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What is it about Jessi?

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

"I was ten years old when I stared into the cover of mother's Jessi Colter record droppin' down."

I'm about to tell you my story. It's a love story, and it begins with this Jessi Colter record. When I was 10 years old, my mother unwittingly bought the record album that would set a course for my life. It was the "I'm Jessi Colter" record. I remember it like it was yesterday - me lying on my stomach in brand new, burnt orange, two inch shag carpet. As she placed the record on the turntable, I picked up the cover and stared long and deep into this woman as I listened to the sounds of a pedal steel guitar that firmly gripped me from within, and never let me go. It was an astounding moment for me.

This is my mother. She was the most fantastic thing I'd ever seen or would ever see in my life. Beyond her breathtaking beauty, she was a real thing "to behold" because her wisdom and sharp discernment could not be denied, but no amount of wisdom can keep any of us from some of the marital trials we face. Like mother, like daughter, I'm certainly no relationship expert. I was in the middle of recording this album when I had to face the brutal truth of the unavoidable necessity for another unwanted divorce.

This is me at 10 years old. I had an acute tenacity backed by a justice muscle bigger'n Dallas. Donna Sue (my mother) taught me well, in countless ways to keep an open heart, but stick to my guns. Just watching her maneuver through the endless stream of difficulties in life, and somehow remain strong, and get back up again and again was a marvel. There are things worth fighting for in this life that no amount of failure should ever stop us from, and family itself is one of the most worthy things we can fight for.


The "Outlaw movement" was something I didn't fully understand when I was ten, and first listened to the "I'm Jessi Colter" record. I mean... there were all these hairy-faced rebels, but mixed right in the midst of them was this "Diamond in the Rough" Jessi Colter. In songs like "I'm looking for Blue Eyes" and "I'm Not Lisa" you can clearly hear and identify with the pain of a woman who simply wants a man to do what a man should do - love her, and be true. It's an ageless story that goes all the way back to King David.


This is me about the time I moved to Nashville to pursue my lifelong dream of being a... well that's just it. I was a bit confused about exactly what it was I wanted to be. You might say I was in the middle of a musical identity crisis. It was the 90's. Things had changed since "Wanted! The Outlaws" came out. I had been part of a trio in Amarillo, Texas. One of the members was Johnny Rose whose wife at the time was Liz Rose . Together, Liz and I quickly became margarita drinking, Nashville bound, songwriter wannabes! We cowrote a few tunes early on. Once we got to Nashville, Liz Rose saddled up and took that horse for a real ride! Penning songs for Taylor Swift, Little Big Town, Bonnie Raitt and more, she just won another Grammy this year. Me? I remained out of focus and musically confused about "who I've been... and who I am." I seemed to be such a musical misfit for the times, and everything I tried to do musically seemed to have handcuffs on it. It wasn't me, and it wasn't 90's Nashville. But a "divine hint" happened the minute I got to Nashville, and at the time, I barely noticed it.


This is Randy Kling. Before moving to Nashville, I had a bookkeeping background because... well, I like to eat. I purposely did not want a job on Music Row because I did not want to be perceived as a bookkeeper. I wanted to be perceived as a songwriter. I interviewed three times with a CPA for some job he would not reveal and I finally thought, "Whatever this job is, I have to take it because I am out of money!" I was then introduced to my new boss - Randy Kling, former Chief Mastering Engineer for RCA, and basically the entire Outlaw Country sound, including that "Wanted! The Outlaws" record! What? Yeah! I call this kind of thing "The divine conveyer belt." Randy was a great mastering engineer, sweet man, and a relentless teacher of his audio passions.

WHAT'S IN A BUILDING? I left Music Row in 1999 due to some health issues, and decided not to return because I was tired of swimming the opposite direction in an ever increasing sea of new sounds. Years later I was "pulled back" to Nashville and began hearing rumors that the RCA building that was home to me in the 90's was about to be torn down in order to build yet another high rise condo. I didn't realize how much I cared about that building until I heard this. Then the cry arose from the music community to #savestudioA - which then grew to #savemusicrow. The cry was heard and the RCA building was saved! It was always my plan to record this album in the Panhandle of Texas where I grew up, and where the story of this album happened. I wanted to capture the sound of the region. With the help of some friends in the Amarillo music community, I found a killer studio there - Glenn Storlie's Covenant Studios. We were able to assemble an absolute "A Team" of players. Just before we began recording in Amarillo, I was in Nashville and an engineer friend suggested that I do a mic shoot out at a studio run by a producer friend of his named Eddie Gore. As it turned out, Eddie had recently moved into Studio C in the RCA Building. Studio C is tucked away in a cozy corner of the building right next door to my old mastering room. (Randy Kling finally talked me into becoming a mastering engineer out of a sheer desperate need for an extra engineer one day.) It was quite a feeling to walk those halls again that day. In digging through the history, it became my understanding that RCA Studio C was originally built by Chet Atkins and Waylon Jennings with the intention of recording Jessi Colter's vocals. What do you know?!? Just wow! I decided I would at least record my vocals for the title track, Common Ground in Studio C in honor of Jessi, but then Covid prevented me from finishing the mixes of this album in Amarillo, so it became glaring - I called Eddie Gore, and we finished the mixes in RCA Studio C! I felt right at home again.


When I started reflecting on all this again, wondering what drew me to this music other than the fact that it was the sound track of my family and upbringing, and the first sounds that truly inspired me, I had an epiphany. I've always said that I loved the sounds of 70s Outlaw Country, but not necessarily the culture being presented through those songs. I've had so many loved ones die, or become "buried alive" due to alcohol and drug addiction in my life. Even the aftermath of the effects of addiction have "killed off" family members, friends, and loved ones. I, myself, "drank my limit" in the 90's. So while I might not represent the exact same culture of the outlaw movement, I definitely align with the nonconformist spirit of this movement, and it is time that I go back and finish what was started a long time ago! I've been thinking about doing this for a while now, but recently some things happened that made me know that it was time, including the loss of another loved one due to addiction. So, I moved back into the historic RCA building to finally launch the record label, and release the Common Ground album to the world - and boldly just be me!


By definition, it turns out I have been an outlaw all along! I wonder what this world would look like if we all refused to conform to what others think and just do what is in our heart to do. What a beauty-full place this would be. I'm not encouraging a rebellious fight, but simply a love based, and honoring boldness to just fully be who you are, and follow your path!


How is this a love story? The Common Ground album, influenced by the sounds of Jessi Colter, and Outlaw Country, and more specifically, the sound of pedal steel guitar, is all about love. You'll see.


Love to all,

Jill






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