SIDNEY — Whenever composer/lyricist Tim Jamison, of rural Shelby County near Conover, gets a song recorded, he buys a guitar, has the recording band sign it, and puts it away.
He has dozens of guitars, but the most recent acquisition may represent a big step forward in his song-writing career.
In the world of bluegrass music, the names of songwriters Tom T. and Dixie Hall almost guarantee a hit record.
So Jamison is in very good company on a recent CD, “Country Livin’,” recorded by Big Country Bluegrass and released by Rebel Records earlier this summer. It’s available for download at all outlets and for sale as a CD at the band’s website, www.bigcountrybluegrass.com, and other online retailers, including Amazon.
The song Jamison wrote is the title tune on the 13-track disc that also features songs by the Halls, one by Jimmie Martin and one published by Elvis Presley Music.
Jamison, 55, has been writing old-time country music for as long as he can remember. A graduate of Miami East High School and a plumber by trade, he has worked hard to get his songs heard by recording artists.
“You don’t just write a song and give it to someone and they do it,” he said recently. “For anyone to write a song and have someone record it, it’s almost like winning the lottery. I’m starting to get on CDs with the big boys.”
Big Country Bluegrass is a well known regional band based in southwestern Virginia. It’s recording of the Halls’ “The Bluefield West Virginia Blues,” which is the first track on “Country Livin’,” has reached No. 3 on the international bluegrass charts. The album is at No. 12.
“And I’m thinking ‘Country Livin” will follow right behind,” said band leader Tommy Sells, talking by phone from Mouth of Wilson, Virginia.
This is not the first time Jamison’s name has appeared on a major record label. Several years ago, Grand Ole Opry inductee Bobby Osborne put one of the local writer’s songs on his album. But Jamison signed away his rights to that song.
“When I first started, it didn’t take me long to find out, you never sell a song. You make it possible to record it. When I started out, I let Bobby Osborne publish (“One More Time”). That’s money in his pocket. Now I get royalties for writing a song, but also for publishing,” Jamison said. He has established T. Jamison Publishing and copyrights his material through BMI.
He has written more than 100 songs. Some are ballads. Some are what he calls “foot-stomping, happy songs.” He records demos by singing them and accompanying himself on guitar. Then, he attends concerts and approaches artists to pitch his music.
“I tell them who I am and what I do. You’re going to have to have good PR. Everywhere I’ve got, it’s from me and my mouth. I’m not bashful,” Jamison said. That’s exactly how Big Country Music came to have “Country Livin’.”
“We were playing in Bean Blossom, Indiana,” Sells said. “Tim was there. He came up to the CD table (where musicians sell their recordings) and dropped off a CD. Bobby Osborne had recorded one of his songs. We popped it in the player on the way home. As quick as we heard it, we all looked at each other and I said, ‘What’s his number?’ It talked about coon hunting and going to church on Sunday morning and the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights. I’ve been coon hunting since I was 6.”
It was a song about how Sells and most of the rest of the band — and thousands of bluegrass music fans — grew up.
Sells gets demo CDs every week. He listens to every one. But many of the songs that are sent to him are not the kind of music Big Country Bluegrass performs. When he and his fellow bandmates heard “Country Livin’,” they knew they had something good. Sells phoned Jamison from the van and said the band wanted the song.
“I got home and listened to it the next day. We told him it needed another verse. So he wrote the last one. It really makes the song,” Sells said.
Jamison was grateful that he was given the opportunity to adapt his original creation.
“Lots of people would throw (the demo) away because they’ve got 1,000 other songs that have that other verse,” he said.
It can take several years before a song that a band likes actually makes it to a CD, Jamison said. He was surprised a few months ago to get a response by email from the Dave Matthews Band concerning a tune he had sent there. The band expressed interested. Jamison has heard nothing more to date, but he knows he must be patient.
“I’m old school in my writing,” he said. “When my daughter was growing up, I’d tell her to pick three things and we’d write a song about them. It was good practice. For a good song, you have to have experienced it. It has to come from the heart. A good song to me is going to have a story behind it.”
He usually starts with lyrics and then develops a tune to go with them. He lets the recording bands decide on the instrumentation. Old Country Bluegrass arranged “Country Livin’.” Sells said if Jamison has another song as good as that one, they would record it. The band puts out a new CD every other year and Rebel Records is among the premier bluegrass labels.
That, Jamison said, will help him get other performers to pay attention to him.
“Song writing is a dog-eat-dog world. So when I take a song to someone now, there’s not a guarantee they’re going to do it, but I can guarantee they’re going to listen to it,” he said.
He may be right. The last two CDs Big Country Bluegrass recorded went to No. 1 on the charts and “Country Livin’” is steadily climbing.
“It’s getting a lot of airplay,” Sells said of the album. Jamison provided photos of himself with Patches, the dog in the song. Sells sent the photos to disc jockeys, who loved the personal touch and responded with “spins.” The band also performs on Bluegrass Junction on Sirius XM radio and has been singing Jamison’s song in live performances from Pennsylvania to Indiana to Georgia and many states in between.
“It gets a good response,” Sells said.
Jamison is thrilled.
“Self-fulfillment is my name on the same CD as Elvis Presley, Tom T. Hall, Jimmie Martin, Bobby Osborne. It’s kind of cool. I’m not doing it for the money. It’s something I like to do,” he said. But he admits that making a lot of money wouldn’t be bad.
“Yes, that would be nice,” he said.
It might happen. Only time will tell. In the meantime, people can put themselves on the porch, smelling country cooking, as they listen to Big Country Bluegrass sing “Country Livin’.”
“Tim wrote us a great song,” Sells said. “He’s happy and we’re happy. Fans and friends — that’s what bluegrass music is all about.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824. Follow her on Twitter @PASpeelmanSDN.