Jimmy Wayne sees his future through past

Danielle Hatch

Country music is full of broken hearts, dashed dreams, sketchy relationships.

Just ask Jimmy Wayne, who is climbing his way through the ranks in Nashville, Tenn., with songs like "Do You Believe Me Now," "Stay Gone" and "I Will." And while Wayne's future is looking up, his past gives him plenty of fodder for songwriting.

The North Carolina native, who will perform following the March 27 Rivermen game at Carver Arena, had a childhood built on disappointment. He barely knew his father, who was mostly absent. He was in and out of foster homes after his mom went to prison for a parole violation. His stepfather was abusive.

Wayne says the hard times simply made him a more determined person, someone who is not afraid to "dig deep and draw from those experiences of humility."

"People can relate to that stuff," he said. "My song 'Kerosene Kid,' the first line is, 'I know what it's like growing up poor.' We were poor by American standards."

Wayne remembers meeting his father for the first time at age 9.

"I jumped out of the car. I ran down two blocks where he was sitting on a porch swing and I told him, 'You're my dad, my mom says you're my dad.' He just stopped the swing and started looking at me and he stood up and put his hand on top of my head after we had talked briefly. He said, 'It was good talking to you, buddy' and he walked in the house and closed the door. That's all I remember."

Wayne doesn't like to talk much about his early childhood. He does have happy times, however. Like the couple in North Carolina, Russell and Beatrice, who took him in as a foster kid and nurtured his love of music. Beatrice was a poet and a musician who sang and played the piano for church.

Wayne liked to tinker on the piano and decided to splurge on a more portable instrument. He ended up with an acoustic guitar from a garage sale. It would still be years before Wayne made it big, though. He got his associate's degree and worked as a prison guard before going to Nashville. Once there, he didn't try to get a record deal right away.

"I think I was that way because of my lifestyle, the way I grew up," said Wayne, 36. "Some people would say I did it the smart way.

"I used to box, and I learned that if you walk out there and get in the ring and you're not conditioned, you're just going to get knocked out. So I kind of used that strategy when I came to Nashville. You do your observation, you plan your attack and then you execute. And that's what I did, I set up my fort on music row and did a lot of observation, just kind of figured it out."

His strategy seems to have paid off. Wayne is going on tour with Brad Paisley in June, and has tour dates with him booked through October. He also has a few dates on the books with Alan Jackson, one of his all-time heroes.

His latest album, "Do You Believe Me Now," features a duet with Patty Loveless ("No Good For Me") and a song that features a guest vocal by John Oates ("Where You're Going)."

Wayne says he has found that success all boils down to confidence.

"You have to believe in yourself so much that you would take your own money and pay for the recordings," he said. "And there were some songs that I believed in so much that that's what I did, I paid for it myself because I believed in them that much. And it worked."

Danielle Hatch can be reached at (309) 686-3262 ordhatch@pjstar.com.

If you go

- What: Concert by Jimmy Wayne following Peoria Rivermen game against the Milwaukee Admirals.

- When: 10 p.m. March 27 (game starts at 7 p.m.)

- Where: Peoria Civic Center's Carver Arena.

- Cost: Tickets are $20 for upper bowl; $25 for lower bowl and $37 for lower bowl game ticket and on-ice VIP section for the concert. Visit the Civic Center box office, any Ticketmaster location, Ticketmaster.com or call (309) 673-3200.