I may have to check the facts on this one, but it’s quite possible Brett Jones was born with a guitar in his hands. One thing there’s absolutely no mistaking is that you’ve likely sung along to some of his masterpieces! His latest hit song by Jason Aldean, “Crazytown” has stormed the radio. You can credit Montgomery Gentry’s fan favorite, “What Do You Think About That” and Billy Currington’s “That’s How Country Boys Roll” to the Georgia native as well. In his 21 years writing songs, Jones has had over 100 songs recorded, 14 top 10 hits, and 5 number one hits.
I met Jones in Nashville during this year’s Tin Pan South, a festival showcasing singer/songwriters. The event draws thousands of fans from across the country and gives them an opportunity to meet and appreciate accomplished songwriters. Enjoy!
CMP: Caught you in the middle taxes, huh?
BJ: Yea, I’m being songwriter slash accountant today (laughs).
CMP: When did you realize, “Hey I’ve got a talent here?”
BJ: I wasn’t sure I had a talent. It just seemed natural. I started playing guitar when I was 13. The choice I had to make was go buy books with chords and learn to play songs or make up my own songs. I started making up my own songs. My sister has a song that I wrote when I was 15 called “Black Hearted Woman.” (laughs)
CMP: Aren’t we all! (laughs)
BJ: I wonder what woman had scarred me that quick. (laughs)
CMP: Bring me back to the time you got a break and someone cut a song?
BJ: My little brother was killed in a motorcycle accident and I was traumatized. Then I married my high school sweetheart and got out of writing to raise kids. In 1989 I was working in Chicago as a soybean trader. I got into a whole different career making good money and then a friend of mine died at 50 of a heart attack. I had one of those moments that I needed to decide what to do with my life. That’s when I decided to move to Nashville, and of course, my wife thought I was crazy. I got picked up by a publisher within 10 months, and that was fast. I had my first cut in a year and a half with a song called “That’s What Highways Are For.”
CMP: Can you imagine your life had you not taken a chance, followed your heart and stepping into the unknown?
BJ: It looked crazy at the time. I guess it’s still pretty crazy, but it worked out. At the time I didn’t want to do what I was doing. It was time to make a change. I always knew I wanted to be a writer.
CMP: How old were you?
BJ: I was 32.
CMP: Did you have formal training on how to be a songwriter?
BJ: I had no training. I just learned by ear and taught myself how to play guitar, pretty much, from books.
CMP: What’s the story behind “What Do You Think About That” performed by Montgomery Gentry?
BJ: I got the idea for that song in 2005. I had built a house in a nice part of Nashville and built this really big red barn. The people were fussing about it so much that they were talking about. Even my drummer was talking about it. I overheard my drummer talking to other drummers and say ‘Guess what some s.o.b is doing. He’s building the ugliest red barn I’ve ever seen in my life.” Of course he didn’t know it was me, but my feelings were hurt. When I came home I starting writing, “I heard it through the grapevine my new neighbor don’t like my big red barn.” And I took that to my friend, and we wrote the whole song then we pitched it to Montgomery Gentry.
CMP: Is there a place you go to write that’s sort of your little creative hideaway?
BJ: I’ve got a cabin in Wyoming near Jackson Hole. It’s a log cabin and it sits on the river and in between three national parks. It’s a very spiritual place. I’d prefer to write out there every day.
CMP: Sounds like a dream! For those Jason Aldean fans, tell me something about Jason we don’t know about.
BJ: Jason did about 20 showcases to get a record deal which is about three times more than most people have to do. He was very tenacious. He would not give up. To his credit, he got a lot of people saying no that ‘s why “Crazytown” fit him so good. Fans are the real judge not people in Nashville. Jason has been shot down by every record label in town two or three times. He’s a really tenacious guy and it paid off for him in a big way.
CMP: Is there a song you’ve written that reminds you of a belief or value you have?
BJ: I wrote a song when I got to Nashville, and it’s called “There’s A Place Down in Georgia.” It’s about the people that love you whether or not you’re a star.
CMP: Any advice for aspiring songwriters?
BJ: It was in my blood so pursue it, pursue it, pursue it. I think what works in the long run is when people are themselves and try to portray themselves through the music. Right before I came to Nashville I went to a little county thing near my hometown in Georgia, and there were ten or twelve songwriters there. I told people I was gettin’ ready to move to Nashville. One guy there said, ‘you’re never gonna make it to Nashville.’ Sometimes that’s motivation. I think about that guy tellin’ me I’m never gonna make it. (laughs)
CMP: What’s that guy doing now you think?
BJ: He’s probably still in that little town. (laughs)