Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, May 28, 2001

An interview with Eric Heatherly

By Ryan Gueningsman

On Friday, May 18, I was able to speak with Eric Heatherly over the phone, prior to his show at Billy Bob's of Fort Worth, Texas.

Eric Heatherly is not like many other 'popular' country artists of today ­ and that's not a bad thing.

He doesn't wear a cowboy hat, he doesn't use a set list for his live shows, and he co-writes all of his album material. Having spent the last 11 out of 12 months on the road, Heatherly has been living a dream that started back when he was five, in the town of Chattanooga, Tenn.

"Basically, my dad brought home my first guitar at five years old," said Heatherly over the phone Friday. "He salvaged it from a garbage dump. He was doing deliveries in a truck, and he saw it. He brought it home, knew a few chords, and taught me Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash, and I was hooked."

"So then, I started spinning all his vinyl records on the turntable, and started learning all these other different songs by Faren Young, Hank Snow, and Hank (Williams) Sr., and got older and started discovering Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Stevie Ray, and Creedence Clearwater Revival," said Heatherly.

After learning these songs, Heatherly began to write a little and decided to move up to Nashville, Tenn, to see if he could make a go at what he knew he wanted to do. Like fellow Winstock artist Terri Clark, Heatherly ended up playing at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge when things didn't go as smoothly as he had hoped. Tootsie's is a wrong side of the tracks type bar in Nashville.

"It was excruciating, man. I moved to Nashville at 19, and got this CD out at 30 if that tells you anything. I parked cars at a hotel during the day, landscaped on the weekends, and then I played Tootsie's and Jack's Guitar Bar for tips every night for five or six hours with no breaks," said Heatherly.

"After I knocked on every door in Nashville, Ryan, it was just disheartening," said Heatherly, about searching for a recording contract. "I had no choice but to go back to the live gigs, and not worry about the business part.

"We built up a huge following. These college girls were starting to dance on the bar 'cause there was no elbow room left, and people started lining up two blocks down the street to get in to see us. The labels started driving by saying 'what's all this ruckus about,' and they started coming and recording us. Mercury came in and we smoked them for a little while, and they offered us the deal. It was cool."

His debut album, 'Swimming in Champagne,' was released April 18, 2000. It has 11 songs on it, 10 of which were co-written by Heatherly himself.

"In the ten years I had in Nashville, I had the opportunity to write over three or four hundred songs, and it's just all the experiences, and that was the inspiration that I had. Some of it was real depression, the hard times, the ups and downs of the music business, and being turned down so much. It just drove me to work harder . . . I just kind of tried to devote myself to taking that negative energy into something positive," said Heatherly.

Something positive did happen, and with his recording contract came his hit re-make of the Statler Brothers tune, "Flowers on the Wall," which was released as his first single. At first, Heatherly was against the releasing of that song as his first single. He wanted it to be something he had written.

"I'll tell you what, Ryan. I was very livid that they picked that song first, because I killed myself for 11 years writing, and the last thing I wanted to come out with was a cover, but in the hindsight, I commend them for picking that song, because it has knocked down mountains for my career."

"'Flowers on the Wall' was a song that my dad gave me on a vinyl record when I was 7 years old, and as I got older I just hot-rodded it into my own style, and Mercury heard me doing it at Tootsie's and wanted it on the record," said Heatherly. "I never imagined it would be a single, but it's worked out great."

His current single is a song called "The Wrong Five O'Clock," and the idea for that song came in Memphis, Tenn., following a show there.

"That (song) was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1995," said Heatherly. "I was doing a gig over there, at a place called the Black Diamond. After we got done with the show, about 3 a.m. in the morning, we walked across the street to a place called Blue City Cafe for some ribs. Then we hit all the blues clubs up and down Mill Street. We finally left the last club, and my drummer and I walked out on the sidewalk. He looks at me, and he's pretty obliviated by this point, he's had a few, and he looks at his watch as the sun is starting to come up and he goes 'Eric, man, we stayed out to the wrong five o'clock again,' and I said 'bam . . . there it is.'"

In-between show dates, Heatherly has been working on his next album, which he says should be out in about six months. "It'll be more of the same . . . guitar driven music, and it's staying true to my roots, just the best songs I could write. We're working on it in and off the road and I've had a lot of opportunity in the past year to get a lot of guitar licks down, and my voice is so strong now. I took it right into the studio and it was just great."

About his music overall. Heatherly said, "It's based in the traditional hillbilly, rockabilly school of thought, but it gets modernized with guitar and the backbeat on the drums and everything. I just try to take the essence and the feel of that old 50's, mid-60's vibe, and try to make it something fresh and new, and that's really all I'm trying to do."

Although he enjoys his time in the studio, Heatherly said the best part of his job is that hour he is on stage. "That's the one hour out of the day where it's not work, right there, is when you're on stage. That's the passion, and that's what I love. I try to think about giving them the best show that they've never seen before and be so passionate and play every note as if it were my last.

"When I go out on stage, Ryan, I never take a set list with me. I never plan out a show. I always wing it. My band just has to follow me. Whatever song I start they just have to go with it," said Heatherly. "I think when you walk out on stage, it should be uninhibited madness, just go for it."

Heatherly will perform at this year's Winstock Country Music Festival Saturday, June 9 at 3:45 p.m.

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