Jerrod Niemann jokingly tells people that his boots are made from his pet snakes.
And he also likes to say that he always follows his "beer gut" when he makes a decision.
He has a healthy sense of humor, but life wasn't always funny for Niemann. After being a successful songwriter, and creating songs for Garth Brooks, Jamey Johnson, Julie Roberts, and Blake Shelton, he hit a brick wall trying to launch his solo career when two recording deals fell apart.
When he ran into Johnson a couple of years ago, his longtime friend noticed he wasn't himself.
"He wanted to know how I was doing. I had put on 60 pounds, run my girlfriend clear off to India, and realized I probably wasn't the person I was when I moved to Nashville," Niemann said backstage before opening for Miranda Lambert last week at Huntington Center. "Some people have worse bottoms than others -- literally and figuratively -- mine were both bad."
Johnson told him to write an album. If nothing else, he said, the process would be therapeutic.
And so "Judge Jerrod & the Hung Jury" was born. It was a concept album with clever voice overs introducing many songs. He told record companies they had to take it as it was "because it changed my life." Arista Nashville did and was rewarded with hits "Lover, Lover," "One More Drinkin' Song," and "What Do You Want."
After 12 years in Nashville, Niemann suddenly was one of the city's hottest new stars and his album gave him back his life. He lost those 60 pounds and regained his confidence.
Country music fans always have loved hearing Niemann's songs. He wrote Brooks' tribute to Chris LeDoux, "Good Ride, Cowboy." But now it's pretty cool to him that people want to hear him singing them.
"When you get out there in front of a big crowd and realize people are listening to your music for the first time ever and singing it back to you, it gives you this inspiration, makes you want to write better, record better, become a better artist," he said.
That's what he's trying to do on his second album, which likely will be in stores in September. He says the album is more groove driven and leans on his rock influences: the Steve Miller Band and Electric Light Orchestra.
His first single, the optimistic "Shinin' on Me," shows emotionally he's in a better place. It impacts radio on April 9.
"Lee Brice and I were in the back of the bus. We said, you know, you may not always have the best run in life, but when you're with buddies or someone you love, it's all right. The song is about being in the moment with someone you care about."
These days, it's not lost on Niemann that he's a pretty lucky guy.
"I'm a huge country music fan, so I am so honored that fellow country music fans support us and let us do what we do. It truly is a dream come true."
Brian Dugger's country music column appears in The Blade the last Saturday of every month.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @DuggerCountry.
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