I spoke to Jimmie during a time when he was moving from one location to another in the Nashville area. I asked him about the move and this is where our interview started.
Q So you are moving or are you done moving?
A We have just finished moving. We are pretty sick of pizza as we have been living on it for three days. We are doing good. I love Nashville. I am from Jacksonville, Florida. My wife is from New Jersey and we just celebrated our twelve year anniversary. You know being a musician you are used to kind of picking up and just going go by the seat of your pants. It is like being in the military. You have got to have your back pack packed and ready to roll when a show is coming on.
Q So you’re touring this summer?
A Yes, we have a real heavy summer schedule. We kind of drop off the map a little bit for November, December and January and settle down and get the turkey dinners and the Christmas parties and just kind of reboot your battery so to speak. So we kind of take a little time off.
Q You have to recharge or you will burn out. Do you write as well?
A I do. I do. We just finished a record. We released it a little too early, July 3rd of 2012 and we released it to get a feel for what it would do. We got a couple of videos on CMT. Feels like Freedom is the name of the CD and that is also the first single and video and it did real well. We just shot a video for Unfinished Life which is another cut off of that record and we got like four hundred thousand views in like 48 hours so we are doing real good with that. We are kind of ready to really hit it hard this year, 2013 and promote it as the record release.
Q And are you are going with Unfinished Life as a single?
A That as well as Feels like Freedom. Both are on YouTube and the downloads are on iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, and CMT. Sometimes you have got to have a double banger kind of thing to kind of keep both of them moving you know? So we are real fortunate with that and I have been writing on a Christmas record which probably won’t make it this Christmas but hopefully next year. That is why I am here in Nashville. I love the town. I am working with some good writers. When I moved here I had met some established people and I am still learning. This is all about learning.
Q You are a Van Zant and cousins to the famous Lynyrd Skynrd and 38 Special family? Donnie and Johnny are your cousins?
A Yes I am.
Q How was it growing up around those guys?
A We were a very modest and poor family. We only had one bicycle and we had to fight over it to see who was going to ride it on Monday or Tuesday.
Q Oh stop. (laughter)
A We came up on Merle Haggard which was one of Ronnie’s favorites and my Dads. All the Uncles were truck drivers and they rode up and down the highways coast to coast hauling freight and listening to the old Hank Senior and all that stuff. That is what we were kind of brought up on and then we went to Church on Sundays and Mom and my Aunts would sit around the old upright piano and play gospel songs and have lunch at the church or at the house. You could see me running around with a snickers bar and chocolate all over me. That’s the roots and the foundation and what it is all based on. I think that today the music gets lost in a whole lot of that I call Hollywood glamour. It’s ninety percent vision and ten percent talent.
Q I know. I know.
A That’s a shame. That’s really a shame.
Q So you are going to be touring to promote both the singles?
A Yes. It is the Feels like Freedom Tour. We are really campaigning now and we are playing all over the United States and of course as you know dates come in on top of what we have. We are doing fairs and festivals and we have bike rallies.
Q Are you playing Sturgis?
A We are doing Sturgis five days. I’ve probably done, there are eighteen thousand bike rallies in the United States and I’ve probably hit about sixteen thousand of them within the last twenty years, Sturgis, Daytona, Myrtle Beach, San Diego and Texas. I have done a lot of them and I have done a lot of independent ones that people don’t really know about. In fact we did one way up in New York, these folks had 200 acres and it was almost like Woodstock and people were walking about naked and they had little kiddy pools to cool off.
Q But were you playing naked?
A No I don’t do that. We wouldn’t have a crowd.
Q So you are saying you would scare people away? That is too funny.
A But anyway so I have just been real fortunate to be independent. It is a tough job. It is easy to get that ninety minute show and have your fun but the work is the travel, living out of a suitcase, sleeping in hotel rooms, rented cars and airport bars.
Q So you travel with your team and together you put on a show?
A Yes. We keep it simple. We have a real family circle. You do have to build a good team because you can’t play all those bases by yourself on the ball field.
Q You have to take help and you have to build a trusted team.
A Yes and that is what I think that I have done.
Q Now you have been doing this all of your life like everyone else in your family?
A I have. I am kind of an entrepreneur. I have dabbled in real estate. I have flipped houses. When I wasn’t playing music I had to have something to do. I did several different jobs and had several different businesses that really my heart wasn’t in it but I knew I could do it and it paid the bills so I could play music.
Q And it sounds like you raised a family.
A As a matter of fact yes ma’am.
Q Yeah and you had your family around?
A Yeah and all my life people have asked me what was it like coming up with that southern rock dynasty family? I tell them we were just simple people. We spent holidays together. We would sit and write a song, me and Donnie and Johnny. Ronnie was already passed away at that time. But when Ronnie was first making it, we were just little kids kind of watching him and it was an everyday thing. I walked around band equipment to go to the bus stop at my house. I would come home and they were still in high school so I would come home and I would get behind the drums and I’d beat on the drums and of course instead of playing the drums I would poke holes in them and instead of playing guitar, I would break the strings so I got whipped a few times. Me and Johnny would pretend that we were going to have a band one day and little did we know that we would. It is kind of an odd story.
Q You’re younger than them?
A Me and Johnny are fourteen months apart in age and Donnie and Ronnie, Ronnie was like nine years older. So we were just like eight and nine years old when all of that was kicking down and we experienced it all.
Q Are you saying you all lived together under the same roof?
A No. No. No, but we all lived in the same neighborhood. We were like three doors down so we rode the same bicycles; we went to the same elementary, middle school and high school.
Q So you all raised hell in the same neighborhood?
A Oh yeah.
Q Do you consider yourself southern rock or do you consider yourself country? Do you put yourself in a genre or do you refuse too?
A You know what; I let the public do that. My answer to that is that I try and play a song whether I write it or not, I am the mailman and I try to deliver it the best I can. I also want to accent another writer’s vision and emotions. The people seem to label it southern rock and all but all any of us were trying to do in the south was just play some music like anybody else.
Q That’s right; it is just southern boys and girls making music.
A I am all about a true story in a song that has meaning and that we can all relate too.
Q I think those are the best songs.
We talked about a lot more things, most of which I am not going to print here as there are just something’s that are private between interviewer and interviewee. I want to bring, “Unfinished Life,” and “Feels like Freedom,” to everyone’s attention. You can find out more about Jimmie at his website at: http://www.jimmievanzantband.net/
My personal advice is to go and check out the music video for this really cool song at YouTube: http://youtu.be/XdAPZace-R0
I wouldn’t steer you wrong, now would I?