JD Shelburne shares his story from being a farm boy to music singer
J.D. Shelburne is no stranger to the spotlight in music. The Kentucky native comes from the small town of Taylorsville, where he was raised on his family’s farm. He would go on to the University of Kentucky for his studies before settling down in Nashville to have his hand in a music career. Things have picked up for J.D. over the years as many have taken noticed with several music videos airing on CMT television station. Most recently, he took part in the Country Radio Seminar, meeting stations from across the United States in hopes of having his songs played.
J.D. Shelburne’s latest release, “Two Lane Town,” has taken notice by many who want to get back to their hometown raising. You can check him out performing at Ole Red in Nashville on Sundays, as well as many festivals this year in Kentucky.
Recently, we sat down with J.D. Shelburne and discussed his Kentucky roots, as well as how important local radio stations are for artists, and giving back to the fans.
From what I recall, WFKY Froggy out of Frankfort and Louisville has made an impact in getting your music out to a larger audience. Every song you have released has been met with great acceptance. In fact, you performed a few shows including the St. Jude Jam with Craig Wayne Boyd years ago.
“Farm Boy” was released in 2012, which is hard to believe how fast time flies. When I put it out, I was new to the business. I started in college, literally, I found a guitar at my grandmother’s house after she passed and thought I should take that back to school. I was in college at UK and tried to learn how to play the guitar. It was a joke when I said I wanted to do this for a living one day. I had no plans of playing and things kind of happened. I graduated college in 2007 and moved to Nashville in 2008.
Then I decided that I wanted to put a song out. I didn’t know what a radio team was at the time. I opened for Steve Wariner and we talked a little bit about the music business. I was still a little green, learning the ropes. I put “Farm Boy” out by myself. I had a lot of fans and Froggy (WFKY) help pushed that. I did a little hometown show and it was really cool.
With “One Less Girl” out now, I have a team behind me that I have hired to work my single. I’ve been getting adds in places that I have never played, which is really cool. Places like Iowa, upstate New York, are some that I have never stepped foot in. To get adds in these places has been neat. I tour all the time. I play over 200 dates a year, so I’m always out there playing. However, this is the first time I’ve had a team to help promote me. It has been exciting to have CMT behind me now. That has been a long time coming.
I’m wanting to play the Grand Ole Opry. That’s my main goal. I know that without a single, it’s hard to get. So, we will see what happens.
What has been the general feedback that you have gotten from radio?
It’s been great. They think that the song is a great one for the first time. Generally, I’m not a new artist, but to many I am. They love the song. I was torn on what I was going to release. When CMT invited me in their office back in July, they told me that I should put our “One Less Girl.” I went in and done a 5-song demo for them. I played all five songs with a guitar player and they immediately said “One Less Girl” is your first single. When CMT is telling me that and I’m on the fence, I’m going with them. They also premiered the music video for that. So, it’s been going great. I just love seeing people tag me on Twitter and Facebook whenever someone hears the song. It has been neat to see it grow. I started being old fashion, just going around bars and meet everyone one on one. I love shaking people’s hands and meeting them.
You mentioned social media and looking at your various channels, you have really built your fan base with a grassroots effort. How has social media been viable in your career?
Without it, I may still be in Taylorsville, I’m not sure. I went to school for web design at first and ended up getting an Associates Degree in design and Bachelor’s in telecommunications. They both kind of mesh together. When I went to school in web design at UK, and basically used that to build my own website. I figured if I had a website, it would make people realize that I was serious about this. If someone comes up to me and asks about opening one of my shows, I will check their website. If they don’t have one, I can’t take them seriously. Facebook does allow people to have a page and post music on. Back when I was starting, Myspace was very popular. Facebook was popular if you were in college.
Social media has blown up like fireworks. You can reach people within seconds with videos. My website gets about 100,000 hits a month and Facebook has over 24,000 fans. One of the videos has already gotten over 100,000 views. It’s a great platform. These days you can pay money and get fans, which is unfair. You can spend money and get a lot of views. I don’t really do that. I’m the old fashion way.
When was the first time you heard yourself on the radio?
Froggy Country (WFKY) has always been good to me. I’ve been in Nashville for ten years, but I would listen to them online. I couldn’t tell you how many people would message me on social media or text me that I was on Froggy at that moment. I would immediately get online to listen. I would catch it right at the last chorus. Finally, I heard it on there for the full song.
WSM played “One Less Girl” when I was driving I-65. I will never forget it. I worked over off 440 off 65 at One Hundred Oaks Mall and they played “One Less Girl.” I was about ready to jump out of the car. That was really cool.
Back home, Froggy has been the first one to ever give me a shot.
Nashville has changed so much over the years. I come down every 6 months and it floors me to see how much has changed on Broadway and Music Row. You’ve played several of the honky tonks over the years, but now your home is Blake Shelton’s Ole Red. When you first came down here, where did you perform at?
When I first moved here, I reached out to so many bars down here. Most of them you never hear back, or the email is invalid. The very first bar I played down here I think was a little pizza company on Demonbreun Street called Christopher Pizza. It was snug in between Tin Roof and at the time Dan & Guinness. It was a little hole in the wall. It had one window and a door. When you walked in, your shoulders could almost touch each side. It was crazy. It was first gig I played on Broadway. Then I played Tootsies a couple of times and Rippy’s. I was at Tequila Cowboy for a couple of years. After Tequila Cowboy died off, it was fun and I wanted to get off Broadway and do more of the artist thing.
Ole Red came along and said that they were opening a new venue and that the Opry staff was going to run it. They asked if I would be interested in playing and I told them I was all in. That’s the one place I play at now. It is first class, and everything is so well maintained. The crew is first class and it has been good. I’m there every Sunday playing.
With Ole Red branching out, will you be able to go play at the other bars?
Yep I will get to play there. I’m playing the one in Gatlinburg when I can. It’s in the old Hard Rock in Gatlinburg. The fans love it and think Blake Shelton is there. Every time they ask where he is.
Let’s talk Derby. You have been fortunate to attend the Unbridled Eve Derby Gala, as well as the Kentucky Derby itself. In fact, you proposed to your now wife on the red carpet at the Derby. How were you able to take part of the festivities?
I always love the Kentucky Derby and proposing to Amy was an unreal experience. I enjoy performing at the Unbridled Eve Derby Gala as it goes towards a great cause. In 2012, “Farm Boy” just came out and that is what set me apart from other acts. I tried to get in several Derby parties in 2011 and never heard back. “Farm Boy” came out and it was like people took me seriously. We ended up going to the Barnstable Brown gala. I met Joker Phillips, who was UK’s football coach at the time. We struck up a friendship and he’s the nicest guy in the room. He ended up taking us to Derby on Millionaire’s Row on his dime. It was crazy. We went literally from parking in someone’s front yard up to Millionaire’s Row in about a few hours’ time difference. While I was at Derby in early 2012, I told him that I was working on my music video and asked him about being in it. He said sure and ended up playing bass in “Farm Boy.” That’s what really got me connected to other outlets and UK Sports. They loved it. He came to Taylorsville that day with his wife. They hung out with all of my family. He had no idea how to play bass guitar, but he acted, and people loved it. ESPN was commenting and it was just crazy.
The year before I got my first red carpet invite, I was playing a private pig roast out in Bagdad, Kentucky for like 15 people. The next year I was on the red carpet. To go from a pig roast to being interviewed by David Letterman’s intern on the red carpet was crazy. So every year we go.
You are in full speed ahead. How do you keep your feet on the ground and stay humble?
Because I started at the bottom. I was raised on a tobacco farm. I played shows when no showed up except my parents and a bartender. I love to play music and I love to sing songs. Knowing that you started out and I wasn’t given anything. I didn’t have any family members that were country stars, nobody played any music anywhere except some distant kin. I really have started at a bonfire in a backyard in Lexington. That’s why I have remained humble the whole time. I’m one of those guys that I don’t take anything for granted. Fans will wait out in the rain for my shows. They would drive on their last paycheck to come to one of my shows. People have so much more important stuff than to see me play, but they come. When people are like that and you hear those stories, how can you not be humble?
I remember at the Froggy St. Jude Jam, there was a lady that painted a piece of artwork for you.
Yep, I still have it hanging on my wall. One of the first guitars I played was red and she painted a picture of it. I still have it in my studio. It’s huge and she told me the whole story behind it. There’s hidden meaning in the picture. She told me there is a hidden meaning I could find in the guitar. I have yet found out and she ended up telling where it is. It’s been about 10 years. I’ve looked at that painting fifty million times and I cannot find what she is talking about.
What do you hope music listeners learn about you?
I feel like I’m genuine and I try to be original. I feel like my music is more of a small-town vibe. I’m not just an artist that is doing it to make money or for whatever reasons. I feel like I’m the same old guy I was when I was living in Taylorsville. Growing up in Taylorsville, all I know is small town – growing up and going to church, sports, going to school, hanging out in the town square on a Friday night. That’s what I write about. I feel like my music reaches people that can relate to the way I live. I want people to know that I’m an artist that loves to meet fans. I love knowing where they come from, what’s their story, and why do they come to my show when there’s many other artists playing in that town the same night. I realize that if you’re humble to people and you’re genuine, and you take pictures with people, and don’t people no, people will continue to follow you.
I’ve had this lady that has followed me for 10 years, maybe longer. Her name is Shirley and she’s been to at least 500 shows. She has been more like a grandmother than a fan. Last year about midway through the year, she told me that her car had been given her problems. She was having trouble getting to the shows. She was missing shows and saving her money to pay to get her car fix. Her daughter has MS. She’s like 78 and is still working a full-time job. I kept thinking that she should not have to pay for this. I just so happen to have a show at a KIA show for a grand opening for them. We gave Shirley a new car for Christmas last year. If you could have seen her face. You could have given me anything in the world and you wouldn’t have been able to take the happiness from that day seeing her face as she opened the box with that little key in it. I like giving back and helping people in my small-town community and sports programs. That’s how I want to be remembered. I’ve always tried to help people the best I can.
I’ve always learned that if you help others, it will always come back to bless you.
I believe that too. I was raised in a Baptist church with my parents. They always taught me to give back when you can. I always told myself that if I ever make a name for myself and made a little money, I would always do my best to give back. I would rather give than receive.
Be sure to keep up with everything that J.D. Shelburne is doing by visiting his website at www.jdshelburne.com. You can find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jdshelburne and Twitter at www.twitter.com/jdshelburne. Be sure to check out his tour schedule as he will be performing at quite a few music festivals including Hometown Rising in Louisville and the World Chicken Festival in London.
Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website with over 20 years experience in music journalism, concert planning, photography, and promotion. Jessica is a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the 2019 Leadership Kentucky BRIGHT Class and a recipient of the Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award. Listen to her each week on WFKY on Friday mornings for the Nashville News Roundup.