by Craig Shelburne
If you’re an aspiring country artist, you’ll often hear about Nashville being a “ten-year town,” meaning it takes a decade to have a seemingly overnight success. But if you’re a country listener, you’ve undoubtedly been hearing something else over the last year — namely, Jameson Rodgers’ debut single, “Some Girls.” With its 49-week climb, he set a Billboard chart record in October for a debut country single to reach No. 1.
During an interview with CMT.com, the Mississippi native says he’s heard all about the “ten-year town,” yet his own rise to the top stands out, if only because it includes unwavering support from his parents, his longtime songwriting buddies, and even a then-unknown Luke Combs.
CMT: What was going through your mind when you got the news you went to No. 1?
JR: Man, you’re nervous all week. I’ve been nervous about it since it hit the Top 10, you know what I mean? Debut singles just don’t go No. 1 very often. You don’t know what to expect, really, so this is all new territory for me.
I was actually in Mississippi. I grew up in Mississippi and I had gone down for the weekend and got the news when I was with my dad. We were riding around the farm putting trail cameras out, so that was a pretty cool moment since he’s been the No. 1 fan since Day One.
Did your dad introduce you to country music?
Oh yeah, my dad is a major country music fan. He’s almost a country music encyclopedia with the traditional country stuff. His whole side of the family – actually, my dad’s dad and his brothers were all in a band together called the Delta Playboys, and they were the first band to play the radio station in my hometown. So, the roots run deep on that side of the family for sure.
I haven’t been to your hometown. What’s it like there?
I grew up in Batesville, Mississippi, and the town slogan is “Where the Delta Meets the Hills.” So, it’s right there close to that Delta tradition, with a lot of farming going on. It’s a small Mississippi town. I grew up about three miles outside of the city limits, so it was close enough to the city, but far enough to get away from it, too. I don’t get to go home as much these days, so that was a full-circle moment that I was down there when I got the news.
Looking back, what was your dad’s response when you said, “Hey, I think I’m going to move to Nashville”?
I was talking to him about that this weekend. Listening back to the songs I was writing and how I was singing 10 years ago, it was pretty rough, to say the least. (laughs) I was like, “Why did you let me move to Nashville? I was so bad back then!” He was like, “Man, I knew you had it in you.”
He’s always supported me. I’ve played baseball my whole life and he was always my biggest fan in that, too. And my mom as well. My parents have always been so supportive of me. I know that doesn’t happen with everybody so I feel pretty lucky.
Did you ever come to Nashville before you moved here?
I moved here in August 2010, and my dad and I came up in May 2010, just a few weeks after the flood here in Nashville. We came up here looking for apartments, went out to a few songwriter nights that weekend, and got the vibe of the city. But I moved here and didn’t know anybody. I didn’t know a single person in Nashville. I talked a roommate in college to move up here with me.
You’re obviously familiar with the phrase “ten-year town.” Did you ever believe that for yourself?
When I first moved to town, you’d meet people who had been here a while and they’d tell you, “Man, it’s a ten-year town.” And I always kinda believed that I would be a rare, special thing that wouldn’t take 10 years for me to make it. I think I hit it 10 years on the head pretty much. (laughs)
What did you study in college?
I studied marketing. I played baseball through junior college, and then I went down to Southern Miss to finish school. I didn’t play baseball there but I lived with a bunch of baseball players down there. That’s when I picked the guitar up and started writing songs.
One of my roommates did spoken word poetry down there, and he won the Southern Miss Got Talent at the time. It was like a three-minute rap, just talking it out. And I had another roommate who was a pretty good guitar player. So it was a perfect combination of learning how to write lyrics from one guy, and learning how to play guitar better.
How did the songwriter nights in Nashville help you learn your craft?
When you move to town, you haven’t heard many other people’s songs. We were all amateurs at the time. Getting to come up here and listen to the competition, I guess is what you’d call it, and meeting them… I met so many songwriters back then that are still my crew today. When you meet people coming up through the trenches like that, you tend to stay buddies forever..
I’d read that you met your fiancée at the Bluebird Café. Is that right?
I did. We were in a songwriting workshop in 2011 there. I think we both had a crush on each other at the time, but it took us another three or four years for the stars to line up and started dating, I guess.
Tell me how you connected with Luke Combs.
Yeah, it’s funny, in 2016 he sent me a DM on Instagram. At the time, my first EP had just come out with “Midnight Daydream” and “Girls That Smoke.” His now-wife (and girlfriend at the time) Nicole, was a fan of the song “Midnight Daydream,” so she sent it to Luke and he sent me a message on Instagram. This was before he was Luke Combs. I didn’t know who he was. I had never heard him, honestly, but he had a blue checkmark on his Instagram, and I was like, “Well…”
So I asked some buddies of mine. I was like, “Do y’all know who Luke Combs is? He hit me up, wanting to write a song.” Luckily I had somebody smart to tell me to definitely do that. Anyway, long story short, we wrote together and became buddies. Fast forward a couple of years, and I put another EP out with “Some Girls” on it. And he hit me up again and said, “I’m going on tour in 2019. You should come be the first of three.” I’d play for 30 minutes to 10,000 to 15,000 people, every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. He’s done more favors for me than I can probably repay him for.
Where were you when you first heard “Some Girls”?
I don’t remember, but I’ve had the demo since probably 2016. Michael Hardy, Jake Mitchell, and CJ Solar wrote the song, and like I was saying with the songwriter nights earlier, that’s some of my crew that I’ve hung with since the writer night days. We used to always share demos with each other and I told them, four or five years ago, if nobody else wanted this thing and I got a record deal one day, I would definitely do it. So, thank God it slipped through the cracks.
It’s been a slow build for “Some Girls.” What’s that like as a new artist to watch a song gradually grow?
It’s highs and lows throughout the process. It’s hard to even know what to expect as a new artist. I put the song out actually in the fall of 2017 on iTunes and Spotify, and it was a year and a half later before I had a record deal and it was going to radio. It’s been quite the journey but that’s why you move to town, to have a song on the radio.
I guess it was at radio for close to a year and a half. So, the first six months, it’s kind of quiet, like a radio station here added it, a radio station there added it. You’d get these big adds, and then there’s a week where nobody added it. Really, the last six months I could feel the momentum behind it and I guess the rest is history.