Since the release of his 2010 debut album, It All Happened In A Honky Tonk, Jon Wolfe has garnered six consecutive top ten singles on the Texas charts as well as an ever expanding and loyal fan base. On March 31st Wolfe will release his newest full length studio album, Natural Man, which has already produced the top ten hit “What Are You Doin’ Right Now.” The latest single from the project, the toe tappin', cheeky “Smile On Mine,” is currently climbing the Texas charts. Jon took the time to talk about his roots, Natural Man, his upcoming album release tour and more!
You were on track for a prosperous career as a trader, but abandoned that to pursue music, which you have been doing, successfully, especially in Texas and Oklahoma, for about ten years now.
I graduated college in 2001 and got hired by British Petroleum. I worked in Chicago for two years on one of the largest and most aggressive trading floors. It was fast paced, and a lot of fun and I was set to have a great career, but by 2004, I was playing beer joints and struggling my way around. I made the choice to pursue music in my early twenties believing that if there was a time to do it, it was then, especially knowing that it would take years to break through. I like to make sure people know I wasn’t doing that [trading] for ten years and then late in the game decided to go into country music.
You ventured into a career in country music in your 20's. Did you start playing guitar, singing and writing then or did those things come earlier?
I grew up in Oklahoma surrounded by musical people. My sister was a successful gospel singer and my stepfather played bass in country band--the same one Joe Don Rooney from Rascal Flatts was in, actually. I would go and watch them and I fell in love with country music. I started singing as a teenager, but didn’t think it was cool to be a guy and sing; it wasn’t the manly thing to do at the time. So I kind of hid it from my parents until I was comfortable with it. I became more visible playing guitar, singing, and learning cover songs in my late teens. Songwriting came later, when I moved to Nashville.
Was it always country music that held your interest?
You know, I was a weird kid; I loved the crooners. I grew up in a really Christian home and rock n' roll music was frowned upon, but I was able to listen to the oldies. Guys like Sinatra and Harry Connick Jr were my biggest influences in middle school. Growing up in Oklahoma, once I discovered Garth, he was it. I loved every single bit of his music and couldn’t stop singing his songs. Garth was actually pre-George Strait for me, but once I started listening to George, he brought it all together. He was like the country Frank Sinatra. I have been a huge George Strait fan since then.
Actually, my first experience playing country music was playing a private show for George in 2005. I was just getting started, and it was the most unbelievable and surreal experience I have ever had. Since then I have had other experiences singing for him and spending time with him. He is just a great, great guy. I have always idolized George and those artists who were from Texas yet managed to become national artists. That has always been what I want my journey to be.
It All Happened In A Honky Tonk was released in 2010 and was received very warmly by Texas radio and listeners.
It was absolutely a warm welcome. I was born and raised in Oklahoma, but Texas was where my musical journey began. Texas radio has been very kind to us and has given us the ability to get started in the business.
I had been in and out of Nashville from 2006-2009. In 2010 I went through a failed record deal when the label went out of business. My manager and I just decided that it was time to make a record, promote singles, tour and play for fans. It All Happened in A Honky Tonk originally came out in late 2010 and then Warner re-released a deluxe edition in 2013. We toured for two and a half years off of the original record and then the re-release. Collectively those albums saw five top ten singles, some top five, and really laid a good foundation for us. Even though they did not reach national notoriety, I took a lot of pride in those records.
However, it was also a record that seemed to go on forever. And looking back on it, I don’t advise doing it that way. For Warner’s re-release, I wrote three new songs including a song Joe Nichols cut called “I Cant Take My Eyes Off You.” We kept releasing singles and by the time the final single and video came out, we rolled into the live record, which we did because we wanted to capture what was happening with our shows at the time. We cut Live at Floores, a fan favorite, in late 2013.
When did you start preparing for this new record?
After the live record, I was basically deciding what I wanted to do when I lost my biggest musical influence, Tim Johnson, who lost his battle with cancer in late 2013. He and I wrote most of It All Happened in a Honky Tonk and his passing hit me pretty hard. It was a setback for me. I really didn’t know where to go musically and creatively without him around. He was my mentor, collaborator and anchor. We saw music the same way; he just got me and what I wanted to do. I didn't know how I wanted to approach the record at that point, but I knew Tim would want me to keep going and growing, so I pulled up my boot straps, and began to search for songs, write and figure things out.
In early 2014 we recorded the first sessions and released “What Are You Doing Right Now” as a single and an accompanying video because the hard core fans were literally about to execute us if we didn’t put new music out (laughing)! After we got that out, we began the process of recording the remainder of the album.
Natural Man will be released March 31st. Did you do anything differently with this record than the previous?
It’s interesting, this record is special for me in a lot of ways. Over the past four years, I really have grown as an artist. With this record, I wanted to stretch myself stylistically and creatively as a vocalist while pushing myself commercially as well as tying myself back to my country roots. Having said that, I recorded a lot more outside songs than I did previously, but I also recorded the very best songs I have ever written. I wrote “I’m Doin’ Alright” and “Singin’ Thing,” which is basically my life story and also the last thing Tim and I wrote together. I think it is the little treasure of the whole album. The beginning of the record has a lot more of the outside written, radio friendly songs about feeling good and meeting in bars, which I love (laughing). Then there is the final song. “When I Get to Heaven," that’s my roots talking again, while lyrically and stylistically, "Natural Man" and "Outrun Her Memory" have more of an Americana feel and remind me more of a songwriter's song if that makes sense.
Why did you decide to title the album Natural Man, which is also a track on the record?
Brett Jones, who lives in Nashville and has written a lot of hits, had the song from years ago. I thought “Natural Man” was different; the song had a stability to it that I really enjoyed. I always wanted to record it, but just didn’t have the guts to do it. My manager finally said just go for it, so I did.
I like cutting records with a theme, like with It All Happened In A Honky Tonk, most of the songs takes place in a honky tonk or at the bar. With this album, I decided that “Natural Man” was the song I was going to hang my hat on. It isn’t necessarily a stand out track on the album, but it does describe where I am at in life and who I am as a person. The music business has changed an awful lot, and many of us can say we’re not where we thought or hoped we’d be or whatever, and for me, I had to let a lot of that go and just be me and when I did I found a real kind of happiness again. Trust me, if it somehow it becomes a #1 record or spurs me onto that path that would be wonderful, but I also I feel like I locked in on my voice on this record and that helped make the record what it is. I feel natural in what I’m doing, sturdy and stable and that’s why that song became the title track. It best describes the record and what I’m doing now.
You’re going back to the honk tonks on March 20th when your Natural Man Album Release Tour begins.
Absolutely! This is going to be It All Happened In A Honky Tonk Part 2!! I feel like this tour, twenty-two dates so far, is the perfect way to release the album. We have a new band rolling on a new show so it’s like breathing new life into this project. We’ll be going back to the places where I have grown over the past four years.
We play mostly in Texas and Oklahoma, but I’m hoping “Smile On Mine” really gains legs and makes a jump on the charts so we can have the chance to play outside of those states and show the rest of world what we’re doing!
I’m so excited to get this album out, play for the fans and get those late nights happening again!
Order Natural Man here
For tour dates and more information visit his official website
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