Eric Heatherly
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Eric HeatherlyBiography

Eric Heatherly, the roadhouse renegade who first staked his claim with 2000’s Swimming In Champagne, is taking aim at the bull’s-eye again, this time with Sometimes It’s Just Your Time (set for release in 2003 on DreamWorks Records).

“The last album was a good taste of what I do, but it wasn’t all of me,” says the Tennessee native. “I really wanted to hone my style this time, explore more of my roots, work on my guitar tones. My sound goes a lot deeper than just rockabilly, and that’s what I think this new album shows.”

Sometimes It’s Just Your Time does not, however, jettison the high-energy style that has won Heatherly countless fans. His trademark neo-rockabilly is amply evident on such toe-tappers as “Shake The Ache,” “Can’t Even Do Wrong Right” and “Urge To Run.” But there are indeed other textures here as well.

The silky, sensuous grooves of “I Know You’re In There Somewhere,” “Indian Summer” and “The Last Man Committed” create sophisticated audio tapestries. “When A Heart Begins To Drift” is as poignant a ballad as you’ll find in contemporary country music. “Nobody Slow Dances,” meanwhile, bears a touch of blue-eyed soul, whereas “Built For Love” boasts both twang and sex appeal.

Heatherly delved deep into his treasure trove of influences to craft Sometimes It’s Just Your Time. The marshy groove of “One Bad Tattoo” comes courtesy of The Tennessee Swamp Fox, none other than Tony Joe White. Famed for “A Rainy Night In Georgia,” “Polk Salad Annie,” “Willie And Laura Mae Jones” and other classics, the reclusive White agreed to share songwriting duties and trade guitar licks with Heatherly to rewarding effect.

Another fortuitous pairing arose when Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame inductee Dave Loggins (“Please Come To Boston,” “Pieces Of April,” “She Is His Only Need,” “40 Hour Week,” “Morning Desire,” “She And I”) was himself so impressed by the songwriting on Swimming In Champagne that he sought Heatherly out. The result of this collaboration is the atmospheric “Tryin’ To Forget What I Don’t Know.”

As if that weren’t enough, “Let ‘Em Roll” represents a creative partnership with the late Rock And Roll Hall Of Famer Carl Perkins. Heatherly has long considered Perkins one of his greatest influences, though he never got to meet the man, who died in 1998. But Perkins’ widow and daughter were so delighted by Heatherly’s work that they allowed him to use tapes Perkins had left behind to create a sizzling guitar duel.

These brushes with greatness will come as no surprise to readers of Music Row, which was inspired by Swimming In Champagne to name Heatherly Most Promising Newcomer of 2000. In fact, the title track off that disc was a Hot Shot video on CMT; Champagne’s “Flowers On The Wall” was a Top 10 country hit; and “Wrong Five O’Clock” became a drive-time radio favorite. Embraced by an ardent grassroots following, Heatherly toured relentlessly, even earning a significant fan base in Europe.

But once he began to grow creatively beyond the material on his first album, his record company balked. Seriously frustrated, he asked to be let out of his contract.

“I lost my bus, my road manager and half my band just trying to put out the music I believed in,” he recalls. “When everything fell apart, I went home. I worked on landscaping. I did a lot of charity stuff, things that made me feel good as a human being, because I was so let down by the business. I felt I’d done everything I could do, worked as hard as I could and made the best music I could make. I was so discouraged that I hardly picked up my guitar.”

At the end of his rope, Heatherly “turned it over to God,” saying, “Now it’s up to you, Big Man, because I can’t handle it.”

Whether or not divine intervention actually had anything to do with DreamWorks Nashville head James Stroud making his way to Heatherly’s new music, the veteran producer was truly galvanized by what he heard. He said he wanted to co-produce Heatherly’s next record and summarily signed him to DreamWorks. In short order, work on Sometimes It’s Just Your Time had commenced and first radio track “The Last Man Committed” was climbing country charts. It seemed Heatherly was back where he belonged.

Born and raised in Chattanooga and weaned on a diet of Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Hank Williams and Roy Orbison, Heatherly wrote his first song at age eight and made his stage debut at 13. All along, he dreamed only of making it in Nashville.

A guitar prodigy by his mid-teens, he played in regional bands throughout his high-school years and from 1988 to ‘90 was the star of a Chattanooga college pub called Yesterday’s. He finally settled in Nashville in 1991, after three years on the national honky-tonk circuit. Heatherly believed he was on his way to the top when he landed a job as a staff songwriter at Roy Orbison’s company, but he was turned down repeatedly by the Music Row labels he approached about becoming a recording artist.

At a time when cowboy hats and outsized belt buckles were all the rage, Heatherly sported retro threads and prominent sideburns. Like many independent-minded guitar slingers, he found himself swimming upstream. Predecessors like Vince Gill, Steve Wariner, Lee Roy Parnell, Brad Paisley and Keith Urban all faced similar initial resistance; like Heatherly, all were “Renaissance men” – not only guitarists, but singers, songwriters and producers whose maverick artistic vision proved intimidating to some among the conservative Nashville establishment.

In late 1996 Heatherly settled in as a regular at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, having resolved to simply play for his own enjoyment in the Lower Broadway area, a hotbed of seedy honky-tonks. Within weeks, however, a “scene” began to develop around the charismatic performer. Women danced on the bar. College kids roared along to Heatherly’s originals. There at Tootsie’s, alternative rockers, hillbillies, winos, hookers, truck drivers and business executives were somehow united by the power of his music.

Word naturally began to spread and soon enough, the labels that had passed on Heatherly were sending their top representatives to hear him wow the midnight barroom prowlers. And so, Eric Heatherly got a deal – and a wife: He married a Tootsie’s waitress in 1999. Some will remember Heather Heatherly from her husband’s “Swimming In Champagne” video.

While he waited for Champagne’s release, Heatherly continued to sharpen his skills as a live act. He got so good that Shania Twain hired him to back her at the 1997 CMA Awards. She also offered him a slot in her road band. But Heatherly politely declined, choosing instead to focus like a laser on his own music.

Of course, he was – and is – a showman in his own right, and a showman first and foremost. “You have to move the people,” he says simply. Looking back, he reflects: “Through it all, whether I had a record on the radio or not, we were always in front of people. We were packing clubs and playing festivals, opening for Montgomery Gentry, Brooks & Dunn and Brian Setzer, touring Switzerland, selling out in London. This train has kept on rolling, and I’m happy to say the fan club is getting bigger each year.”

With this kind of perspective, it’s not unforeseen that even in his darkest days, Heatherly could still see the sunny side of life. And his positive attitude has been rewarded time and time again. Just as he was signing with DreamWorks, Heather became pregnant with their first child; the same week the label sent “The Last Man Committed” to radio, the couple became parents to daughter Christiana.

“When I wake up in the morning, after I have breakfast, I go back to bed for 30 minutes and lay the baby on my chest,” Heatherly confides. “I say, ‘Whatever happens to me today does not matter after this; nothing can harm me, because this is where it’s at.’ To be honest, during all those years when the only thing I could think about was my music, I never thought I’d be saying something like that.”

To be sure, Heatherly understands life differently these days. Among other things, he knows that the ups and downs of the music business are impossible to figure. So he just takes every day as it comes, hoping that if you’ve got the songwriting talent, the vocal ability and the guitar magic, sometimes it’s just your time.

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