Latest album could turn the tide for this Kentucky singer-songwriter
Grayson Jenkins was the perfect person to interview for the first BS&B exclusive in more than 18 months. He returns to the Southgate House Revival, a place where he has performed often, to open for Lera Lynn Oct. 7. He was excited to share his story as he prepares to play live again in support of his fourth album, “Turning Tides.”
Grayson Jenkins grew up in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, so he didn’t have to search hard for inspiration to become a songwriter.
Funny thing, though. Music wasn’t part of his everyday life in Western Kentucky, although it did seep in a couple of days a week.
“I grew up in what I would consider a nonmusical family,” Jenkins says. “Nobody played music, there just wasn’t a lot of music around. My dad is a mechanic, so when he drove, the radio was off most of the time because he was listening to the vehicle. That’s just how he was programmed.
“(But) I would go to my mom’s on weekends and have access to MTV, CMT and VH1. I became infatuated with music videos. It was a lot of Top 20. It wasn’t until I got to college that I started getting into Tom Petty, John Prine, the Eagles, some indie rock bands, things like that.”
Fortunately, Jenkins had an older sister named Morgan, who was perfect for a teenage boy: She was cool and she liked her younger brother. Never underestimate the influence of a cool older (four years) sibling on the younger one.
“She was a big influence on my music, not only from a support standpoint but showing me new music,” Jenkins says. “She is a quintessential superfan. She is in fan clubs, get record deliveries, things like that.
“When we were younger, she was like a second mom to me as well. She would let me hang out with her friends when we were in high school. Then she went to law school at the University of Kentucky at the same time I went as an undergraduate. I’ve always been kind of an old soul because I was surrounded by people older than me since I was a kid.”
At this point, however, writing and playing songs was still a few years away. Maybe it was Morgan’s influence or exposure to the underrated Lexington music scene, but Jenkins began writing his own tunes and playing a regular gig in a local bar for a few years while he worked a day job at UK.
He might not have grown up surrounded by music, but he did learn the value of hard work from the folks around him. When he decided to see where the musical life might lead him, he didn’t have to look far for what was possible. Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson each spent years playing in Lexington before hitting it big.
“I see it as laying bricks, you’re building a strong foundation,” Jenkins says. “These flash-in-a-pan things don’t have as much staying power as people who have put in the work. Seeing that makes it a little easier getting through the grind.
“I was thinking about people like Stapleton, Sturgill, Jason Isbell finding success later in their careers. And I was thinking people like James McMurty should be playing big festivals and big shows. Some people have a winding path and other find success on their debut record. There’s no method to this madness really.
Turning 30 might be the tipping point for Jenkins. He released “Turning Tides,” his fourth album in August. He hired a publicist for the first time, understanding that the quality of the product is only a small cog in the machine. Every artist must find a way to break through the noise.
“This (“Turning Tides”) is still an independent release,” he says. “I’ve learned something with every record, picked up some tricks from other people. But I wanted to try to establish myself on the national scene a little more to just be in the conversation of the Americana, country, singer-songwriter world.
“It’s funny, it’s like the old saying, “You’re a 10-year-old overnight success.” Not that I’m there yet, but you kick around and hustle, hustle, hustle just to get your foot in the door.”
He might not have made it on a grand scale yet, but he knows his No. 1 superfan could not be more proud. He sees that when he travels the 10 minutes to Morgan’s house to visit his 4-year-old niece and her baby brother.
Paradise has moved from Muhlenberg County to Lexington with the Jenkins family.