Whether it be for his Country Music Hall of Fame career with The Statler Brothers or his solo run since the band retired in 2002, Jimmy Fortune is known as one of the greatest tenors in Country Music. If you need proof of that, take a listen to his new album, Jimmy Fortune Sings The Classics. At his home north of Nashville, the singer told CMChat how the album came to be.
“I teamed up with Bill Gaither a couple of years ago and did a project called Jimmy Fortune – Hits & Hymns, and it did really well. They wanted to do another project and asked if I would be interested in doing one where we did a bunch of the classics. It was weird because a lot of the fans have been asking me about doing a classics album or a CD. When we took the word to the fans, we asked the fans for their input and what songs they wanted to hear me sing. We had hundreds of votes, and the ones that got the most votes were the ones that we came up with.”
The album contains such time-honored standards as “Take Me Home,” “Country Roads,” “If,” and “Wildfire.” The singer says that each of the tracks have a special place in his heart.
“These songs helped shape my life, as well as the songs that I’m writing today.”
The album also contains some incredible guest appearances, such as Ricky Skaggs, who lends his talents to a cover of “Wake Up, Little Susie.” When it was suggested that Fortune takes Skaggs on the road for a duet partnership, he said he was game.
“If I could talk Ricky into it, I would. I think that Bruce Hornsby has him pretty tied up on the road. He and I are great friends. I respect him and his talent so much. I wanted to get him on something, so we mentioned it to him, and he said ‘Yeah, let’s try it.’ I’m glad I did. I hear my voice with Ricky’s and it just doesn’t get any better. My grandkids, when I play it for them, they want to hear that one. It was a lot of fun.”
He also tips the hat to The Eagles on “Take It To The Limit,” which he has been a fan of since it was originally released in 1975
“That was a big request for the fans, but I am also a big Eagles fan. I actually had an old 8-track tape that somebody had recorded their first album on. When you think about The Eagles, their harmonies are incredible, but when you throw The Isaacs on there, a lot of magic is going to happen. I’ve saw The Eagles a few times in concert, and seen them with Randy Meisner. I became a big fan of his voice. In concert, he would hit that big note and hold it – a little different from the record. I always said that if I ever recorded it, I wanted to do it like he did.”
One song that was a special request on the album was his take on John Denver’s “Annie Song.” He’s always been a Denver fan, but the song has a special story.
“In the last year, one of my wife Nina’s friends developed cancer. It was stage four. We prayed she was going to make it. That was her favorite song. She knew I was doing this album, and asked me ‘You are going to do ‘Annie’s Song,’ aren’t you?’ I told her if she wanted me to, I would. We put that on there for Mindy. She wanted me to sing it at her funeral, but I couldn’t sing it. There was no way I could get through it. But, we played the recording at the funeral,” he says, choking up.
Not every song on the disc needed learning. Fortune recorded his own version of “Flowers On The Wall,” the first Statlers hit from 1965. His predecessor, Lew DeWitt, wrote and sang lead on the original cut.
“That one was a lot of fun. I wanted to pay respect to the Statler Brothers through the song, but I also knew that it’s a different day and time. We wanted to keep that as the main focus, but also Eric Heatherly had a hit on it, and the song was in Pulp Fiction. It just keeps coming back around. I wanted to pay tribute to both versions, but also put a little bit of Jimmy Fortune on there. Gene McDonald sings bass on it, which he sings with Bill Gaither quite a bit. Gordon Mote played piano and did such a great job. It’s magic. When I listen to it, I smile through and through.”
Fortune continues to play to packed houses on the road throughout the United States, but a recent date in his home area of Nelson County, Virginia was a special event for the singer – a 45th anniversary of the television show The Waltons that brought back many of the original cast members of the classic CBS series. “It was packed,” he said of the March event in Schulyer, VA (pop.298).
“There were thousands of people in the town. They asked me to come sing at the service where they planted a Dogwood tree in memory of Earl Hamner Jr., who created the series. Schulyer is as small town as you can get, but the show is as big as life can get. People know it from all over the world. I got to meet most of the cast before, as well as Earl. What a gentleman. He was a good man with a good heart. He took me around the place, and shared stories of his growing up. Somebody suggested that I sing ‘Elizabeth’ to Kami Cotler, who played Elizabeth, so I started singing to her. I sang it to Elizabeth Taylor, but this was even more special, I think. You could see that Earl Hamner accomplished what he wanted to with the series, because they feel like family as much as the real family. That’s why the show is so magical. When I hear that music, it takes me back to Nelson County – even though it was filmed in California”
Jimmy Fortune Sings The Classics is now available at www.JimmyFortune.com