Jake Worthington Strikes Country Gold with Debut, Self-Titled Album

Once upon a time in 1996, country legends Marty Stuart and Travis Tritt proudly proclaimed that honky tonkin’ is what they did best, and for just over three minutes, the pair spun a dancehall-ready tune dripping with fiddle and twanging Telecaster that has since become a standard for honky tonkers everywhere.

That same year, Jake Worthington was born in Texas, and after being exposed to the traditional country artists his Grandfather loved, Worthington was sent down a path to take the torch that artists like George Jones, Merle Haggard and Ray Price carried and bring in into a new generation, and with his debut, self-titled album, he’s done just that.

Chock-full of 13 stone cold country tunes, Worthington weaves his way through honky tonk numbers, tear-in-your-beer tunes and 90s country-sounding tracks to craft what may just be the strongest country record released so far this year.

We chatted with Worthington all about the album, as well as his time on The Voice, camaraderie in the traditional country community, hitting the road hard and more!

Pro Country: Your bio mentions falling in love with artists like Ray Price, Merle Haggard and George Jones that your grandfather would play for you. What was it about that style and era of country music that connected with you at such an early age?

Jake Worthington: As a kid, I was being shown who was the best, and it didn’t get any better than them. It was extremely impressionable, and it was the truth. When you listen to any of their records, as a listener, they all have their identities, and you can hear different influences, but it was always musical and always at the highest standard. If you’re gonna have something to look up to, why not have it be the best?

My Grandpa was a huge reason why I had an itch for songs. He had chased the same things. I was never groomed to do this, but I’ve always been drawn to it. He was the type of cat where no matter which song I was learning or writing, he would always say, “Boy, that’s good, but you ain’t no Ray Price,” [laughs]. I was talking with him a few years back, and complemented me, and I told him that I had good teachers, meaning him, and he said, “Hell, back then, I was trying to sound like them, and now, I’m trying to sound like my grandson,” [laughs]. To me, that was the greatest compliment I could have gotten from him. I still hold on to what he valued in country music and in songs, and I will until I’m gone.

PC: Your grandfather was also a musician and producer in his own right. When did you start to catch the music bug yourself, and when did it become evident to you that you wanted to pursue music as a career?

JW: I had the bug really start to get me when I was about 12 or 13 and started learning the guitar. At that point, it gave me the opportunity to sing some of those songs that I grew up hearing. I wasn’t ready to sing some of them, because I hadn’t done enough living yet [laughs]. I never saw it as a career path. It was always more of a release than anything. It has continued to be that, but I made the decision about the time I was 18 that this was what I was gonna do for the rest of my life, and I’m still trying to figure out how to do it, honestly [laughs].

PC: You were featured on Season 6 of The Voice. During your audition, Blake Shelton, Adam Levine and Shakira all turned their chairs for you. What kind of confidence comes with the belief from some of music’s biggest stars showing their belief in your talent?

JW: I was scared shitless [laughs]. I was a kid when that was going on. It was a life-changing experience. Had I not had the opportunity to not see that experience from beginning to end, I don’t think I would have dove into music the way that I have. It changed every aspect of my life. I’ve been trying to make sense of it ever since and to make it purposeful.

PC: In 2022, you sang duet vocals on “Honky Tonk Town,” which was featured on Ronnie Dunn’s 100 Proof Neon album. What was it like for you to share a song with a legend in country music and for him to acknowledge your talent in that way?

JW: It’s unbelievable. If you would’ve told me that was going to happen, I would have never believed you. He is one of the greatest singers to ever sing a country song, and one of the greatest songwriters too, so to have gotten a call to work with somebody of that level and stature was an incredible opportunity. I’m proud to know Ronnie and to call him a friend, and I look forward to getting to work with him again and again in the future; as long as he’ll let me [laughs].

PC: You’re currently signed to Big Loud Records, who are home to some of the genres brightest artists. Can you talk about the courting and signing process with Big Loud and why you felt they were the right label home for you?

JW: I had been coming to town writing songs, just like everybody, and throughout the writing process, I think a guy can develop support from people around him. Somehow or another, my name got put in a hat and Seth England called me. It was a no-brainer. I feel like what Big Loud is so successful at is buying into what is there to be sold. In my case, I didn’t have to be anybody else but me. Who I am as a writer and singer was only nurtured. I don’t know what else you’d want from a partnership than that.

PC: Your new debut, self-titled album is your first collection of songs you’ve released since your 2017 EP Hell of a Highway. As release day for your album was approaching, how much were you looking forward to presenting a collection of songs again after a bit of a layoff?

JW: It’s a dream to get to put out an album; a collection of songs that’s genuine to you. There weren’t any shortcuts on it. I believe that if the song is giving, it’ll give. We didn’t cut any corners getting here, that’s for damn sure [laughs]. It’s taken this ol’ boy a while to get here. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by people who have supported me in moving forward with my kind of music.

PC: You released “State You Left Me In” and “Next New Thing” to coincide with your album release announcement. Why did you and your team feel that those were the two songs you wanted to introduce the album with?

JW: We’d been sitting on those songs for about four years, if not longer. I think those two songs are a great opener to who I am, how diverse I believe this record is and how diverse I believe country music can be.

PC: To our ears, “State You Left Me In” feels like it couldn’t been a Mark Chesnutt song. Roger Springer was a co-writer on that and obviously wrote plenty of those great, classic Chesnutt songs too, so that certainly checks out [laughs].

JW: Chesnutt is a huge influence on so many people with those albums he made, and same for Roger with those songs. Me, Roger and Timothy Baker wrote that, and me, Roger and Steve Leslie wrote “Next New Thing” a few years ago. It’s a blessing to get to learn and work with the best who have ever done it. I’m still learning every day.

PC:  “Pop Goes the Whiskey” is the only song on the album that you didn’t have a hand in writing. What was it about the song that drew you to record it, and how much did you enjoy having ERNEST on the track? 

JW: I think songwriters are likeminded when it comes to songs. Me and ERNEST send each other songs, and that song was sent when we were cutting the record. I think the lyrical content is genuine to both of us and living the way that we have. When he sent the song, I loved it immediately. It was a no-brainer to cut it. I sang the first verse and he sang the second; we both felt like that’s what the song called for.

PC: As lovers of sad songs and waltzes, “Closing Time” is our favorite song on your album, which is a song you wrote with Nick Walsh. Can you take us in the room and talk about how the song came together?

JW: Nick and I have known each other for quite some time. We were just whiskey drinking buddies coming to town to write. We wrote that in 2020 over the phone. It had been a long day; I think we started early that morning, and we saw it through and drank our way through it. It’s a song I’m extremely proud of. It ain’t like we haven’t done that; I think quite a few folks can relate to it. I’m proud as hell to write alongside of a songwriter like Nick Walsh. I think he is gonna be talked about for a long time.

PC: Your album features co-writes with hit songwriters like David Lee Murphy, Roger Springer and Jessi Alexander, among many others. What was it like to so consistently share creative spaces with that level of collective talent?

JW: It’s a dream come true to be creative with the best in the world. It’s not every day that you get to write with folks like that, and damn sure not in my case. It wasn’t until I was about 23 where I started writing with that level of songwriters, and it’s a learning experience every time. At the end of the day, you’re just trying to figure out how to say what you mean and how you feel at the moment. I can’t wait to continue to create with more of them. What’s important with writers and artists is that you keep your circle small. When you’re younger and trying to make your way into this business, you have to get thrown to the wolves and write with Tom, Dick and Harry to find out where you lie in that world. I’m grateful for every bit of that.

PC: What do you hope listeners take away from your album after listening all the way through?

JW: I hope that they hear country music. That’s all I care to do, and that’s all I know how to sing. I can’t do anything else. Ultimately, I hope that when they listen through, it reminds them of what country music sounds like.

PC: Upon the announcement of your album, artists like Craig Campbell, Randall King and several others made posts on social media showing support for both you and the album. What has it been like to see the camaraderie from within the traditional country world and to have artists of that caliber speaking so highly of you?

JW: It’s incredibly humbling. That shows in the country music community, everybody wants to see everybody win. I know I sure do. I believe that country music is for the masses, and I believe that they think the same way. I sure am proud, because this ain’t a hobby for any of those artists. We live by the sword. I’m so grateful to walk amongst giants because of country music. 

PC: It’s been almost a decade since you made your appearance on The Voice. Over the last decade, what do you think has been the biggest thing you’ve learned about yourself?

JW: I didn’t know the difference between “come here” and “sick ‘em” then [laughs]. There’s been a lot of life that’s happened since then, and that needs to happen for you to fulfill what you’re doing. I’ve been handed my cards, the chips are on the table, and we’re playing. Had I never done The Voice, I don’t think I would’ve ever had the opportunity to dive into music the way that I have. And that doesn’t stop. The blessing in all of this is that you never stop learning. That doesn’t change for anybody, no matter how long you do it. Music is a special thing, you can’t help that you need it the way you do. Now, making a living at it is another story [laughs]. I don’t think this is something someone does for the money. The wins outweigh the cons that this business brings. If I have the opportunity to do what I love and what moves me and never have me worry about what’s on the table to eat, by God, let’s go for it.

PC: You already have a very busy touring schedule set for the rest of the year. How much are you looking forward to hitting the road and bringing this album to your fans?

JW: I’m looking forward to it more than I ever have. Any opportunity that we have to go out and make music in front of people and play rooms that our heroes have played is special. This year is a year like I’ve never experienced. It’s all new beginnings. There’s no time like the now, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to get out there and share this record. Everything is oiled, lubricated and ready to go, so we’re just gonna put it in gear and get it on the highway.

PC: Is there anything you’d like to add?

JW: I sure appreciate the listeners’ time. If they like it, let us know, and if they don’t, don’t [laughs].

*Images by Jim Wright*

**Jake’s music is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!**


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