If there's anything in the record business sweeter than that first kiss of chart success, it's got to be making a comeback that's even more impressive than the original debut. That's the enviable situation in which Jimmy Wayne now finds himself as his new Valory Records single, "Do You Believe Me Now," becomes the first No. 1 of his career -- and a multiple-week one at that.
Wayne made his chart breakthrough in 2003 with "Stay Gone" on the DreamWorks label. An impressive entry, the song ultimately scrambled to No. 3 and perched there for three weeks.
His next single, "I Love You This Much," peaked at a respectable No. 6, but it was downhill from there -- not through any weakness of Wayne's music but because DreamWorks Records was in throes of dying. The label merged its operations with Universal Music Group (UMG) in early 2004 and closed its doors altogether a few months later.
Wayne says DreamWorks' collapse surprised him. "I showed up one day and heard that some of the employees had found other jobs," he recalls. "I thought we were on a roll. I thought everything was perfect. Even when it did close, I though I would be OK because we had so much momentum off the first record."
In the tectonic shifting of corporate strategies, however, Wayne soon discovered his "momentum" counted for nothing. "When the big well came in and swallowed us up, I realized I was just another small fish in a big old pond."
Another DreamWorks casualty was record promotion wizard Scott Borchetta. Instead of stewing about his fate, however, Borchetta quickly launched his own label, Big Machine Records (now the proud home of Taylor Swift). After Wayne negotiated an amicable release from UMG, Borchetta signed him to Big Machine.
But being signed and having a career-regenerating album were two very different states of grace, Wayne found. "It's almost like you go back to your survival instincts," he says of that rough transitional period. "You ask yourself 'What do I do now?' . . . I didn't have a publishing deal or anything. I just started putting out the word that I was playing gigs -- hardly for any money at all, just to make rent. . . . If you don't have a hit song on the radio, your phone just stops."
Fortunately, as a part of his survival response, Wayne began writing and gathering songs for another album. He also started casting about for producers who understood his music. "I went through six producers between my first album and this album," he reports.
Late last year, Borchetta established Valory Music, a sister label to Big Machine, and transferred Wayne to the new division.
Ultimately, Wayne settled on Mark Bright, Joe West and Dave Pahanish as producers of the album. "The chemistry was nuclear," he says of his relationship with his producers. "I just felt like what they were doing was so brand new that no one else was doing it. I just wanted to give it a shot. I had nothing to lose, really."
In addition to 10 new songs, five of which Wayne co-wrote, Do You Believe Me Now also features re-recordings of his first hits, "Stay Gone" and "I Love You This Much." The other songwriters on the album are West, Pahanish, Tim Johnson, Rory Lee Feek, Bob Regan, Kevin Paige, Mark Nesler, Tony Martin, Don Sampson, Billy Kirsch, Lori McKenna, Liz Rose, Wendell Mobley, Neil Thrasher and Jason Sellers.
Wayne says he basically put the album together on his own. "I'll be quite frank. I did all that stuff by myself. Granted, I did have the support of the Valory Music Company and Scott Borchetta because they could have easily let me go -- especially after three and a half years. . . . But they didn't. They were just waiting for me to bring them the right material, and when I did, they stepped right up to the plate."
The singer estimates he brought more than 50 songs for Borchetta to listen to during the time he was working on the album. "I kept bringing him material. It was good stuff -- and there's some [songs] that actually ended up on the album -- but it just wasn't the songs that cut through all the other stuff out there.
"That's what I was looking for -- something that sounded just a little bit different than the song [on the radio] that just went off and a little bit different than the song that's getting ready to come on."
Patty Loveless and John Oates -- two of Wayne's favorite artists -- provide guest vocals for the album, she on the tormented "No Good for Me" and he on the triumphant "Where You're Going."
"Patty Loveless is a friend of mine from way back," says Wayne. "She and I lived on the same street back in Kings Mountain, N.C., back in 1981 or something like that. We didn't know it at the time. . . . Over a period of years, I was always talking about how I'd love to have her sing on one of my records. Of course, she'd say, 'It's gotta be the right song.'"
How Wayne became friends with pop singer John Oates is another story of providential proximity. "John Oates and I met in New York City. I was doing a performance at a satellite radio studio. I sang a song in the studio that day called 'Sara Smile,' which is an old Hall & Oates classic.
"I walked out into the hallway and there comes Daryl Hall and John Oates down the hallway. I'm like, 'Of all the places on this planet, how in the hell did we end up on the same floor in the same skyscraper in the same city in the same country in this world? How did we do it?'"
During that encounter, Oates suggested that he and Wayne should writer together. "Well," says Wayne, "he didn't have to bend my arm or anything. I was like, 'OK, let's see if he really means this.' So I gave him my number, and, sure enough, two weeks later he called me." The two subsequently collaborated at Oates' home in Aspen.
Not long after, Oates sang on "Where You're Going" for Wayne's CD. Wayne returned the favor by lending his voice to two cuts on Oates' new solo album, 1000 Miles of Life.
Although he is spreading his lyrical reach, Wayne continues to focus much of his music on his turbulent, fatherless childhood. "I'm always writing about the stuff that I know, and it takes me a long time to let this stuff marinate," he explains.
It is his zeal for the real, Wayne believes, that has gained him his audience. "We're playing for country music listeners, and the majority of country music listeners that I know have a story to tell. They all have trials and tribulations that they've gone through. The best way to connect with those people is to sing something that they know."