Did you see the Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday night? I’ve written before about how Mark and I make fun of the awards shows and have a ball doing it. It is the best laughs I get all year. To me, the ACMs are the cheesier of the two big awards shows. The CMAs have a little more class. The ACMs are in Vegas, Reba hosts, they seem a little cruder. But I set the recorder so that we could watch them. I went to the grocery store. While I was there, my friend John Michael Whitby sent a mass text that he would be on the ACMs at 8:05 p.m. Even though I had read that George Strait would be performing, I always seem to forget that that means that John Michael will be there, too. So I dashed home with the groceries, hoping to see it live and then watch it later, too.
I got in the door and turned on the TV to find George already singing. I get a glimpse of John Michael’s hat. I decide I should call and make sure my mother is watching since she doesn’t record shows like these and I want that ego boost I get when I tell my mother about “my friend that plays for George Strait.” I call and she is watching, but I forget that we always have a difference between our TV reception. It is always evident when I call during football games and I hear her say “Oh, he got it!” three seconds before I see the pass completed. We ran into that again as I was saying, “Okay, second from the right, right now” and she would reply “No, that’s just George.” In our typical miscommunicative way she would say, “Is he wearing red and looks like a girl?” “No, mother, that’s the girl, he is male and he looks like a male and has on a hat.” I don’t know if she ever did see him, but I didn’t either, only his hat.
Mother had been watching the show since the beginning and she asked, “Wasn’t that your friend that was up for male vocalist?” “What friend,” I say, knowing that I don’t know any of these Nashville types that are on these shows. “Brad Paisley?” I say, since I did meet him this year and I like to casually throw that out there whenever I can. “No, not Brad Paisley, I mean your good friend, your close friend,” she continues. No, I have no idea what she is talking about. “I wrote it down on a piece of paper, hold on.” I hear rustling, either the newspaper by her chair or the Sudoku puzzle book. “Oh, here it is. Jack Ingram.” Jack Ingram? Yes! I do have a friend Jack Ingram. And he was up for an award? I can’t believe I’ve been so out of touch with the country music world. Did he win? She played coy and denied knowing if he did or if he didn’t.
Mark and I start watching the show from the beginning about 1 a.m. and are ready to speed through the three hours at top speed. It helps that he will NOT allow me to stop and hear even one word come out of Reba’s clown mouth. He is not a fan. We also are able to speed through most of the acceptance speeches since we don’t really care. We find it very odd (did you notice?) that on most of the awards, even when they were naming SONGS that were up for awards, they didn’t PLAY a snippet of the song at all! Could they not get the rights to them or what? It made a very dry, stale presentation, I thought. I also absolutely abhor having TV stars (usually of the hot new CBS series they want to promote) making presentations. What does that have to do with country music? I’m speeding through and then I see my friend Jack Ingram giving the “Don’t go away” message before a commercial. Ah, Jack!
Then they get to the Best New Male Artist award and Jack is one of the three nominated. And yes, he won! I was so excited! And amongst a night of cheesy acts that thank their “parents for having sex” (classy Kenny Chesney, real classy), there was a moment of true talent and graciousness. He really was a gentleman. As he was shaking hands and approaching the microphone, I wondered out loud to Mark if he would thank ME! And I was stunned when he did!
Jack said, “It’s been a long road to get here and stand before you as a new male vocalist. To anyone who has played my music on the radio, anyone who has come to a show with three other people in the audience, anyone who has been moved by the words of my songs, and anyone who has big dreams and high hopes . . . dream it, live it, own it. In the end the only thing that is important is not giving up.”Â See? All of that, except the big dream part, was meant for me!
I am very proud of Jack, but, like him, laugh at the idea that he is a “new” male vocalist. I first heard of him more than 10 years ago when Mark came home from a Gary P Nunn gig and had a Jack Ingram CD, “Livin’ and Dyin’.” Jack had opened for Gary P and Mark thought he was good. I think I maybe had seen the video to “Flutter” on CMT, but I wasn’t really conscious of the whole Texas music scene at that point. Or maybe there really wasn’t one, at least not to the degree there is now, I’m not sure. But “Livin’ and Dyin’” quickly became a favorite with Guy Clark’s “Rita Ballou” and that classic “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud Loud Music” and Jack Ingram originals “That’s Not Me” and “Imitation of Love” (at least I think those are Jack originals). I loved his phrasing and the way he would hang on to a syllable and squeeze it out before pressing forward with another syllable. I hadn’t ever heard someone sing with that kind of intensity.
Years go by and I know the name, but I’m not keeping up with Jack Ingram’s career. Then I hear that his new CD “Electric” is coming out and he’s doing a CD release over at Waterloo records across the street from my new job at KVET in the fall of 2002. I go across and see him perform and I still like the way he sings a song. Okay, I like the way he looks, too, I won’t deny it. I liked what he had to say between songs, too, and this was my first exposure to that aspect of the entertainer. He picked up a beer, drank some, looked at it and said, “I like beer. I just don’t sing about it.” I loved that! Already I was sick of the Texas songs that found nothing more interesting to write about than beer, a river, and Mexico.
Within just a few short weeks, I was filling in on afternoons on KVET, hoping to get the job full time. Jason Kane was my boss and he said he wanted me to interview Jack Ingram who was going to be playing out at the Backyard that evening. Intense! I hadn’t done an interview on the radio in years. But Jack came in and made it all so easy. He had stories, he had clever things to say, he could take a stupid question like “So, how have you been?” and turn it into a funny anecdote about being on the road.
At that time, we were having a contest on the radio that had to be run at a VERY specific time because we were doing this contest at the same time as stations across the country were doing it. But, getting swept away by Jack and our conversation, I failed to run the contest at the appointed time. I alerted the boss and he had me run it a little bit late, but Jack was concerned and compassionate that I might get fired over that gaffe (I wasn’t so sure I wouldn’t either). To this day, he still remembers how “he almost got me fired.”
While he was in the studio, I had a candle burning honoring Willie Nelson. Mark makes these fabulous altar candles to our musical heroes. MOST of the faces on the candles are icons that have passed on, but the one of Willie looked so good, he made me one for a living icon. I had it burning in the studio so that the glowing eyes and benevolent face of Willie would be looking after me. Jack LOVED that candle. He is a huge Willie fan and he thought that it was great. I told him to take it. He tried to not take it, knowing it was special to me, but I insisted since I knew where I could get another one. He swore he was going to burn it right down front on stage that very night and he would burn it every night he played until it was completely exhausted. I told him when that day came I would get him another one if he wanted, they weren’t THAT unattainable.
A week or so later I got a handwritten thank you note from Jack Ingram thanking me for the interview, for the candle, and for almost blowing my job while we talked. I had never had a handwritten thank you note from an artist or anyone I had interviewed before. I’ve had a couple since, but not this long and heartfelt. And believe me, he was WAY past that “breaking into the business” stage where he needed to do stuff like that, especially for me, a part-time disc jockey with a temporary post on afternoons.
Before long, I saw Jack do the Acoustic Motel tour at the Saxon Pub and was totally blown away by the performance–way beyond just the music. I joined the huge fan base he had had for years and found myself paying (yes, he’s one of the very few Texas artists I have paid to see time and time again) for his shows and his albums.
Now I don’t even know how many times I had Jack in the studio, but he had an open door and I was happy to have him any time he was available. He was always a good interview, always easy to talk to, and always so warm and appreciative. And, I will add that he was one of the first artists to be in touch when I was let go to offer sympathy and good wishes. He wrote me, “I’m going to miss hearing your voice and hearing a friend on the airwaves,” and he said, “Keep on keepin’ on” which is the title of one of my favorite Jack songs (but there are so many!)
But now,after 10 years of working at a pace that I don’t think very many of the Texas country artists on the charts could maintain, he is finally the “new” guy to the country. But I’m so glad he has been my friend for these five or so years and I know he knows all about “keep on keepin’ on.”