Justin Chain has the distinction of being the first country artist to play the lounge here at the club.
Fresh from his appearance on The Voice, the 23-year-old musician wowed the audience with his distinctive sound and down-home charm, just as he’d done with celebrity judges Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, CeeLo Green, and Adam Levine on the NBC reality program.
And while I could have gone the rest of my life without seeing Wade Smith in a cowboy hat and chaps, it was nice that some of the club’s regulars had decided to go country for the occasion of his visit.
“Thanks, y’all. I appreciate that a lot,” he said in reply to compliments from Chris and Nanci Scarpulla as he stopped at their table after leaving the stage and threading his way through the lounge, shaking hands and exchanging words with his new Birmingham fans. “I still have to work a day job, though, so if you or a friend is in the market for a new or used vehicle give me a call. I’m at the largest volume dealer in middle Tennessee.”
“You work a room really well,” I said to Justin a little later as he sat down at my table “Man, I love meeting people,” he said, flashing one of the most ingratiatingly genuine smiles I’d ever seen. What you see is what you get with Justin, evidenced by the plaid shirt, jeans, and ball cap he was wearing.
Currie materialized at our table and asked if he could bring us beverages.
“Dr Pepper for me,” I said.
“The same for you, sir?” he asked Justin. “Or perhaps a Mountain Dew?”
“No, sir, those are both pretty amazing,” he said, “but I think I’ll just have a water. That’s my favorite.”
“Very good, sir,” Currie said before vanishing.
“As I recall,” I said to Justin, “you’re from Fort Payne, right, but you’re now living in Nashville?”
“That’s right. Murfreesboro, actually. I moved there last April. Threw all my clothes in my Mustang with $30 in my pocket, and moved up there.”
“You don’t sound like you have any regrets.”
“Not at all. This is why I did it.”
A country fan for as long as he can remember, Justin grew up listening to George Strait, George Jones, Willie Nelson, and Hank Williams, aspiring to be a country star just like his heroes.
“The music business is dog-eat-dog,” he said as Currie brought our drinks. “It can be a hard and expensive business to get into, and my family didn’t have a lot of money or connections. It’s hard to get people to talk to you when you’re nobody – and I’m not saying I’m somebody by any means – but I hope being on The Voice has gotten me into a different category now.”
You won’t see Justin if you tune in to The Voice this week on your local NBC affiliate, however. Paired with fellow Alabama native Shelbie Z in the talent contest’s battle round, he won praise from the judges but wasn’t chosen by coach Shelton to remain in the competition. Still, he hopes it won’t be long before he trades selling cars for a full-time music career.
“It’s pretty obvious that reality shows are really anything but, but was there anything about the TV experience that surprised you?”
“Well, I went there with the mentality of roll with the flow, so nothing really blew my mind. I had to wear make-up, though. I didn’t really like that. I expected it, but I didn’t like it.”
“What was going through your mind as you were walking onto the stage for the blind audition?”
“Please don’t mess up,” he replied with a laugh. “Just don’t forget the words.”
“And, let’s see, you were singing…?”
“She’s Country by Jason Aldean. I’d sung that song…shoot, I couldn’t tell you how many times getting ready for the show. Three hundred or 400 times, probably. I was really nervous about messing it up.”
“And when Blake turned his chair around?”
“Don’t pass out. At that point, everything was fine. All the worry, all the stress, all the tension was gone.”
“Was Blake the coach you’d hoped to work with?”
“Oh, yeah. Most definitely. I was very lucky to get to work with someone of his reputation and clout. It really meant a lot to me.”
“The whole thing — being on a national stage, performing on television, working with Blake, Cher being your team’s mentor for the battle rounds — had to be an incredible experience for you.”
“It was. It really got my name out there, and it gives me so much more determination and hope. I’ve been through a lot, and the past few years have been kinda rough, but it lets me know that I’ve still got a shot at this.”
For him to describe the last few years as kinda rough is more than an understatement. After a head-on collision with an SUV – Justin was riding a motorcycle – in 2008, he shouldn’t even be alive. He was hospitalized for 17 days but, taking several hundred stitches, 80 screws, and 13 plates with him, was walking again six days after his release, something he was told he’d never do again without assistance.
Now, he’s even running again. Not to mention booking a mini-tour, writing new songs for his upcoming album and performing, including headlining a show in his hometown Saturday evening.
“What does it feel like when you’re on stage, the show’s going well, and the audience is really responding?” I asked.
Justin sipped water. “I don’t know if I could put that into words. I’m an adrenaline junkie, and when I’m out there on stage performing, so many emotions are running through my mind that nothing else matters except that moment. It’s complete freedom in the total sense of the word. Bills, problems, drama, bull crap, work – none of that matters.”
“Justin, where do you see yourself in five years?
He didn’t hesitate.
“Out on tour. Traveling the country and the world. Being right up there with guys like Chris Young, Jason Aldean, and Luke Bryan. Maybe winning a Grammy or Country Vocalist of the Year. I tend to set my dreams a little high. That way, if I fall short, I’m still somewhere up there close to it.”
“I like that philosophy.”
“So do I,” he said. “It tends to work out well.”