Since releasing his debut EP in 2015, Donnie Lee Strickland has built a strong following and an equally strong catalog of material.
However, even as his career was trending upwards, Strickland needed to step away. Doubting if “the break” was going to come, Strickland needed a breath of fresh air.
Now reinvigorated, Strickland is back with a brand new single, a Josie Music Award, and a new record deal, all coming in the last several weeks.
As he continues his upward trend, read along as Strickland details the nerves that come with recording with high-caliber musicians, his new single “I Just Want to Go,” his personal growth, his charity work, and more!
Pro Country: Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?
Donnie Lee Strickland: George Strait, Reba McEntire, Randy Travis, The Judds, Conway Twitty, & Loretta Lynn.
PC: When did you realize that you wanted to pursue a career in music?
DLS: When I was about 5, I started singing in church. I would take part in church plays and school plays as I got older. I loved music on the radio and on TV, and I loved going to concerts & musicals. I would watch the Country Music Awards on TV, and dream about doing that some day!
PC: What emotions were you feeling when you were preparing to release music for the first time with your self-titled EP?
DLS: This was my first professional recording as a new artist, and there were a lot of distinguished musicians playing on that record. It was intimidating, and I was nervous singing in a room with such talented session players. I mean, these guys have played on some very big albums for some of country’s best. I was scared I wasn’t going to do those songs justice. I was nervous. I wanted to be sure I picked the right songs, that felt good to me, and that spoke to me. I wanted to be in the moment, and make the best music I could possibly make, and sing from the heart. It was definitely a stressful, yet rewarding process. I was so excited for everyone to hear the final project.
PC: Your new single “I Just Want to Go” is a strong ballad released just a few weeks ago. Why did you decide to cut that song?
DLS: I first heard this song about 2 years ago, after my grandma had passed away. It really touched me, and I felt like it punched me in the stomach. I could relate so much to this song. It’s everything that my grandmother went through, and everything that she told the family. I called one of the songwriters and told him I just had to record this song. I wanted to always have this special song as a part of my life. It’s something I can hold in my heart forever. It’s a piece of me now.
PC: What made it so special to you?
DLS: Hearing this song right after my grandmother had passed away, it was like it was written about her. Everything about this song speaks to so many hearts. I knew if it touched me like it did, that it would touch so many other lives out there. Everyone has lost someone they love that has spent their last days on this Earth in a hospice facility, or even with home health care. Everyone has had a family member that was ready to “go home.” I prayed this song would touch hearts and give peace and comfort. I’ve never had a song resonate with me like this one.
PC: The video for “I Just Want to Go” has received more than 2,000 views in just a few weeks since its release. Is there a certain level of validation that comes with hearing how people are reacting to the new single?
DLS: It’s very overwhelming to receive so much love and support for this song and video. The song is sad, and the video is sad. It hurts at first to listen to it, or to watch the photos in the video. I am so thankful and blessed that so many people are really liking this song so much. There have been so many shares of this song and video. It really has been touching so many people. I’m very humbled by the outpouring of love since releasing this song.
PC: It was nearly four years between the release of your self-titled EP and “I Just Want to Go.” Where do you think you’ve grown the most in that time that is evident on the new single?
DLS: I have grown so much in that time. I needed a break to think, to regroup; to live life. I was searching for the right songs to record for a new album. I wanted to really hit from the heart this time. I wanted to be a changed man. I want everyone listening to recognize the depth of the new songs, and to appreciate my new outlook on life. I spent a couple of the last four years depressed and kind of wondering if anything was ever going to fall in place. I was questioning if I should even continue to make music. I had thoughts of giving up. I was working so hard, and getting let down by so many in this business. I had to learn to work harder, to keep my head up, to try new things, to think about the talent that God gave me. And I remembered that he has never given up on me, so I couldn’t give up on him. I didn’t want to let my family, friends, or fans down. I’ve always had a fear of failure. I had to stop, and breathe, and realize things would happen when they were meant to happen. I have been so blessed to tour, to perform, to make new friends and fans! I get to see this beautiful country. I get to live! As an independent artist, you have to work even harder to find your place in this industry. I am still working, I am still smiling, and I am living. I’m taking it all in. And I’m ready for the next challenge.
PC: You are nominated for four Josie Music Awards this year, and won 2017 WOBA Song of the Year for “She’s My Kind of Woman”, the 2017 Josie Music Award for Modern Country Male Artist of the Year, and the 2018 Josie Music Award for Modern Country Male Entertainer of the Year. What does it mean for you to be recognized in that way?
DLS: Just to be nominated for any award or honor is very special, and makes me very appreciative and makes me want to keep working hard to gain the love and respect of everyone. There is so much talent out in today’s market. The Josie Music Awards recognizes artists in every genre, and is the largest Independent Artist award show globally. So to be on a nomination list with artists from around the world is unbelievable, and very humbling. The Chris Top Program hosts the WOBA awards, and honors excellence in multiple genres as well. They focus on every artist being awesome, and true to themselves, and create fun and unique categories. It’s all about getting together and networking, and promoting original music. To win an award in such an incredibly talented field of amazing artists is very challenging, yet rewarding. To know that a panel of industry experts recognizes what you do, and appreciates your work, and honors you with an award is so touching and lets you know you must be doing something right. That feeling of achievement never gets old, and I will never take that for granted. I know there are a million other independent artists out there doing the same thing I’m doing, and they work just as hard. So I’m very thankful and blessed to be recognized in this business. It doesn’t stop after the award. It means you have to work even harder, to achieve bigger and better things for the future. You have to prove to yourself and everyone else that you’re worth the recognition.
PC: You’ve opened for major artists like Brothers Osborne, Ty Herndon, Jeff Bates, and more. What can you take away from those experiences that can help you in your own career?
DLS: You can learn a lot just by standing back and observing. Watching a veteran performer from the side of the stage is magical. Listening to their performance, focusing on the way they sing and the way they speak to a crowd. Watching their stage presence, and how they conduct themselves on stage, how they dress, how they interact with their band. Every detail is very important. I try to study and learn. I also try to be an example for other artists watching me.
PC: You are an ambassador for Guitars for Vets and you participate in the Christmas 4 Kids Bus Tour. What is it about those organizations that speaks to you?
DLS: Well, I respect our Veterans. I feel that it’s so important to give back to the men and women who have served, or are currently serving in the armed forces of the United States of America. They are our heroes, and the reason we all get to have the freedoms we enjoy every day! I know I couldn’t tour the country and perform and I couldn’t do what I love if it wasn’t for our Veterans! They deserve all the love and respect. One small gesture to support our Veterans is the least I can do.
I always love helping out and volunteering my time at the Christmas 4 Kids event every year, because I love children. I love seeing them smile. I love seeing them happy. I love the innocence in those big dreaming eyes. This is one time a year they get to come out with their families and friends to meet musical artists, (some they know, some they don’t). There are as many as 80 tour buses parked in a maze like pattern in a Walmart parking lot. They get a map when they come in, and they just start running to buses. The excitement they bring just lights up the whole parking lot, and brings so much happiness to the buses. They love taking pictures and getting autographs. It’s like trick or treating, but instead of going from house to house getting candy, they go from bus to bus getting autographs. The whole experience just fills my heart with so much joy. You can’t make any better memories than seeing a child happy!
PC: What are your plans for the rest of 2019 and beyond?
DLS: I’m just taking everything in. Taking every opportunity. Finishing out the 2019 tour dates, and continuing booking and planning for 2020. There are still several dates left for this year, so we are very excited to stay busy. It’s hard to keep steady work as an independent artist. We just keep working hard, and networking, and keeping the name and music out there. We have signed with BAM Records/BMR in Nashville, and we are also working with Kickin’ Dirt Entertainment. We have a lot projects in the works, and 2020 looks like the busiest year yet. We have new music coming out, and we are planning on more cities, and bigger and better shows! There’s a lot of surprises in the future. I have a great team around me that supports me and works very hard so we can do what we do. I am happy, and I am ready to keep working hard, and enjoying every step along this journey. I can’t take any of it for granted. I’m very blessed.
PC: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
DLS: Since answering questions for this interview, we attended the 5th annual Josie Music Awards in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, held in the DP Celebrity Theater at the Dollywood theme park. I was nominated for 4 awards this year, and was very honored to take home the award for Modern Country Male Vocalist of the Year. Shane Thornton, my bandmate, and one of the songwriters on my new single “I Just Want To Go” took home the award for Male Songwriter of the Year (Personal Body of Work). We had a great weekend of catching up with fellow artists, meeting new friends, having a blast at the pre-party and award show, and taking in all the fun the Park had to offer. The Josie Music Network pulled out all the stops to make sure we had a wonderful weekend, complete with red carpets, press interviews, photo ops, and making our dreams come true. It’s one big musical family. Everyone supports each other.