Jimmy Wayne has lived a hundred hard-luck country songs. Homeless, broke and hungry for most of his formative years. Abandoned by his biological father at an early age, in and out of halfway houses and foster homes while his mother was struggling with prison sentences and stints in the psych ward.
Frustrated with the futility of it all, Jimmy finally turned to living on the streets until he was taken in by an elderly couple after being hired to mow their lawn. Through their support he finished high school, earned a degree in criminal justice at community college and worked as a prison guard, where he took songwriting advice from an inmate.
Four years later he moved to Nashville, Tennessee and found success as a singer, songwriter, author and advocate for the homeless. In his new book,Walk to Beautiful: The Power of Love and a Homeless Kid Who Found the Way, (Thomas Nelson), Wayne tells his life story, from rundown trailer parks and late-night Trailways stations to smash gold records and the Grand Old Opry stage.
One of the best I’ve read this year. Reminds me of one of my all-time favorites, The Glass Castle.
Thanks, man. I have to take my hat off to Ken Abraham for making this book happen. I turned in about seven hundred pages and he really worked with me to get it right. We’re really all proud.
Oh boy. My mom ran this sort of refugee camp, just all kind of strange characters hanging around our house all the time. Crazy Fletcher was tall and he had this black Brillo pad of hair. He loved rock music and carried this little portable record player around with him everywhere. So he comes over one night with Bark at the Moon. House is full, everybody’s drinking and carrying on.
Crazy Fletcher sets his record player down, puts the record on and just sits there staring at it as it turns. Then he gets this really strange look across his face and runs out the back door. Comes back with an axe. We lived in an old millhouse, with tall ceilings, and Crazy Fletcher raised that axe up with both arms over his head and hacked that record player in two.
And you were how old?
About seven. Something about Bark at the Moon really set Crazy Fletcher off. I don’t know why.
I think I might have some insight for you.
Bark at the Moon was Ozzy’s first record after Randy Rhoads died. You had those classic Ozzy/Randy records back-to-back, Diary of a Madman and Blizzard of Ozz. If that’s the sound you loved, Bark at the Moon was a huge letdown.
Well, I do forensic psych on the side and I’m something of a metal buff. But that’s just my two cents.
No, I think you’re on to something. Never thought of it like that. I’m a big heavy metal fan too.
So many country musicians are old metal heads. Sometimes I think the biggest influences in country music today are AC/DC and Bon Jovi.
Man, you are right. It’s true. I guess that’s because people come from more of a multi-cultural background these days. I did. I listened to everything. I was big into Iron Maiden, Queensrhyche. Still a big Maiden fan. If you listen to the lyrics, it’s not evil. “Aces High”, “The Trooper.” Iron Maiden is more like a history lesson.
You did a killer cover of “Sara Smile” that went to Number One. I love that song and I was skeptical, to tell you the truth. But you got it right.
I love Hall and Oates, just their sound, the way they put their songs together.
So many classic songs from those guys.
Oh, man, are you kidding? Yeah. So many.
And you got their stamp of approval. John and Daryl both sang backup on your version. You had a lot of hard knocks in life so that was cool to see you get some validation there.
Just blew me away to be singing with those guys. I’m no Daryl Hall, not by a long shot – I mean, who is? That guy is one of the greatest singers of all time. But just to be in the same room? Yeah, that was a real blessing. One of the best. I got to go to his house and do Live from Daryl’s House too.
What’s Daryl Hall’s house like?
He lives back in Connecticut and man, it’s like his driveway goes forever. I think he moved a castle here from somewhere. Not like the whole castle, just the bottom part – the hallways and such. That room you see on the show? That’s the brightest room in the house. Also, he’s got an indoor pool. But you know, I guess in Connecticut, everybody’s got an indoor pool.
What do you do when you’re thirteen years old and your Mama leaves you stranded at the Trailways station in Pensacola, Florida in the middle of the night?
That… was just horrible. But it had been so much by then I guess you come to expect it. Mama had left me so many times before.
You spend all your money on a one way ticket to your sister’s house in Carolina, a three day ride and you’ve got nothing to eat.
And this weed-smoking guy with a big red afro sits next to you and has a briefcase full of peanut butter crackers.
God sends strange angels, man.
That’s a country song right there.
I lived a lot of songs.
What do you mean?
How do you write songs for a living? Like showing up to an office to write songs. Do you wait for inspiration or just hammer something out?
Well, a songwriter’s day starts about ten a.m. and you get with another writer and toss around ideas. Maybe you’ve got a melody, he’s got some words. You put those together and sometimes you come up with something and sometimes you don’t. Every workday in Nashville a thousand songs are born.
Whoa! A thousand? That’s . . . let’s see, twenty thousand songs a month?
Yeah. It’s like winning the lottery just to get a song cut.
You sound a little, uh – jaded to the process?
Your debut single, “Stay Gone”, was a top five smash. Tell me how that song came to be.
My sister was in this really bad marriage and she had finally gotten out. But she called one day and said, “He found me. I wish he would just stay gone.” So I wrote it for her with that idea. Sometimes the best thing a person can do for you is just stay gone.
I got to a point where I felt like had to give something back so I set out to do the walk and raise awareness for homelessness. I slept in sleeping bags in the woods, on people’s couches. Wherever. I had to do it, it was important to me.
A lot of people think I put my career on hold but that’s a misconception. I had the winter and spring off so it was downtime. My label showed up supportive but then into the walk I was dropped. I just don’t get it. I know business is business but I thought these people were my friends.
Sounds like you still don’t understand.
I still don’t. But you know, Jamie, since that time I’ve done four records, wrote two books and did a movie and a documentary. So good things can come from hard times.
That’s your story, man. Good things coming from hard times.
It really is.