For most of his life, Jefferson Ross has been a songwriter. He played guitar in country star Terri Clark’s band, even toured the world with evangelist Jimmy Swaggart – but his “me time” was always spent hunched over his acoustic, writing songs.
A few years ago, the native of Lincolnton, Ga. was signed to Nashville’s Curb Publishing as a staff songwriter. He scored a couple of major hits – Bryan White cut his “On Any Given Night” – but he finds the scribe-for-hire scene not altogether satisfying.
“Really, they want you to write for the kids,” Ross says. “That’s where the money is right now; that’s where the hits are being done. I’ve been giving it my shot, but I’m 46 years old – and frankly, I want to be more like Guy Clark or Townes Van Zandt than some kid that’s just starting out.”
Those legendary songwriters, and so many others, inspired Ross to take matters into his own hands and record an entire CD of his songs, performed with an acoustic band, just the way he likes ‘em.
Ross will premiere songs from Azalea at a special performance Friday at Cha Bella Restaurant.
“Everybody wants to be successful,” he says of his dreams of Music City gold. “But ultimately, you do it for yourself.
“I’ve got 200 songs that are never going to be cut by an 18-year-old. It’s my story. So I went out, got the money and made this record myself. We’re getting a little bit of attention and airplay over in Europe.”
Although he and his Canadian-born wife live in Nashville, Ross grew up in Atlanta - and Georgia, frankly, is on his mind.
“If I had a career doing this, of being the Guy Clark of Georgia and the Carolinas, I could live with that.”
The songs on Azalea are clearly the work of an inspired craftsman. They range from roadhouse country blues to plaintive acoustic ballads. There’s a lot of dobro-like acoustic slide on the record – played by Rob Ickes – and fiddle, and piano, and wonderfully assembled harmony vocals. Lisa McCallum sings a duet with Ross on the infectious “Had to Be So Easy” – a hit just waiting to happen.
Several of the tunes – including “Changes” and “Stillwater Oklahoma” – were put “on hold” by superstar George Strait, which means he intended to record them.
But he did not, so Ross re-claimed them for Azalea.
“I just wanted to make a record that I could listen to over and over again, and be happy with,” Ross says.
In order to succeed as a professional songwriter, you’ve got to balance two tender issues: What you’re inspired to say, and what the market demands.
“That’s the dream, to be a poet and get paid for it,” Ross explains. “It’s a rare combination but it does happen. And that’s the carrot that I’ve been following for 25 years.
“I work in the bubblegum factory up here. Believe me, you can sell your soul too much, and nobody’s interested. They want the illusion that this is the tortured poet, the guy who’s been up to the mountain and seen it.”
Ross was in Savannah last weekend, making a video for “The Last Song,” the closing track on Azalea, as promotion for upcoming dates in Europe.
He and his wife visit often. “I really like Savannah, and I’d like to have it be part of my … persona,” he says. “The Low Country. And I don’t think it’s really been represented musically like it could be. Everybody represents Louisiana, or wherever, but the Low Country is such a magical part of America.”
With Stan Ray
Where: Cha Bella, 102 E. Broad St.
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 7
“Old World, New World” wine tasting event: 7 p.m.
Tickets: $20 for concert and wine tasting, $10 concert only
Phone: (912) 790-7888
Artist’s Web site: www.jeffersonross.com