After Arkansas native Buddy Jewell moved to Nashville in 1993, he spent the next 10 years proving he belonged in Music City.
Though songwriters and fans were taking notice, record labels weren’t as fast to accept him, and it wasn’t until winning the first season of Nashville Star in 2003 that Jewell was awarded his long sought-after record deal with Sony/Columbia Records.
Though dropped from Sony’s roster just two and a half years after winning Nashville Star, Jewell produced two top three singles from his debut major label album, and has since released five albums to both critical and audience acclaim, including 2019’s “Shine On.”
However, before finding success, Jewell was laying his musical foundations by growing a love for the music he heard his father playing.
“I loved a lot of that stuff; guys like Marty Robbins, Johnny Horton, Hank Snow, and Johnny Cash were big influences,” says Jewell. “I really found out pretty quickly that I really loved country music, and I think it was because of the roots my dad had laid down.”
As he continued to hone is craft, Jewell began performing, though he saw himself fitting into a different part of the entertainment industry.
“I was a radio/TV major, and at that time, I saw myself being a DJ or a cameraman or someone behind the scenes,” says Jewell. “I think one of the turning points for me was when I was a freshman in college. Some of my friends talked me into getting involved in a campus talent contest. I came in second place. That really got me thinking that I might enjoy making a living out of this.”
After moving to Nashville, Jewell began working as a demo singer, where he lent his voice to songs that would become major hits for George Strait, Lee Ann Womack, and Clay Walker, among others. As he watched the songs he demoed have success, Jewell was developing an even greater hunger to have his voice coming over country airwaves.
“That’s why I moved to Nashville in 1993. I had heard of other people getting record deals from being demo singers, and I was really blessed that I had some writers that loved my singing,” says Jewell. “I remember Harlan Howard, a great songwriter back in the day, telling me, ‘Just hang in there kid, you’ll get your chance.’ He mentioned guys like Joe Diffie and Garth Brooks; they sang demos before they got their shot. I kept on going until they had to give me a shot.”
That shot began to present itself when a friend suggested he try out for a new singing competition called Nashville Star.
“There was a guy that went to my church named Richard Johnson, and every Sunday, he started telling me about this new reality show that they were doing about country singer/songwriters,” says Jewell. “Richard was really persistent, and finally, to kind of just shut him up, I said I would go do it.”
However, after realizing how much demo work he had on the week of tryouts for the show, Jewell decided that he wasn’t going to audition.
“I called my wife and said, ‘I’m not going to do this TV show thing, I need to be working on learning songs. Besides, if I made it on the show, how are we going to survive with me not working for however long the show runs,’” says Jewell. “I hung up, and my wife called me back and said, ‘We left Texas to come here and try to get you record deal. If we don’t turn over every stone, then we might as well pack up and go back Texas.’ If she had not called me back, I would not have auditioned.”
Not only did Jewell audition, but he won the show, topping a then-unknown Miranda Lambert, and was awarded a record deal with Sony/Columbia Records.
“I had been in town for ten years, and had been told no by every record label at least twice,” says Jewell. “To win a recording contract when they wouldn’t give me one was kind of like sticking it to the man.”
Jewell released his first, self-titled album, produced by Clint Black, on Columbia in 2003. The lead single on the album, “Help Pour Out the Rain (Lacey’s Song)” gave Jewell the lifelong memory of hearing one of his songs on the radio for the first time.
“It’s funny, I would listen to local radio, and it would come on, and immediately my phone would start ringing, and people would tell me that they were playing it on a certain station. I never got to hear it all the way through,” says Jewell. “One day, as the station was going to break, they said when they came back, they were going to play a song by Nashville Star winner Buddy Jewell, so I turned my phone off. I’ll never forget it, I was going down this little two-lane road, and I turned my phone off and listened. It was really great to finally, after all those years, see that come to fruition, and realize that I was getting to do what God had really put me here to do.”
The song, which was written solely by Jewell, reached number three on Billboard’s country chart, which gave Jewell an additional level of validation.
“For years, I had tried to get my songs recorded, and it never happened until I recorded my own,” says Jewell. “It was really fulfilling for that to happen.”
Looking to build off of his debut single’s momentum, Columbia released what has since become Jewell’s signature song, “Sweet Southern Comfort,” which Jewell heard by chance during his time on Nashville Star.
“We had gotten down to where there were five contestants left: myself, Miranda Lambert, John Arthur Martinez, Brandi Gibson, and Brandon Silveira. Sony told us since they didn’t know who was going to win, they had to get singles recorded by all of us, because two days after the show ended, they were sending the winner’s single out to every radio station around the world,” says Jewell. “I was sitting in one of the rooms, and I heard them play a song for Brandon Silveira. As I’m listening. I go, ‘Wow, I really like that.’ I told myself that I needed to find out the name of that song, because if I got lucky enough to win the show, I wanted to record it. That song was ‘Sweet Southern Comfort.’ I tell people all the time that I didn’t write it, but I was smart enough to record it.”
After “Sweet Southern Comfort” also reached number three on Billboard’s country chart, Jewell began work on his second album for Sony, “Times Like These,” but began to realize a shift from his record label.
“Unfortunately, Sony really didn’t get behind the second record,” says Jewell. “I knew when I found out how many copies that they had done; the initial pressing compared to what they’d done for the first record, I thought, ‘Oh wow. They’re kind of hedging their bets here.”
Jewell realized that though Nashville Star gave him a platform, it also had its disadvantages.
“They’d given the people that owned the television show a huge chunk of money to be part of the show. And as part of that deal, they also had to give away half of whatever the winning artist made, so they were keeping 50% of whatever I made,” says Jewell. “Sony was only getting half of what I made them. Normally they keep 100%. It was just a numbers thing. They could spend thousands of dollars on another artist and keep all the money or, spend the same amount of money on me, and only get to keep half.”
Just months after the release of “Times Like These,” Jewell was dropped from Sony’s roster.
“That’s just the ‘business’ part of the music business, nobody likes it, but it’s there,” says Jewell. “That record was released in April, and by November, they cut me loose. It was essentially a catch 22.”
The first single from "Times Like These," which peaked at number 27
Twelve years after moving to Nashville to pursue a record deal, and just two and a half years after winning one, Jewell found himself without a record deal again, which made him realize how much of a whirlwind the music industry can be.
“Clint Black gave me some great advice. He said, ‘Man, you’re going to be so busy. You need to really concentrate on taking a little bit of time every day. Find some time to be alone and think about what is going on around you, and appreciate it, because it goes by fast,’” says Jewell. “Two and a half years after I won the show, my record label dropped me. It made sense to me. People that had not wanted me for years, were forced to take me because I won a TV show. I had a couple of hit records, so they had to keep me for a while.”
Though down, Jewell did the only thing he knew to do, recording and releasing a new album, “Country Enough” about two and a half years after being dropped by Sony.
“I knew I had to have something new to get out and to sell on the road,” says Jewell.” It was more or less survival instinct. I had to keep going. I didn’t have time to stop and lick my wounds, we had to keep going, so we did.”
Jewell has stayed true to that mantra, releasing four albums since “Country Enough,” including his newest album “Shine On,” which was released in February of 2019, which offers a bit of a change for Jewell’s fans.
“This album was different animal for me as opposed to my prior projects. It has a different, newer, fresher feel and sound to it,” says Jewell. “We’ve got a bunch of great songs on there. It’s one of those projects where there are 12 songs on the record, and legitimately nine of them could be singles.”
The songs are already speaking to Jewell’s fans, endorsing the work he and his team put in to the project.
“I’ve heard from a lot of my fans, and they’re saying that this is the best record I’ve made since the first one. That’s always good to hear,” says Jewell. “The other thing I’m hearing from them is that they can’t pick a favorite. If they’re having a tough time picking a favorite, that’s always a good thing.”
That loyalty from fans is not lost on Jewell, who feels he has come a long way since his time on Nashville Star.
“I’ve continued to kind of expand my musical horizons,” says Jewell. “I’ve come to realize that even though some things didn’t quite go my way in certain time periods since the Nashville Star days, that I’m right where God wants me to be, and that’s really satisfying and I’m comfortable and content with that.”
And though his major label time was short-lived, Jewell holds no ill will towards Sony or Nashville Star.
“I try not to fuss about it too much, I’m so blessed. I got my shot at it, had a lot of success, and I am still able to go all over the world, put on that cowboy hat and sing,” says Jewell. “I’m forever grateful to Sony and the folks at Nashville Star. I don’t think I would have ever gotten my chance if it hadn’t been for them.”
As grateful as Jewell is about his Nashville Star opportunity, he is just as grateful for the fans that have followed him since then, and loves where he is at in his career.
“It’s been almost 16 years now since Nashville Star, but everywhere I play, I have people come to me and say that they loved me on the show and that they voted for me. I want everybody to know how much I really do appreciate them supporting me then and continuing to support me today. I think if there’s anyone that owes their career to their fans, it’s me,” says Jewell. “I don’t really care about being famous, I just want to be able to take care of my family and enjoy life, and I’ve been able to do that. What more could a guy ask for?”
*All images courtesy of Buddy Jewell Facebook Page*