Embodies the soul and character of a kid from a small town
“It’s a dirt road, a fishing pole, a cold beer sittin’ on a tailgate, an old church, a kind word, it’s where I was born and raised, Heaven ain’t that far away.” The lyrics from Justin’s self-penned song “Heaven Ain’t That Far Away” typifies his philosophy on life. In music and in life, Justin embodies the soul and character of a kid from a small town.
He was born and raised in Poyen, Arkansas, population 272. The town has no streetlights or street names. His grandfather “Paw” Charles gave each one of his children 15 acres of land to build their homes on and to raise their families in - and that’s exactly what they all did.
Paw and grandma Faynette (Maw) raised cattle on their farm and from a young age Justin would help with the chores. He’d bush-hog the land and feed the cows and learn about hard work.
His other grandparents, Tom and Becky (PaPa and Nanny) live a mile down the road in Poyen. PaPa took Justin out to his first deer stand before he was one year old. He taught him how to hunt and fish and they haven’t missed a season since Justin was a boy.
Justin’s parents, Tommy Ray and Charlene, recognized at an early age Justin’s ability to remember songs and to sing them. Tommy Ray has a recording of a two-year-old Justin singing the George Strait song “Baby’s Gotten Good At Goodbye”. Says Tommy Ray, “We bought him boots and a cowboy shirt and a toy ukulele when he was 4 or 5 and he became obsessed with the Dwight Yoakum hit “I’m A Honky Tonk Man”. He would sing it into a fake microphone constantly. ‘Bout drove us crazy.”
Soon Justin was singing gospel songs at church. He won the talent search at Poyen High School when he was 8 years old. In high school Justin was a starter on their basketball team and helped lead the team to a 39-0 season as well as win the state championship. He was an all-region catcher on the baseball team and received multiple scholarship offers for both sports and academics; however, Justin took a bold leap and moved to Nashville in October 2002 - just a few months after graduating from high school
By this point Justin had a manager and a writer/artist offer from Zomba music. As things sometimes go in the biz, Zomba was purchased before Justin could sign his deal. His manager hired a top Nashville attorney to help keep things moving and Justin’s attorney hooked him up with an up-and-coming young producer/songwriter named Jeremy Stover. Together they wrote and recorded some great songs that reached celebrated producer Keith Stegall (Alan Jackson). Keith loved what he heard and in March of 2004 signed Justin as an artist/writer to his publishing company, Big Picture Music, with the intention of getting Justin a record deal.
Justin’s first ‘big gig’ was New Years Eve 2001 at The Music Mountain Jamboree in Hot Springs Arkansas, where he performed 4 songs with the house band and got a standing ovation.
“That was pretty exciting,” says Justin. “I had never been in front of 500 people before so I was a little nervous until I got going, but then I just loved it. I really wished I could have done a few more, but it put the fire in me to go after this as a career”.
He later played at The Roundup in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to a sold-out crowd of 600. The word was getting out in Arkansas about this kid from the small town of Poyen who was making some waves with the big boys on Music Row in Nashville.
In March 2005 Justin returned to his hometown for a sell-out concert with his own band. The enthusiastic crowd of over 700 went wild when it heard Justin’s new material.
“It’s a lot of fun playing in the clubs around Nashville, like The Wildhorse, The Bluebird, The Stage, The French Quarter and all of the others, but nothing’ beats going home to play for family and friends and all the people who are supporting me in my journey.”
In June 2005 Justin traveled home again to play at the annual “Brickfest” festival in Malvern, Arkansas, to an estimated crowd of about 2000. Needless to say the hometown fans were great to Justin and he to them. The show was so well received that he was booked to play it again in 2006, this time to a crowd of 4000.
2007 has been equally exciting for Justin, as he recently signed a recording contract with the Valory Music Co., sister label to Big Machine Records which is the home of Taylor Swift, Jack Ingram and Trisha Yearwood as well as the exclusive radio promoter for Garth Brooks. Look for a new release in 2008.
Bait a Hook
Small Town USA
If Heaven Wasn't So Far Away
How I Got To Be This Way
Til My Last Day