IF the name Buddy Jewell sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a name that’s synonymous with genuine country music. Ever since winning the Nashville Star TV show in 2003, Jewell has been churning out country hits and playing to fans all over the world. He's successfully managed to avoid the bro country phenomenon that has plagued Nashville in the last several years, making him something of a rebel.
Jewell, who plays Randy Wood’s Pickin’ Parlor on Fri., Feb. 8, has continued to release acclaimed albums and EPs since his initial success on the heels of his TV win, and is so busy that he spoke to us just after landing in Switzerland for a festival date in Zurich.
Tell me about your early life in music and introduction to country.
Buddy: I grew up in northeast Arkansas, and my mom and dad came from a little town called Dyess. It's Johnny Cash's hometown as well, so I was a Johnny Cash fan. My dad loved traditional country music, especially great singer songwriters like Marty Robbins, Johnny Horton, guys like that. When I was 14 I started playing guitar, and I realized that my feel and style was more country than pop so I started doing that.
Nashville Star really jump-started your career. If you could sum up that experience all these years later, how would you do that?
Buddy: I've got no regrets about that show. I don't think I would've ever gotten a record deal without it. I was in Nashville for 10 years prior to that and couldn't get a deal. All the label guys loved my singing but they didn't like the way I looked. I was too old for them and all of that. But it was a lot of fun to do the show. It was very nerve-wracking because it was live, and I thought they would vote me off the first week because I was the oldest person on the show [laughs].
So there was nobody more surprised than me that every week they kept me. I was shocked that I won – I think the only person that was more shocked than me was Miranda [Lambert].
With a lot of these kinds of shows, some people go on to do really well. But it doesn’t always pan out that way with winners. For you to get this deal and then pretty much immediately have a hit was huge. What was that like for you, the snowball effect of the whole thing?
Buddy: It was almost like I was watching it happen to somebody else, almost an out-of-body thing. One day, not too much longer after the single came out, I was at Wal-Mart doing some shopping and my daughter said, "Dad, I think that lady right there knows who you are. She's been following us for the last six aisles."
So I went from being a nobody to people following me around in Wal-Mart, which I think is funny. It was a great experience. I’m so amazed by the power of television. I’m sitting here talking to you from Zurich, because of a television show from 15 years ago. That’s just how strong it was.
In 2015 you did an album of classic country songs called My Father’s Country. Was your impetus for that to go back and explore the stuff that you grew up on?
Buddy: I had always wanted to do a classic country covers project. The label that I was working with said, "We'd love for you to do a covers record." I was literally thinking the same thing. So when we started putting stuff together, George Hamilton IV was one of the artists on the label before he passed away. I loved the song "Abilene" that he did, and decided that I wanted to make that the cornerstone of the project.
As I was listening to songs, I said, “My dad loved all these songs that I’m listening to.” So I decided to pick 10 songs that he really loved and make it a tribute to him.
After so many years, you’re still touring and making records. What keeps you going, and what does country music mean to you?
Buddy: What keeps me going is the music, and the people. I genuinely love to spend time after shows meeting folks and taking pictures and all of that. I do a Facebook Live thing every Tuesday, and I try to go back and like all the comments to let people know that I'm paying attention [laughs].
I love performing, I love writing, and I especially love the creative part of making a record. As far as the genre goes, I’ve been over the bro country stuff for a long time and have been hoping that we’re getting some better music coming along. I think we are.
I think so too! I think we’re seeing a return.
Buddy: Yeah. But all I can do is keep doing what I do and be me.