A win on the TV reality show “Nashville Star” plucked Buddy Jewell from obscurity eight years ago.
Three albums and several hit songs later, the country singer plans to spend his 50th birthday playing for fans at The Maryland Theatre in downtown Hagerstown on Friday, April 1. The concert will conclude the Hagerstown Community Concert Association’s 2010-11 season.
Jewell said he will build his Hagerstown set list from his latest album, “Country Enough,” and an upcoming gospel project, “I Surrender All.”
“It’s a compilation of some things I’ve written,” Jewell said. “And gospel hymns I grew up singing as a kid in church.”
Jewell, an Arkansas native, beat John Arthur Martinez and Miranda Lambert in the reality music contest, “Nashville Star,” country music’s version of “American Idol.” Signing with Columbia Records afterward was his welcomed reward for putting in 10 years of fruitless work as an original artist, songwriter and demo singer in Nashville, Tenn.
“Like a lot of people who move there, I was one of the ones who was going to fall through the cracks if that television show hadn’t come along,” Jewell said.
The self-titled album that followed debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. The album bore two commercial hits, “Help Pour Out The Rain (Lacey’s song)” and “Sweet Southern Comfort,” which landed at No. 3 on Billboard’s Top Country Songs listing.
But despite the meteoric rise after “Nashville Star,” Jewell’s music never saw the same level of commercial success, though his follow up album “Times Like These” charted at No. 5.
Jewell was eventually dropped from Columbia’s roster.
Lately, Jewell has been promoting “Country Enough,” which he cut from his own Diamond Dust label in 2008. And he has been trying to establish a fan base in Europe.
The most buzz has come from single “This Ain’t Mexico,” a tongue-and-cheek ditty Jewell wrote with country and Latin music songwriter Allen Sostrin.
The song riffs on illegal immigration.
“I got some flak over it and that’s fine,” Jewell said. “I think America’s missing a lot of its swagger that it had in our heyday. There aren’t enough John Waynes in this country anymore. I felt it was appropriate for me to stand up and say what I felt. I have overwhelmingly been applauded for saying it.”
For better or worse, Jewell said he isn’t afraid to let his opinions show in his music.
That said, he’s also willing to show his softer, gentler side.
Jewell and his wife of 22 years, Tené, have three children. They were all in the “Help Pour Out The Rain (Lacey’s song)” video. Early on, the family used the earnings from his wife’s nail salon to keep the family afloat financially.
Before he decided to pursue music for real, “regular” jobs included stints as a door-to-door TV salesman and a beer-truck driver. Jewell was also a gunfighter in a Texas theme park attraction — and that was a step up from a prior role in the park’s saloon show.
He said he never warmed up to the saloon’s dress code: “Cow-print chaps, aquamarine Roy Rogers-looking shirts and dance shoes,” Jewell said.
He said it was around the time he and Tené had their first child, Buddy Jewell III, that he decided to get serious about his music. The family lived in Texas in the Dallas-Fort Worth region at the time. When he wasn’t working the Texas bar circuit, he was at home changing diapers, playing “Mister Mom,” he said.
In the early 1990s, Jewell competed on “Star Search” and won the best Male Vocal category a few times. He also competed in a talent show hosted by Alabama. That’s around the time he decided to pack up and move to Nashville, with dreams of making it big as a country star.
His first major hit, “Help Pour Out The Rain (Lacey’s song),” was inspired by his daughter, Lacey, now 17.
“We were taking her to this in-home day care that a friend of ours had,” Jewell said. Lacey was 3 at the time.
“We were on the subject of Jesus,” Jewell continued. “I actually can’t remember how we got into the conversation, but she first said, ‘Daddy, I don’t think I want to go to heaven.’
“I think you ought to reconsider because the other place doesn’t have air conditioning,” is how Jewell remembered responding to Lacey. “She got real quiet and said, ‘If I go to heaven, will God let me help pour out the rain?’”
If you go ...
WHAT: Buddy Jewell performs.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday April 1
WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown
COST: Individual tickets cost $25. For tickets, call 301-582-2734.
MORE: Final show of the Hagerstown Community Concert Association’s 2010-11 season. Go to www.hagerstownliveonstage.com.