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THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: JIMMIE LEE SLOAS

THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: JIMMIE LEE SLOAS

By James Rea www.theproducerschair.com

Jimmie Lee Sloas
Jimmie Lee Sloas

Jimmie Lee Sloas has been producing, playing and writing songs in Nashville for 35 years and he humbly wears all three hats very well. He received a Grammy for PFR's PRAY FOR RAIN, the first album he ever produced and has received two other Grammy nominations since for The Jeoff More Band's self-titled album and the Jeff Lynn Tribute Album. Sloas is the current 2013 ACM Bassist of the Year (also nominated in 2006, 2008 and 2009), winner of Music Row's Bass Player of the Year three years in a row and an accomplished songwriter with over 50 cuts to his credit, ranging from Reba McEntire to Andy Williams. Jimmy co-produced Katrina Elam with Tony Brown, Christian Kane with Bob Ezrin for Bigger Picture and is currently producing Jerrod Niemann on Sony. His session discography ranks with the best pickers on the planet, including Garth Brooks, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, LeAnne Rimes, Kellie Pickler, Reba, Blake Shelton, Little Big Town, Wynonna, Lee Ann Womack, Martina McBride, Amy Grant, Toby Keith, Trace Adkins, Joey+Rory, Alice Cooper, Luke Bryan, John Rich, Ronnie Dunn, Sara Evans, Alan Jackson, Kelly Clarkson and the list goes on.

It must be in the genes because there's no doubt that Jimmy Lee Sloas was inherently blessed with "BIG EARS". Jimmie's father Dave was a member of the famous Bluegrass band "The Sloas Brothers" and...father Dave is also a celebrated songwriter with a legacy of songs recorded by Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley and many others. Jimmie's mother Martha was a country singer and to this day remains Jimmie's favorite female country singer, of all time. Then there's Brother David Sloas (4 yrs older) who played lead guitar with Tammy Wynette from the early 80s until her death and who now tours with Aaron Tippin. Jimmie is completely self-taught and doesn't read music however it was Brother David who taught him the Nashville number system, when Jimmie was about 16. Cha-Ching...But I think Jimmie Lee had already figured out "The Big Picture". He got his first paying gig when he was 5. He charged 25 cents that night.

Growing up in East Chicago, Jimmie's first instrument was dobro but by the time he had reached public school, he and the driving force of a bass guitar began a life-long relationship, that has served both well.

Now, envision all that talent with sideburns, in banana yellow suites and you've got DAVID SLOAS AND THE COUNTRY SHOWMEN every weekend at the local Air Force Base. Brother David did buy Jimmie a reel-to-reel to record on when he was in junior high, Cha-Ching, but he's only been recording now for about 40 yrs. and would never claim to be an engineer.

When Jimmie was a senior in high school, his Brother David Ray who was bandleader for Margo Smith, a country singer with several 1 hits in the late 70s, got Jimmie the gig playing bass, which led to his move to Nashville at 17.

Sloas graduated from high school in 77 and in his teens played with several Christian bands. His uncles were Baptist preachers and he fully intended on going to Bible College, but I guess God had other plans. One of his first thrills at 21 was playing with the huge Christian pop band THE IMPERIALS. Sloas had grown up idolizing The Imperials, who played with Elvis in the early 70s and he happened to know their bandleader. He auditioned and as God would have it, wound up performing to 10,000 seat auditoriums, with his heroes.

His one-year stint with The Imperials propelled Sloas into the rock band RPM, which began another significant relationship for Jimmie with Brent Maher. Brent helped form the band and of course produced them as well. That year, Jimmie got married at 22 and had two children, Aaron who is now 28 & James who is now 30.

Now famed songwriter Robert White Johnson was writing with Jimmie at that time and introduced him to Brent. Johnson & Sloas, "I like the sound of that" wrote Ronnie Milsap's "IF YOU DON'T WANT TO", which was Jimmies first major cut, with another one of his heroes. Mark Gindle, a guitarist/engineer from Sounds Interchange in Toronto also played in the band and Jimmie was only 24 when RPM recorded at Trevor Horn's famous SARM Studio in England.

After RPM disbanded, Sloas came back to Nashville and painted apartments for a year until one day on a job in Murfreesboro when he received a call from The Imperials asking him to come back and sing with band. Brown Bannister was producing the Imperials and wanted Jimmie to sing and play bass, so that was another tough decision for Jimmie...The Imperials, paint apartments, The Imperials.

"Brown Bannister changed my life and gave me my first job producing. Bobby Blazer and I found a band called PFR, who opened for us and we co-produced them for Brown. I produced another 6 records on them by myself."

In 1996, Jimmie also co-founded the group DOGS OF PEACE with former WHITEHEART guitarist Gordon Kennedy, who co-wrote Eric Clapton's CHANGE THE WORLD with Tommy Sims and Wayne Kirkpatrick.

Currently, Jimmie isn't signed to a publishing deal but he got his first pub deal with Warner Chappell at 32. He was then signed to EMI when Gary Overton was there and he was later re-signed with Warner Chappell a second time. Obviously the Imperials and Warner Chappell both missed the hang.

"People say to me that I've been so blessed and lucky but hey, I never dated, I wasn't in bars, I wasn't into sports and I didn't travel. All I did was music. I was obsessed. I've lived without insurance and came close to bankruptcy one time. So, it's been an interesting and wonderful career. One day, I did a session with Garth Brooks in the morning on his Chris Gains record and another session with Megadeath that afternoon. That evening my car was repossessed." The name of that album was THE SYSTEM HAS FAILED. I don't care who you are, that's funny.

The Producer's Chair: What advice would you give to new musicians arriving in Nashville, to get studio work?
Jimmie Lee Sloas: First of all...did you come here knowing anyone? Start where you stand. Who do you know already? Go there and see who they know. Nashville is an incredibly sweet, relationship-based town. Be patient, work on your skills and work on putting your own stamp on a song.

How did you meet Jerrod Niemann?
I was producing Christian Kane on BMG. He's the knock-out punch actor on the hit TV show LEVERAGE. He came to Nashville to write and we hit it off. I did a pitch tape on him, took him to Rene Bell over at BMG and got him signed and produced his record. While we were writing for that record, he knew Jerrod and we started writing together. Christian cut one of the songs Jerrod and I wrote.

Did you produce the project that got Jerrod Signed?
No, I only wrote with him. This is Jerrod's 3rd album but my first producing him and we're currently looking for songs. Last year at Christmas, Jerrod called me out of the blue and said; "I'm going to do a record and want to talk about it."

Will you be going on the road with Jerrod?
No but I'm going to take his band in and work up a whole new show. I enjoy doing that.

Who else besides Jerrod Niemann are you producing or developing?
Two guys...Joe Hall, who lives near Atlanta. He's a 21 yr old kid who is enormously talented. Great, "unique" voice, energetic, and he's a killer writer already. Hit songwriter/drummer Kip Rains brought Joe to me. We're working together with Joe. The other is John Russell from Lexington Kentucky. I fell in love with their voices and now I'm falling in love with who they are.

Describe your methods of development with new artists?
I'll write with them and I'll pull some great writers who are friends of mine to be a part of that, that I can trust and help the new artist seek what it's about. When they become more comfortable in their own skin, I'll put a band together, go into the studio, and let them see what that world is all about. This takes about one to two years typically, but every artist is different, obviously. It's all about the song at the end of the day. Thank God we live in the best "song" town on earth!

When doing artist development, do you concentrate more on an artist's strengths or weaknesses?
Their strengths...if you start embellishing their strengths, they're going to gain confidence and they're going to get even better. Weaknesses fade with time.

What has been your most memorable session?
Every year, very gifted, articulate Vanderbilt musicians and singers, age 16-25 are given the opportunity to come into the studio. They pick a new producer every year. This was Scott Hendricks day and he invited me in on the session at Starstruck. They wrote a song, recorded it and then performed it on the Opry "Live". My other most memorable session was playing with Ronnie Milsap, which Scott also produced.

What is the most significant change in Country music that you've witnessed since you arrived in Nashville and how has it affected what you do?
Well, the greatest change since I've been in town is, NOT the people here. It is still a relationship based business. The fact that real musicians show up every day to play real instruments hasn't changed (although there is an occasional drum loop that seems to be a standard issue.) However, more than ever, I see the artist writing their own songs. When I showed up in Nashville it was a rare thing to be a singer and song writer, like Roger Miller or Tom T Hall just to name two. The biggest change that I can see is obviously the modern technology. Now a song writer or producer can do the bulk of an album project from development through mix on a laptop. This has leveled the playing field immensely. It's a very exciting time. If you can think it and hear it in your head, you really can do it - - if you have enough plug-ins...HA, HA.

Read other Producer's Chair interviews:

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