Performing at the Sask Country Showcase was an 'easy yes' for Jason Blaine
SASKATOON – Canadian country recording artist Jason Blaine is no stranger to the music business, having recorded music since the mid-2000s. Now a part of the Sask Country Showcase at TCU Place, Blaine joined us for a sit-down interview to discuss song writing inspirations, his transition in life from Ontario to Tennessee, and singles that have been fun to record. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Growing up in Ontario, who were some of your influences in the country music genre?
Blaine: Well I always go to my first influence that was my dad. My dad had a local cover band, and still does to this day, he just turned 65, he still plays about three times a month. You know he raised me on all kinds of music, especially classic country. Merle Haggard and then Waylon Jennings and through the 80s and 90s when country boomed. Guys like Vince Gill and Travis Tritt, Steve Wariner, Garth Brooks, of course, that was my first concert ever. I also remember the day I put on the Eagles Hotel California record and that was a game changer for me.
Q: What kind of influence did you get from listening to a band like The Eagles, I know they've often been considered a borderline country-rock band?
Blaine: I think that's correct. You hear that in all the artists that came after them. California rock, you know California country, The Eagles, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, that's where I probably learned to sing harmony. I sing harmony on my own records, I sing background vocals, and it also inspired me to be a musician too, it inspired me to play electric guitar. It's very cool that one of my biggest influences, Vince Gill is now a member of The Eagles and to see them tour around.
Q: Where do you look for song writing inspiration?
Blaine: Oh life! Life is, I heard a great quote 'life is too interesting to have to make stuff up,' and there's stories from friends. I tend to write a lot from my experiences but I mean, I'm a father and a husband and I don't imagine people just want to hear that same song over again so I tend to look to the life experiences from the stories I hear or people that I know.
Q: Looking back on your career thus far, do you have a particular song or album that stands out to you from the recording process?
Blaine: Definitely, there's a few, right here in Saskatoon I won my first single of the year award at the CCMA's back in 2012 for a song called They Don't Make 'Em Like That Anymore, and that song was sort of biographical about my grandparents and their 60 year love story, a beautiful story. The video has nearly three million views on YouTube so their story has been all over the world. Sadly by grandfather's not with us anymore but I love that their story will live on forever in the cyberspace of YouTube.
Q: You went on a roll with songs like Run With Me, Good Day To Get Gone, My First Car, Cool, what was it like in the late 2000s to have all these songs run up the country charts in Canada?
Blaine: I love that you know all these, that you're referencing all these songs and you were telling me just before we started that you played them on air in college. I love that, thank you very much by the way. It was great, my career spans, I moved to Nashville with my wife and our three-month-old baby girl in 2006. Just with literally a tank of gas, a little over $2,000 in savings and a dream with a lot of hope. I love that my wife was crazy enough to do that. I got a record deal and it started off a whole career for me and it's crazy for me to believe that was 13 years ago. I feel very lucky and very blessed to have had all of those hits and working on new music as we speak.
Q: In 2012, I wanted to reiterate, you won the CCMA Single of the Year, with They Don't Make 'Em Like That Anymore, talk about what it meant to record that song and write it with Deric Ruttan?
Blaine: Deric is a long-time friend and collaborator, a widely successful songwriter. I remember telling him that I wanted to write that song, I thought there was a beautiful story there. That day we spent most of the day just talking about those kind of “men of a generation,” there's something about that generation which became a lyric. I was like 'you know those old guys who comb their hair like Elvis after 50 years,' and pay cash for everything. Deric literally wrote that down and was like “how about this, ‘still combs his hair like Elvis, pays cash for everything,”’ and he really came up with those first two lines that snowballed the whole song.
What was really cool about that particular year was my grandfather hadn't been on a flight since maybe the early 80s and doesn't really like to travel. When we got nominated he called me and said “I had told your grandmother that if you got nominated, that we were going to make the trip and come out to Saskatoon for the awards. I was in the shop and I thought I have a good feeling you're going to win.” I said, “grandpa you don't know how these things work, I'm up against great artists like Johnny Reid and Dean Brody” and Dallas Smith was new at the time. When it happened and they called my name and I won, he was the first person I pointed to and I said “How did you know?” Unfortunately my wife was back in Nashville with our baby, but she did see it on the internet. It was a very special moment.
Q: Your grandfather must've been a fan of Alan Jackson I take it?
Blaine: Yes definitely, and I am too. Alan Jackson had a song called Small Town Southern Man and you know you could almost change the lyrics to Small Town Northern Man for my grandfather, he was just a salt of the earth kind of guy.
Q: What's it like for a Canadian country artist to live in Nashville, what is the music scene like there now for country music?
Blaine: Oh goodness, the city has changed, it's grown a lot. It's an exciting time, we joke that the new state bird is the crane because there's cranes all over the city erecting new buildings. The Nashville Predators have been on a roll. I live about 20 minutes outside of town in Hendersonville. Thomas Rhett just came out with a new record called Center Point Road, Grammy nominated, and I live on Center Point Road in the neighbourhood that he grew up in.
It's out in the country and I grew up in the country in Ontario, so it feels right from the time I moved there, homey. There's a great community, I've made lifelong friends in the song writing community and I've been writing songs down there for years and recently just had people record my songs.
People in Canada like Madeline Merlo, she's a superstar, she recorded one of my songs called Neon Love, we actually wrote that together. This group from Winnipeg, Petric, the brothers, they recorded a song we wrote together called Single Problem and had a hit with it this year. On the States side, the Buy Me A Boat guy, Chris Janson, he just recorded a song that I wrote that came out on his new record, it's very lyrically brilliant (laughs), called Beer Me and we're hoping he might put that out to radio next year. He's a great guy to have worked with.
Q: You must have had a lot of fun collaborating with Chad Brownlee, Gord Bamford, Jason McCoy and Deric Ruttan on Friends of Mine, tell me what that was like to put that song together?
Blaine: Thanks for taking me back, that was especially fun because I was on tour that year and at the time with Deric Ruttan and Chad Brownlee, called the Your Town, Throw Down Tour, and that was a tour where I met Chad for the first time and we became good friends, and that whole run was a special memory. The song came from that tour, we used cardboard cut-outs in the music video, it got nominated for video of the year which was hilarious because I sort of directed it on my own out of necessity. It was really funny, I wasn't sure I'd be able to get everybody together at the same time, I thought I might have to go shoot a piece with Gord, with Jason McCoy, I knew I could get Deric and Chad together because we were on tour.
Somebody jokingly said “why don't you use cardboard cut-outs of the other guys,” and I thought all use cardboard cut-outs for everybody. Ultimately I was able to get everybody in and I had everyone play characters other than themselves. Gord Bamford played the bartender, Deric Ruttan played the gas station attendant, Chad was a random guy playing hockey in the street. Then we got these goofy cardboard cut-outs I'm driving around with and we brought to the bar. It was a great time, and it's become a staple in my show.
Q: Dance With My Daughter, I feel resonated with a lot of your fan base, how did you go about writing that song, what prompted you to write it?
Blaine: That was pure and heartfelt. My wife and I had signed my daughter up for a father-daughter dance and she was about eight or nine. We went to this dance and it was so sweet, if anyone has ever been to one of those, I hope that they have them in Canada. We went out and all the dads are dressed up nice in suits with their little girls who look like princesses and they had a Martina McBride song playing, In My Daughter's Eyes and it was just beautiful. I don't know if there's been a song from a dad's perspective to a daughter, so later on that night when I got home, I grabbed my guitar and I wrote that song by myself. Through misty eyes of a dad I put that out and we shot a very expensive home movie that's on YouTube that has millions of views. It's really cool to get messages on social media from as far away as Arizona, Las Vegas and even Puerto Rico, a video of a dad and daughter dancing. That's the most rewarding thing.
Q: Looking back on your career thus far, you've charted over 25 singles on Canadian country radio, did you see yourself get to where you are today in the business?
Blaine: Yes definitely, from a young age, I don't think you can do anything without seeing yourself there. Without visualizing it and working towards it. I grew up a country kid listening to country radio, and watching the Grand Ole Opry. Watching guys like Steve Wariner on the Opry at my parents’ house growing up thinking I want to do that for a living. I want to meet him and write songs with him, and I did. I went to Nashville and met Steve Wariner and went to his house and wrote some songs, he told me songs about Garth Brooks and Chet Atkins, Dottie West. To be a part of that community, I always knew, I wrote that in my high school yearbook that that's where I was going. I'm blessed that my wife has come along for the ride and we have two Canadian babies and two American babies and I've been a part of that community for some time.
Q: If you had a chance to cover a Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt or a Steve Wariner's recording from the 90s, what songs would you choose?
Blaine: For Garth Brooks, I would probably cover The River. For Alan Jackson I would cover Remember When, if I could get through it, that song turns me into a blubbering mess every time I hear it. Steve Wariner, maybe Holes In The Floor Of Heaven. There's so many great songs.
Q: What does it mean to you to be a part of the Sask Country Showcase tonight at TCU Place?
Blaine: This was an easy yes for me. My friend Brock Andrews asked me to be involved, I played the Fender showcase at the CCMAs this year and he hooked me up with some great gear. He told me about this event, at the time and the other artists involved, all friends of mine. I know it's for a great cause that they do great work with Crisis Nursery and as a father of four, like I said, it was an easy yes.