I think my first gig, so to speak, was at a church barbecue," she recalls. "They paid me at little bit to come out there and sing. I was about 13 or 14. I just started singing around at fairs and at the zoo. Like, who sings at the zoo? Well, I sang at the zoo. Little events. I'd get paid to sing at weddings."
In high school, Fairchild joined the Attache Show Choir, a group that routinely won national awards for its performances.
"The director of the show choir was a theater guy," she explains. "He taught me how to work, how to audition and all the different things that you had to do. ... So I learned to work in the theater. And that's the first place that I went -- so I could make money. I didn't grow up around the [recording] studio."
During her two years at Mississippi College, Fairchild performed in a singing and dancing group, the Naturals.
"I started [acting] locally," she continues. "We have a professional theater that's an Equity [union] house in Jackson, Miss. It was just a 10-mile jaunt down the road. I went down and played Patsy Cline in Always, Patsy Cline. And I was in a musical called Beehive and in Godspell. I saved my money from Patsy Cline and Beehive and moved to Nashville."
In Nashville, Fairchild hired on as a receptionist in the office of talent manager Rendy Lovelady, who now manages her.
"Then I got the entertainment bug again," she says, "I thought, 'OK, I'm here now, but I've got to perform.' So I started auditioning for shows, and I auditioned for one that took me to South Carolina. It was a show called Celebration '98 . I did it for almost a full year. Then I went on the road with a national tour of Beehive, the same one I did back in Mississippi. [In it] I was Connie Francis and Brenda Lee and Grace Slick. It was really cool."
Once the tour was over, Fairchild returned to Music City.
"I had my money saved and paid all my credit cards off," she says. "That's when I started pursuing a music career. I worked part time in a [beauty] salon. And I went to school for cosmetology, because I thought, 'Tammy Wynette had her [cosmetology] license until the day she died. There's got to be something to that.' I just decided if I could sing, I would take background vocal gigs ... anything I could get that would put me in front of people." Eventually, she attracted the attention of the talent scouts at Sony Music, Columbia Records' parent company.
Getting a record deal is one thing; knowing what to do with it is another, Fairchild discovered. To decide on a musical direction, she met with Mark Wright, Sony's executive vice president of A&R [artist and repertoire].
"When we sat down to discuss what my ideas were for the style of music [to record]," she says, "we already had a few songs. We thought we really needed somebody to capture the country side of me and [help me] stick to country roots but who would also use my other influences, which were Mississippi blues [and a] kind of swampy, rockin' country."
Wright suggested Fairchild check out Buddy Cannon as a possible producer. (Cannon produces Kenny Chesney and Reba McEntire, among others.) "So I met with Buddy, and he loved the music," she says. "I just went [to him] and sang with a guitar player. ... Then I went back to Mark, and he said, 'I think that's only half of the puzzle. I think we should bring another producer in." He recommended guitarist Kenny Greenberg.
Cannon and Greenberg had never met, but Fairchild says, "They worked so well together. It was like butter. It just flowed." Instead of producing separately, they both worked with her in the studio at the same time and together helped her pick songs. Of the 11 songs on the album, Fairchild co-wrote four with partners Stephony Smith, Clay Miller, Sonny LeMaire and Linda Carver. Other high-octane writers on the project are Darrell Scott, Leslie Satcher, Dennis Linde, Doug Johnson, Pat McLaughlin and Hillary Lindsey. Fairchild says Columbia is still deciding what her third single will be but is leaning toward the torrid "Kiss Me.'
Fairchild reports that she has "a budding, promising endorsement relationship with Harley Davidson" that's still being worked out. On May 17, she will make her debut on The Late Show With David Letterman and is set to spend the summer touring with Rascal Flatts. So far, there are no zoo dates.