The gospel country star talks about his new patriotic album, God and Country.
After singing and touring with the legendary Statler Brothers for 21 years, guitarist and singer-songwriter Jimmy Fortune began forging his own path, releasing his first solo album, When One Door Closes, in 2003. Since then, he’s recorded and released more albums, including his 2015 Hits and Hymns, which charted impressively: No. 10 Billboard Country, No. 1 Southern Gospel, and No. 6 Billboard Contemporary Christian.
His new release, God and Country, finds the Virginia native delving into his patriotic side.
Recently, we talked to Fortune about the new record.
Cowboys & Indians: You released your very patriotic God and Country in late May. What were most excited about getting the music out there, and what has the audience response been like?
Jimmy Fortune: Well, I’ve been excited since we decided to do this God and Country, with all the things that are kind of going on [today]. I don’t like to get political or anything like that, but I just kind of look at the feeling of the people across the country. We need some kind of unity, and it’s more of a spiritual unity, I guess, than it is anything else. We just thought God and Country would be a great message to get out to the people about celebrating our freedom and the fact that it comes at a high price and the fact that there is a higher power than all of us and that love can bring us together again. …
And to realize that and to say, “Hey, let’s start from now and try to make this better for one another,” and the message of what it is and the people that have come up and said, “Hey, man, I feel a new belief and a power in this country,” and listening to these songs kind of tilled up the soil of being grateful and thankful for what we have in this country and how we got here. … This whole tour is called “God and Country” that we’re heading into ever since we released this CD. The response has been really, really, really positive.
C&I: Tell us a little bit about the production process.
Fortune: Ben Isaacs produced this project of The Isaacs, and he’s produced the last three projects I’ve had. On this new project, God and Country, he has some of the best instincts of anybody for music. I totally let go and I let him [take over]. He lets me say what I want to say, but I let him have his way as far as arranging and producing and getting the best out of me. To me he’s the one that knows, and I trust him with that.
So the production of that has been some of the greatest musicians in Nashville in country and gospel music on this new project — actually on all of them. On the last three projects we pretty much used the same musicians.
Ben Isaacs is playing bass on the project as well. He kind of has to wear two or three different hats on everything, but, boy, it really has paid off in the production of this whole project. Bill Gaither believed in me enough to take a chance about four and a half years ago, and it’s been a very joyful ride, you might say, with him coming on board with me and believing in me enough to put these projects out and to believe in my cause of what these songs have to say. I’m looking at 50 years of being in this music business professionally and it’s all coming together with some of the greatest musicians and producers and singers that I consider that are on the planet.
C&I: How did you go about the song selection process for the album and how did you make them your own?
Fortune: This project was an emotional journey. For some reason it was like a higher power than we were that was guiding us in all of this. Then we started digging into it and seeing what songs kind of shaped this country. …
Then the hymns that are on there are songs I sang as a child in the old churches back home growing up in Virginia. These were songs that my mom used to sing to me when I was little. When I was small I loved to hear her sing, but her singing affected me and pushed me toward wanting to be a singer. Then the message in the songs that she sang to me are now the messages that are striking home to me. When I was younger, she [would] always [say] “Don’t run from God; run to God.” Then this message of the songs that she used to sing to me kind of rang true.
So when I was singing these songs, it got very emotional because I remembered my mom singing to me and some of the stories she used to tell me and how she used to talk to me. She passed away back in 2000 and I just miss her more and more every day. But I really felt her spirit in all this, and her prayers from years ago. I felt her prayers being answered and it really got to me. You can hear it in my voice when I’m singing it because it was an emotional journey.
I think people go through things in their lives where they go through hard times; some hardships they bring on themselves, some they don’t. Some things just happen in life, but life can be a pretty tough thing. But to know that the bottom line is that there is hope and there is love and a higher power than all of us can imagine that’s out there and on our side if we choose to just grab hold of that hope and hold on to it.
C&I: You have a new track called “Meet Me at Arlington” that’s co-written by you and Dave Clark. How did that come about?
Fortune: It was about November of last year, somewhere around that time. I had just moved to Nashville and moved right in next to Dave Clark, one of the greatest songwriters in Christian music today. I didn’t even know it till a couple of years later. We met out in the yard, out mowing grass. God brought us together, and so we co-wrote some songs along the way together here and there.
Last November he came over and came into the house. He said, “Look, I just heard something on the news. I just saw this.” So he happened to get it on his phone and he played it for me. I don’t like to get into politics, but when I see something that really kind of tears at my heart, I have to kind of write about it and sing about it. There was a clip on the news [about] this young boy going to college out in California. He went to school one day and somebody just happened to be recording what happened at the moment. He had a Marine shirt on or something, and this professor started chewing out and tearing him down for wearing that shirt. [The student] wanted to be a solider one day; he wanted to serve our country and be a Marine. And it was just cutting down him and his family and everybody who had ever worn a uniform. It was pretty bad.
The news program — I won’t mention any names — found a Gold Star mom who had lost a son in Afghanistan, and they let her watch this clip and they asked her how she felt about it. Not in a mean or hateful way, she just said she didn’t think he understood, that she wished that he could meet her at Arlington [National Cemetery] and then she could introduce him to her son and then maybe he would understand.
When she said that, it hit us like the arrow in the heart. We said, “We’ve got to write this song for her and for others like her who need to tell someone ‘I don’t understand why someone steps up in front of me and says ‘No, you don’t have to go serve. I’m going to go serve for you. I’m going to go and put my life on the line and whatever this country believes in.’”
Yeah, our country has made a lot of mistakes along the way. I’m not going to say it hasn’t. But for the most part, the United States of America has always done the right thing. These soldiers that have put their lives on the line for us go and do it for all the right reasons, not the wrong reasons.
So we wanted to write that song, “Meet Me at Arlington,” and we wanted to try to put it out there in a way that was not so in-your-face, but it made a statement [about] a sacrifice of love, a sacrifice that has been given for this country, bigger than anything we can imagine.
I never had to lose a child. I’ve never had to lose someone in my family. But I do realize what has been given for me to enjoy the freedom that I have in this country and do what I love to do. And, like I said, I don’t beat people over the head with it. I just try to say what I feel. I do realize that everybody doesn’t feel the same way, but we need not to come against one another in hatred and [we need to] try to build up those who have given the sacrifices for us because they did it for the right reasons. I’m not going to put that person down by any means for what they did for me and for all of us in this country.
C&I: With all these really emotional, heartfelt songs, do you have a certain favorite or one you’re most proud of?
Fortune: Well, I have some favorites. There’s a song on there that’s called “I Love You More” that I wrote just recently with a lady by the name of Molly Stevens. She and I wrote that song here at my house one day. We were thinking about life and actually how some people just get down and feel like there’s no hope. We felt like we had a platform here to send a message out to someone who may be down in life and feel like there’s no hope. God is always, in His message to us, saying “I love you more than all these things that have happened to you. I love you more than all these things that you have done to yourself. And I forgive you.”
So with that message, I have taken that song and played it in my shows. I play it in my shows all the time now. There’s at least one person that will come up and say, “That song was meant for me because you made me realize that even though I feel lonely, I feel down, that the most powerful force in the universe loves me, and that’s God.” So they’ll come up and share that with me. So I know the song is doing its job.
“God Bless America” is one of my favorites because God has blessed America over and over and over again. He will continue to bless our country as long as we do the right thing and realize that love is stronger and bigger than hate. …
There’s an old gospel song on there, an old Stuart Hamblen song he wrote called “It’s No Secret What God Can Do.” My mother sang that to me just few weeks before the Statler Brothers called me to come and audition for them in 1982. I made the trip back home Thanksgiving 1981 to be with my mom to visit with her. I was kind of in a rough place in my life. I was sick and I’d been working really hard. I got there early that morning just to kind of be there with her and to get some of that great food that she could cook on Thanksgiving.
While we sat and talked, she came over and put her hands on my shoulder and sang “It’s No Secret What God Can Do.” I remember I just broke down and there was a moment between us. Then those words have just been so powerful to me from that moment on in my life because it’s no secret that if we choose to listen to the message that’s out there — the message of love and hope to someone who has given their all for us — then it’s hard not to realize that it’s no secret what He can do with a life that is willing to let Him have control of it. That song is one of the most powerful songs in my life.
C&I: What’s something people might not know about you?
Fortune: Wow. I think they just about know everything, seems like. I’ve been out there for a long time and I’ve laid my life on the line as far as dedicating my life to my music. What my fans may not know is that when I look back on all of it, I do have some regrets about things, but I know that the mistakes I’ve made kind of got me to where I’m at as well. When I look back on all of it, I look at my children — I have seven children and eleven grandchildren — God’s really blessed me. Some of them, my fans and family, even me, think that everything is just hunky-dory and you’re sitting on top of a hill and you think you’ve got the best life ever. And I do in a lot of ways. but there are things that I’m sorry for that have affected my family along the way.
I believe that’s why my message is so strong today about love and about spending time with the ones you love. I see pictures of my children from years ago when I was out on the road with the Statler Brothers, and I would take pictures with other people. Some of my children were standing in the background and I could see this look on their face like, “Hey, he’s my daddy and he’s hugging on someone else and telling them he loves them.” And I do love them and I mean that, but my children, I think, kind of had to sit back in the background and take a backseat a lot of times.
I didn’t realize that at the time, and as time went on and I started seeing some of those pictures, I could see that my children and my family had to sacrifice a lot along the way for me to be doing what I’m doing. I wish I had taken a little more care with that. I know they know that I love them and everything, but I guess when you look back – anybody can look back at their life and might have some regrets, I guess, but I try and make the best of those mistakes that I made and turn it around in my life now to a positive way.
But, yeah, I guess, that’s what I want people to know. That’s probably opening myself up to let them know that I still love everybody and everything and God gave me a special gift in loving people. When I look back, I wish I’d taken a little better care of my children and all in that respect.
For more information on Jimmy Fortune, visit his website.