“Heads Carolina, Tails California” is from her self-titled album. It was her first single and her first big hit on her first album, and it almost never happened. “That song was delivered to me after my first album was complete and we added it as an afterthought. We decided to add it because we loved it so much. It had dueling guitars on the intro. That was not so ‘Country Music’ at the time. To me, that’s just normal,” she says.
She is Jo Dee Messina.
Jo Dee Messina is a self-professed extrovert who burst into the world of country music in 1996 with the album that earned her two Top Ten hits. Her 1998 sophomore album, I’m Alright, made her the first female country artist to land three #1 songs from the same album. “Life got real busy real fast,” says Jo Dee in a recent telephone interview.
Award-winning. Multi-platinum selling artist. Nine number one songs. Three number one albums. Sixteen Top 40 Country Singles. Over five million albums sold worldwide. Academy of Country Music’s Top Female Artist of the Year. Winner of CMA’s esteemed Horizon Award. These are just some highlights. She’s not done. Not by a long shot.
“I grew up singing country music in clubs and venues in the New England area. When all my friends went off to college, I decided it was either time to go to school or do something with music. I had been doing (music) since I was thirteen years old. It was already a full-time job for me.” As a kid she taught herself to play guitar and piano, so not surprisingly, she chose music. She packed her car full of everything she owned, left her Massachusetts home, and headed south to Music City: Nashville, Tennessee.
“When I moved to Nashville, the first thing I did was try and find a job. I wasn’t doing anything. I was just trying to keep a roof over my head,” says Jo Dee. “And then I won a chance to perform on a radio show and that’s when my producer, Byron Gallimore, heard me and called me up and asked me to come into his office for a meeting. I went to meet him and that’s when I crossed paths with Tim McGraw. (Gallimore) was producing Tim, as well. Tim became a fan of my voice and when it became time to record, he jumped in and said he’d love to be a part of this.”
It was the beginning of years of triumphant hits including, “Bye, Bye,” “I’m Alright,” “Lesson in Leavin,” “Because You Love Me,” “Burn,” “Bring On the Rain” (duet with Tim McGraw), “Stand Beside Me,” “My Give A Damn’s Busted,” and “Me.”
You might get lost in her songs. They might cause you to take a deep breath, inhale a miracle of life, wipe away a tear or four, or put on your best kick ass boots and prepare to ride the wind or conquer the world. Her unmistakable voice is as hopeful as it is bold. If you’ve ever had to pull yourself together and choose whether or not to face your fears, walk away, or stay and pray, then chances are you’ll love Jo Dee. Chances are you’ll want to see her highly entertaining show when she takes the stage at Newberry Opera House on Monday, April 18th. It will be a night for the girl in all of us. We’ll all be kindred spirits. And guys will enjoy the attitude in the house as much as the music on stage. If audiences influence the overall flow of the show—and we know that it does—then Newberry will make this show epic. It will be one that will be remembered as one of the best nights of our life. That’s my prediction. It’s my prediction because I’m one of those girls that got lost in Jo Dee’s songs years ago, just as I do today. They’re packed with that much emotional power, spiritual power, and girl power. Her voice combined with words, soothes and empowers, and sometimes, fear and anxiousness turn to calm.
A recent offering from her 2014 album, “Me”, holds one of the most honest paradoxes I’ve ever heard:
I’m somebody’s daughter
A shoulder to lean on
No matter when
I’m somebody’s teacher
When they don’t understand
Got a seat in the bleachers
I’m the world’s biggest fan
I wish I was half the woman that I’ve got to be
I wish I had all the answers right in front of me
I’m everything to everyone and I’m scared as I can be
Because when I look into the mirror all I see is me.
It evokes truth with pure simplicity, reminding us that our super-human exterior is fragile at times.
Twenty-six year old Jared Wicker gushes with excitement when talking about Jo Dee. “OMG, she’s like my all-time favorite! I swear, I’ve listened to her since I was a kid. I love her. You just don’t know,” he enthusiastically exclaims. I shared Jared’s comment with Jo Dee. Her voice was warm and wistful as she giggled, “Oh, I think that’s the music! I don’t necessarily know that’s me, but I love that because that’s what music did for me!” Jo Dee matter-of-factly adds, “Music was my safe place, my inspiration. It gave me a friend when I needed a friend, or inspiration when I needed inspiration. But I’m just the deliverer.”
You’re more than the deliverer, Jo Dee. Just ask Jared. Just ask me. Just ask your thousands and thousands of fans.
Jo Dee says she doesn’t know what being a multi-platinum selling artist means to her personally. “No one’s ever asked me that before. I’m still the same person that I was when I was a kid. I love getting out there and making music. The fact that I’m still doing it is a blessing. I’m very blessed to have timeless material and a whole new fan base. It’s a fascinating thing to watch. People have come to shows with signs from lyrics to a song, like a certain line from “Bye, Bye,” or “Burn” or “Heads Carolina, Tails California.” Some weren’t even born when these songs came out. It’s wonderful to see a new generation coming out to the shows.”
Jo Dee says she doesn’t have a favorite song. “I really don’t,” she says, “They all bring me back to a certain place in my life. The hits, of course, have spans of life attached to them —where I was in my career, where I was in my life. So they all have a special meaning.”
Record sales, radio spins, and YouTube hits confirm that the emotionally potent, “Bring On the Rain” is over-the-top revered and loved. “Helen Darling wrote that one. I love the song. When I first heard it, it was just the guitar demo with Helen Darling and a guitar. There was no background. There was nothing to it. It was just that I loved the message of it. It’s like overcoming, you know? It was so inspirational to me when I heard it. I go back to that inspiration, but I also have years of other people’s stories attached to that song. People would write me stories of what songs meant to them, so (the songs) have taken on a whole new life since the day I recorded them.
“If Heaven Was Needing A Hero” may be one of those songs that’s taken on new life over the years. Perhaps it’s one of the few songs that makes sense when people are taken from this earth due to terminal illnesses and senseless tragedies. Perhaps it conjures a beautiful and perfect heaven and restores hope. Perhaps it comforts some of us. Perhaps is holds some of us. If only for a moment. Perhaps.
“A Woman’s Rant” is truly a woman’s rant that most women can relate to. Jo Dee says of her busy lifestyle, “There’s a lot going on and a lot to take care of. I run a business and I have to take care of myself personally and physically. I have to take care of children and feed them and put a roof over their head and keep the business going. So there’s a lot to do. There’s a routine, but sometimes I have to fall out of it to get stuff done. I just try and pace myself.” Wow. I do believe Jo Dee just went on a telephone rant. Can you relate? Me, too. She talks fast, so if indeed it was a rant, it didn’t last long. It kinda felt like we were best friends for a minute. Cool.
Jo Dee’s forthcoming EP, Masquerade, is set for release in Spring 2016. “It’s just to get some product out there. People are wanting to hear more and I don’t have anything to facilitate a full album. The song “Masquerade” goes over massive live,” she says, “It’s the one that Facebook lights up.”
As evidenced by some of her songs, she’s quick witted with a good sense of humor:
Me: People have wept and laughed to your songs.
Jo Dee: They’ve gotten married and divorced to my songs, too.
Me: Do you really think redheads have a fiery tempers?
Jo Dee: Oh, I don’t know. I suppose everyone has a fiery temper if you light them up good enough.
Me: Do you do a lot of dancing at your shows?
Jo Dee: I can’t sit still, so I don’t’ know if that’s dancing or just fast pacing.
Me: What do you like about recording?
Jo Dee: (Giggling) Being done.
Fun facts: Jo Dee’s favorite color is purple. All animals are her favorites. She mostly reads informational books. She prefers mountains to the beach. Her favorite foods are vegetables. Some of her favorite movies are, It’s a Wonderful Life, Steel Magnolias, and The Borne Series. The last theater movie she saw was Inside Out. She’d like to see James Taylor in concert. She counts her blessings every day. She says motherhood is challenging, gratifying, exciting, exhilarating, and every unexplainable emotion. She’s more comfortable on stage than in a studio. She’s an extrovert. She shares a story in, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom.
Of her upcoming show at the Newberry Opera House, Jo Dee says they’ll do hits and new material—sharing stories behind the songs. She says a lot of what she feels on stage comes from the audience. “There’s a specific enjoyment of getting on stage and musicians hearing everyone play and having it all come together. The creation is pretty awesome.”
Jo Dee Messina performs at the Newberry Opera House on April 18th. For ticket information, visit NewberryOperaHouse.com or call the box office at (803) 276-6264.