Jimmy Wayne’s Higher Purpose: An Exclusive Interview
Jimmy Wayne, above all else, is a humanitarian. Sure, lately he’s been a master of all things media-related: his novel Paper Angels was published last fall and his singing career has seen three albums and ten charted hits among them his number one smash hit “Do You Believe Me Now.” In addition, 2012 will likely see the release of both album number four as well as a documentary that follows his 2010 walk across the United States to raise awareness and funds to benefit the foster system. But, more than anything, Jimmy Wayne is a humanitarian. On January 1, 2010, Wayne set out on a 1,660 miles march from Nashville, Tennessee to Phoenix, Arizona to raise awareness about homeless youth and, more specifically, children aging out of the foster system. He named it after his foundation and called it the “Meet Me Halfway” campaign. After walking seven months–the last four days on a broken foot–he successfully arrived in Phoenix on August 1.
Wayne’s own childhood was filled with a father that abandoned his family, a mother whose own life path included jail and drug use, runaway stints, homelessness and multiple foster homes. He utilized all of that experience and turned it into his life mission to make sure no child ever has to go through it again. His non-profit foundation raises all kinds of money for kids in foster care. He’s campaigned tirelessly to have different states change their foster kid policies so that kids, instead of being abruptly bumped from the system at 18, are now given an opportunity for success. Within the last few weeks, his work behind the scenes has supported a family who literally inherited an abandoned baby overnight in Georgia. As with everything else he does, he’s done it personally, supported it financially and furthered it by enlisting his army of fans to help. At times, the work has conflicted with a career. The country radio dial sometimes desires more fluff than the “baggage” that Wayne carries with him. But for this artist, he’s content with that fact. That mission of leaving the world a better than you found it isn’t just some throwaway cliché for Jimmy Wayne. It’s a lifestyle. And come hell or high water, he’s going to let us know about it.
Ken Morton, Jr.: How has it been becoming an author?
Jimmy Wayne: I wrote the song “Paper Angels” back in 2003 and it was released in 2004. It generated a lot of awareness for the Salvation Army Angel Tree program and helped out a lot of families and a lot of children who otherwise would not be getting anything for Christmas. It’s been awhile since that was out so I wanted to do something else to generate interest in the same issues. During my walk of 2010, I co-wrote this book over the phone with my co-writer Travis Thrasher. As I was walking across the roads of America, all I really had to do was walk and talk. My role was easier than his. He wife was having twins at the time so he was juggling life a lot. The goal was to generate awareness and hopefully inspire people to want to help. And the feedback that I’ve gotten from people that have read this book is that they have been inspired. They’ve gone out and done extra. And this year and next are so important because the economy is down so low. People really need help.
KMJ: The story itself is fictional, but I’m guessing that you drew on a lot of autobiographical stuff for the premise of the book.
JW: Yeah, although it’s a fiction, there are a lot of characters in this book that drawn from people I know. It’s just hard for me to write something that isn’t true. They wanted us to write a fiction, but it’s just a challenge for me. When I write songs, I always draw them from true stories. This book couldn’t just be made-up. I had to see and live the picture and then draw it.
KMJ: Jimmy Wayne the philanthropist and Jimmy Wayne the musician can’t be separated. That obviously shines through in your work. Do you see it that way? Is it just an extension of your own experiences and/or your own personality?
JW: Somebody made a statement one time to me. They started, “When you get back from the walk and things get back to normal…” And at that point in time, I interrupted them. “This is normal. This is what I do.” This isn’t a part-time gig for me. This is what I do. This is who I am. It’s because a family took me in off the streets when I was 16 years old. It’s hard to explain that to anyone and have them grasp what it’s like. You can’t even expect them to. But I can never forget it. I just have to continue to give back and share the gift that that family gave to me. I enjoy it. I enjoy doing it. I’ve been on stages. And I’ve stood on the Madison Garden Stage. And while it’s great and all, when I’m happiest and fulfilled the most is when I’m helping somebody out. I get a fulfillment out of that is bigger than any stage I’ve stood on. There’s nothing like having an impact on somebody’s life in a positive way. It changes somebody’s life. I know what that feels like. I’ve been on the receiving end when I was 16 and I know the importance of it. It’s just something we’re supposed to do, anyways. I don’t know what life would be like if I wasn’t doing that. I can’t imagine doing anything but receiving. I can’t fathom it. I don’t understand people who just receive all the time and never give back.
KMJ: Watching you, it’s infectious.
JW: It was infectious to me because this family did that for me. They saved me.
I was actually sitting in a car with two nuns a couple days ago. And I know that sounds really weird. But I was sitting in a car with two nuns. The Mother–that’s what they call her–said, “It’s amazing you just not so bitter. With what happened to you, how are you not the opposite of what you are?” She wondered why I wasn’t always mad and taking it out on everyone around me. I responded that the gift that the family gave me is so grand that it outweighs everything that I had done before. It was a humungous and magical gift for them to take me into their home when I didn’t have a home. I didn’t even have a washing machine to wash my clothes in. I didn’t even have any money to get them washed. I had nothing. For that family to trust me enough to allow me to sleep under their roof for six long years and get my life on track and to get my college education is nothing short of a miracle. That gift allowed me to move to Nashville and do what I do. Think of that. Think of what that family did for me. It wasn’t just a pat on the back. They gave me a whole new life. It outweighs everything, man. For everything I had gone through, it was almost an eclipse for my life before then. It almost blackened it out. It was that enormous.
KMJ: You mentioned the walk and that was a huge part of your spiritual journey in 2010. There is a documentary that was filmed during the walk. Talk to me a little about that.
JW: Well, i25 Productions is a production out of Colorado. They have donated all of their resources. This is a film company that does commercials for Perkins, Red Robin and other big franchises that we see on television and make us wonder, “Who is filming all that food?” That’s them. And they’ve done other pieces where they’ve gone to other countries and filmed all the hungry kids. That’s what they do too. They do amazing philanthropic things like that.
They donated all the resources for Meet Me Halfway and started filming my walk. And we’ve gone out three additional times with the camera and the crew–in a car–and drove the road that I walked. We filmed where I walked, where I slept, where I wept. We spent time in small town America. With the help of many people, we’re putting this film together. It’s in the works and we hope to have something in 2012. It has to be right, though. It can’t be rushed. It has to be the way it should be if you know what I’m saying.
KMJ: Is the walk’s influence carrying over into your next album?
JW: It sure is. I was inspired by the walk and from the walk. Places I went through and people I met did. The inspiration that the walk generated was simply amazing.
If you walk into a writing room in Nashville on Music Row, you’ll hear the same song written every single day. We never get out of Nashville. We never get off of Music Row. When there’s 1000 songs written per day on Music Row, how many different songs can there be? They’re not. It’s the same beat, it’s the same melody, it’s the same words, it’s the same rhyme. It’s “truck” and “duck” and “muck.” It’s the same thing over and over. Being able to come back to Nashville with a whole new perspective and a whole new experience and walk into a writing room with Pat Alger, who is the flagship writer on this record, and show him the video and pictures and stories from the walk was wild. I let him hear the audio from the walk from dozens of conversations I had with perfect strangers. We wrote the record around that. It was really refreshing. No one else has done that. I’m just anxious to get it out there so people can hear what we’ve come up with.
In between the songs, we’re including sound clips from the walk and sound bites of conversations of people that I’ve met.
KMJ: Are there some common themes among songs in there or are they separate stories based on each different encounter you had?
JW: They are musical photos from where I travelled. Some of them are reflecting on my childhood. Some are things that really haunted me while I was out there. They’re really deep, lyrical songs. They all connect in this one long concept album, but they stand individually.
KMJ: Tell me about this audio clips between the songs.
JW: For instance, there was this one town I went through. I’m glad I had my camera on me because when I got there, they thought Jimmy Buffet was coming through. For some reason, they misunderstood. Someone, miles prior, had called ahead and they had organized this huge party was waiting for Jimmy Buffet. (Laughter) When I showed up, they invited me to the party because Jimmy Buffet was coming that night. I was thinking the whole time, “Oh no. I think someone may have misunderstood, here.” So I hung around and I captured so much footage because I knew the truth. I captured it all on video. And a lot of it will make it on the documentary as well. They finally figured out that Jimmy Buffet wasn’t coming and that it was actually me. It turned into this amazing experience, one of the highlights of the walk.
KMJ: What’s your hope for the timeline on the new album? When will the public get to hear some of the new tracks?
JW: I’m hoping this year in 2012. I hope we’ll have something by then. What we need is for a team to get around it along with distributors. That’s what we’re working on right now. It’s mixed and we’re just working at getting some distribution. We’re getting there. Hopefully, we’ll get a label behind it.
KMJ: One last question, this one as open-ended as you want to make it. What is country music to Jimmy Wayne?
JW: Country music is the universal language of common people. It’s the universal language of the human race. Mankind. It tells our story and people relate to the story.
Someone once told me that people don’t want to hear your story. This was the new Nashville saying that. Trust me, it is. But imagine what this music would be if Dolly Parton hadn’t written “Coat of Many Colors”? Or if Loretta Lynn hadn’t written “Coal Miner’s Daughter”? And Johnny Cash, and all these other people who wrote songs that we all relate to personally? They wouldn’t have ever been legends without telling their story. They wrote and recorded songs that they truly believed in.
I tend to follow my heart and tend to write songs that I believe in. That’s probably the long road, but I have to go out into the public and connect with people on a personal level. I can’t just give them something temporary. That’s just the way I do it. That’s the way I’ll always do it.
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