Nashville Fridays: “Songs From My Couch,” with Jason Eskridge

January 24, 2014
JasonEskridge

“The guy has a sick set of pipes.”

That’s how that’s how Nashville producer Jaime Kenney first described Jason Eskridge to me. We were planning a benefit show for another Nashville artist in which local musicians would offer their takes on some classic blues and soul songs. The lineup that night was ridiculous with talent, but Eskridge’s take on Steve Wonder’s “Superstition” stopped the room cold. You can hear him sing it again in one of the videos below.

Eskridge was born in Rockwood, Tennessee, a town of about 5,500 three-fourths of the way between Nashville and Knoxville. But while he may have been been closer to Nashville than most artists in town, his route here was far from typical. His grandfather J.C. Eskridge sang in a gospel band that toured the south and had their own Sunday morning radio show. It was J.C. who first exposed Jason to music. He subsequently sang in church choirs and school plays, but he also had other interests. A tinkerer by nature, Eskridge eventually attended Tennessee Tech to study mechanical engineering. He also played college football while he was there. After graduating, he was hired by NASA and moved to Huntsville, Alabama to work on the space program. Again, not your typical route to Nashville.

Eskridge is a full-time musician now. His voice is not only powerful; it’s versatile. As you’ll see below, his James Taylor is every bit as good as his Steve Wonder. He’s most impressive belting out the neo-soul, but he also plays around town with the bluegrass group, the Cumberland Collective. I saw him with the group at the landmark bluegrass venue the Station Inn a few weeks ago. The crowd had come to hear a string band, but when it was Eskridge’s turn to sing, he put a spell on them, too. He’s sung backup for Lyle Lovett, Marc Broussard, Randy Travis, and DJ Maj. He’s opened for Johnny Lang and Aaron Neville. Yes, he has set of pipes.

At age 39, Esridge’s music career is flourishing. But he hasn’t stopped the tinkering. “I fancy myself something of a carpenter,” he writes over email. You can check out and buy some of his woodworking at Rustic Soul Creations. Last month, Eskridge brought a couple guys from his band to my place for a “Songs From My Couch” session. That’s Demarco Johnson on keys, and Brandon Newsome playing percussion. Sound engineering by M. Allen Parker. Video and editing by David Johnson. I supplied the couch.

Tell me about Rockwood, Tennessee. What was it like growing up there?

Growing up in Rockwood was interesting. It’s one of those small towns where everyone knows everyone else. I learned some invaluable life lessons growing up there, and still consider some of the folks I grew up with to be some of my best friends. Tiger pride!

When did you first realize you could sing—and could sing as well as you do?

I always sang in the choir (church/school) growing up, but it wasn’t until college that I realized that it was maybe something I could do for a living.

Was there any single event that made you decide to give up engineering and come to Nashville to pursue a music career?

I don’t think there was any one event that caused me to make the decision. It was more a gradual thing. However, the one thing that gave me the confidence to follow through with the move was the fact that my mother was behind me in the decision.

Tell me about your first few weeks in Nashville. It’s always interesting to hear about what artists were doing and thinking upon first arriving here to embark on a career.

My first day in Nashville I had a recording session. I literally drove straight from Huntsville to a studio in Franklin and started singing background vocals for Nicole C. Mullen. In my first few weeks in Nashville I drove a 15-passenger van for a few different bands, took a job at a local coffee shop, and set up camp on a buddy’s couch.

You’ve sung with a lot of big names. If you could share a stage with anyone in music, who would it be?

Current artist: Stevie Wonder.  Past artist: Donny Hathaway

I’ve heard from some musicians that Nashville is a difficult town. Because there’s so much talent here, you’re often performing for other musicians, instead of fans. But I’ve heard from others that it can be inspiring in the middle of it all. How has Nashville been for you?

I’ve found both of those to be true. I definitely think that having your peers in the audience definitely causes you to bring your “A game.” Conversely, with there being so much happening and so much talent, many times it’s hard to get people to come out and support your music, just because the market is so saturated.

Do you have an “Only in Nashville” story you could share?

Well, it’s obvious that there are a lot of famous folks that call Nashville home. I think the thing about Nashville that separates it from other places is that it’s small enough that you run into those folks on a fairly regular basis. I ran into Toby Keith a few years back and inexplicably got super nervous. I walked up to him and said, “What’s up, man? I like your music.”

Any Nashville artists you would recommend to our readers?

Without question, my two favorite local artists right now are Mike Hicks and Dani Elliott.

What’s up for you in 2014? Will we get a full-length Jason Eskridge solo album soon?

I recently digitally released a 3 song acoustic EP entitled, “Live at Good Wood Nashville”. I’m also in the early stages of recording a new full-length project. Stay tuned!

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."
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