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When Justin Moore found himself homesick and missing his mother’s Southern cooking after moving to Nashville several years ago to pursue his musical dream, he was inspired to write “Small Town USA,” an ode to the spirit and simplicity of small-town life.
“A lot of people called it prison when I was growin’ up. But these are my roots and this is what I love,” Moore said about his hometown of Poyen, Ark.
Moore knew he had to record the song because it captured the upbringing that shaped him both as an artist and as a man, but he wasn’t sure if the autobiographical song would speak to those from different backgrounds.
“Thank God I was wrong,” he said.
The fast-rising song has become a Top 15 hit and established Moore as one of 2009’s break-out country artists. The singersongwriter landed coveted spots on tours with Trace Adkins, Hank Williams Jr. and Lynyrd Skynyrd and opened for Brooks & Dunn, Kenny Chesney and ZZ Top. Patience pays off for Justin Moore
Moore will perform Friday, Aug. 26, as a part of the Main Stage Entertainment lineup at the Appalachian Fair in Gray. Show time is 8 p.m. Reserved seating tickets are $8.
Moore stakes his claim at the crossroads between traditional country and Southern rock music. Influenced by Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, John Anderson and Vern Gosdin as well as Charlie Daniels, Hank Williams Jr. and the Marshall Tucker Band, he has created a music that defies boundaries and definition with its edge, attitude and instrumentation.
“I grew up on old-school country and I also played in a Southern rock band,” said Moore, who wrote nine of the 10 songs on his debut project. “If Alabama and Lynyrd Skynyrd made one band, this is the way it would be. Lyrically it’s pretty old-school country and melodically it’s a little more Southern rock edge.”
Moore was raised an only child on a 20-acre farm that was part of the 100 acres owned by his extended family. His father was the town’s postmaster and his mother worked at a bank until she took over daily operations of the family’s barbecue restaurant. He helped his grandparents feed cattle and bush hog the fields and was just a toddler when he first joined his grandfather in a deer stand. The sign proclaiming the town’s population of 272 sits in his grandparents’ front yard.
“The only things that really mattered were sports on Friday night, God and family, and that’s about it. It’s a good way to grow up. I’m still scared of my mom and dad, and my grandpas are my heroes,” he said.
By age 3, he was strumming a toy guitar and singing “I’m a Honky Tonk Man” for his parents, and three years later he was performing in public. He won a Poyen High School talent contest at age 8 and began performing solo at any local festival that would have him while in high school.
“When I was a senior, I made a tape for my parents to have when I went to college,” he said. “One day my dad said, ‘What do you think about doing this as a job?’ I was like, ‘I never thought about it.’ ”
With his parents’ support, he moved to Nashville in 2002 and soon began looking for songs at publishing companies with the hopes of signing a record deal.
“Obviously I wasn’t getting any of their good stuff, so I thought, ‘I’ll just write it myself since I can’t find anything.’ I started writing songs and that really made me an artist, as opposed to just being able to sing on key,” said Moore, who soon signed a publishing deal with Big Picture Music, run by Keith Stegall, who produces Alan Jackson.
A pivotal moment occurred when he met young producer Jeremy Stover, who quickly became Moore’s producer and chief collaborator. Stover eventually produced Jack Ingram and Danielle Peck and introduced Moore to respected industry executive Scott Borchetta, who was preparing to launch Big Machine Records and, ultimately, The Valory Music Co.
“We met and he told me he would give me a record deal if I could be patient with him,” Moore said. “At the time I was 19 or 20 and I thought, ‘I’ll get a record on the radio in a year from now and here we go.’ Four or five years later, here we are. I thought, ‘If Scott Borchetta wants to work with me, I’ll wait as long as it takes. I’m going to continue writing songs and developing as an artist more.’
“You only get one shot at this, and I wanted to take my shot with Scott. When he started The Valory Music Co., it happened to be the right time and place for both of us. I don’t think I could have handled this as a 20-year-old. Things happen when they are supposed to.”