”As far back as I can remember my family sang. I thought everybody could sing. I actually found out not everybody could when I was about six years old, in church, next to my mom. This guy came in and was standing next to me. All of a sudden this ungodly sound started coming out of him, scared me to death. I grabbed my mom and said, 'What's wrong with that man?' She said, 'Well, not everybody can sing,' “ Jimmy remembers laughing. ”That's when I figured my family had something special.”
” I got my guitar when I was twelve. When I was thirteen, I started putting together a band with my cousins and some guys that lived around me. We started doing Moose lodges; we'd do churches, high school dances, stuff like that. I always had something going, always had work, and always seemed to have some place to play. I took chorus in high school. I knew that was what I wanted to do; so then I just started applying it. I always knew I wanted be involved in music.”
Out of the blue, fortune changed for Jimmy with an unlikely, chance meeting. ”In 1981, I had two nights off, right at Thanksgiving. I got a call from a friend to come to Wintergreen, Virginia . Some friends of mine were playing up there and they asked if I wanted to come sit in with them. I said 'Yeah, you guys are playing, I'll be up there.' Lew DeWitt happened to be there that night and he was singing. I met him and he said he really liked my voice .He was one of my heroes. I loved meeting him. I loved the Statler Brothers, they were bigger than life where I was from. I thought, ‘Well, it was great that he said that, but I’ll never hear from him again.’ A couple of months later, I got a call. Lew was going to have to be in the hospital for a while to have surgery because he had Crohn’s Disease. He was going to need about six months to recover from everything. I was the first name out of his mouth when the guys asked, 'Well, who do you think we can get to fill in for you for awhile?'”
“I went over and talked to them. They asked me about it and, I was, 'Sure, if I can help in any way I'd be glad to'. It was sad that he was sick. Sad that it would have to be the way it would happen. They called me after a couple weeks to fly to Nashville to see what it would sound like. So I came down, we sang, and the blend was there. After the audition was all over with, they asked, “Well, you want to do it?' I was 26 years old, playing six to seven nights a week, working a daytime job, sometimes two jobs during the day. I was floored, couldn't believe it. I was going from little leagues to big leagues overnight.”
“I sang up until July, and Lew came back. They asked me to be in the band in case he did get sick and needed someone to fill in for him. After a couple of weeks, he came to me and said, 'Look, I don't think I can do this any more. I don't think my body's going to withstand going out on the road and the stuff that we're gonna have to do. Would you mind doing it full time?'"
”I thought, ‘Well, nobody can take Lew DeWitt's place.’ I knew in my heart that I would have to make a place for myself. I said, 'If that's what you really want to do, I've worked hard to get to this point, people have accepted me, it's working well, I'd really be a fool to turn this down.' So with that, I said, 'Yeah, I'll do it.'”
”It was an unbelievable time in my life. Up in Virginia, I didn't think anybody was ever gonna hear me out playing in those clubs. I felt like I was helping the group -and they were helping me too. I do believe with all my heart that God had His hand in all of it. It was meant to be, it all worked so well. I was thankful for the opportunity and I felt like God had a reason for me to be there. I worked well with the Statlers. Lew went on to pursue a solo career. He worked as much as he could. Being as sick as he was, he still worked some. He passed away in 1990. I really miss him.”
The gospel foundation of the Statler Brothers became a perfect fit for Jimmy Fortune, ”I was raised in gospel music, I used to go to church as far back as I can remember. I knew about Christ. I knew what I was supposed to do, but I just didn't do it. It was not that I was a bad person; I just wasn't really living it for the Lord like I should have. When everything goes wrong, of course, first thing you do is turn to God to try to help you. I'd be on my knees, ‘Here's Jimmy again.’ Thank God he was always there for me.
“Back in 1993, I was going through a divorce, it was actually my second divorce. I had 4 children with her. It was a pretty painful thing. I was on the road a lot. Then they called and said my father was dying with cancer. He had about a year to live. I was really close to my father. I just felt God really dealing with my life, saying 'Hey, this is reality and you really need to start getting your life together. Getting it right. I literally felt God grab me by the shoulders and say, 'Hey, you need to start living your life right. Turn your life over to me'. So I did. I was always close to God, but I never really had asked the Lord into my heart until then. When I did, my whole life started changing. I had to deal with a lot in my life. My father passed away, my divorce, and eventually my mother passed away. My hope in God, in Christ, is what pulled me through all of it, that hope that I would see them again in Heaven. There is life after this. My joy and my hope is of life after what is here on Earth. I don't know what Heaven is, but it's supposed to be really, really good. I look forward to seeing my mother and my father, some of my good friends that have gone on, one day.”
When the beloved Statler Brothers decided to retire in 2002, lead singer Don and his real-life brother, bass singer Harold Reid, along with the group’s baritone Phil Barsley, remained in Virginia . Jimmy launched his solo career out of Nashville , bringing his touching songs to life with his awe-inspiring vocals. His third album was released in 2006, and he is currently working on new projects. ”I’ve signed a new publishing deal with a place in Nashville called Melrose Publishing. I love it here because you get to call your own deal and you work with a lot of great people and great writers. I like co-writing because it opens up things. I get to learn how someone else may write and apply it to what I do. I love writing, I love singing, and I love playing guitar. There are so many aspects of it I love, but I think writing is probably the part that you can actually release what's inside of you, your spirit, and your soul. Sometimes when you're writing songs, you're writing about yourself. I do, I feel that. Things just come out in song, and then, when you can actually go up and play it, it's like a release of whatever’s inside of you, getting it out and letting people hear it. It's a really good release.”
“Country music, as we knew it, has evolved a lot. I think country now is what rock'n'roll was going back 15 years ago. It's gone more towards that type of thing. Everything evolves. Everything changes. You just got to be willing to try to go with it and grow with it. That's what I've tried to do. I keep an open mind about music. I just try to keep up with the times as far as everything goes. I don't close my mind to different styles and things like that. I write all kinds of different styles, country, bluegrass, gospel, even some rock, contemporary Christian. To me, there are only two kinds of music. There's good and bad. I try to find the good. I try to find that in people, too, rather than the bad. I find what's good and try to apply it into my music, and into my life.”
With an unfaltering sweet spirit and joyful outlook on life, even in dark times, he continues to rely on God to guide his footsteps. ”We lived in an innocent age, I think, up until 9/11. Things really changed when 9/11 hit. We knew freedom like we’ve never known before. Then, all of a sudden that happened. I can only speak for myself; I have had to let God have the controls because I don't feel I have much to do with it any more. It's up to Him, where He leads me, where I go. A lot of times, when I try to take the controls, I wind up on a dead-end street. Let God have the controls. I know where I've been in my past, but the future is open. Even with all the bad things that are happening in the world, I have the joy of knowing that life doesn't stop here, it goes on. What if this was all we had? There wouldn't be much to look forward to. The fact that we do, that's pretty incredible. We do have a future. We’ve got to hold onto that hope and have faith in the right things.”
“Now is about what I can do in a positive way to help other people who are struggling. That's what my music's about. I want to try to get the message out that no matter what happens in your life, God will always provide another door for us to go through. I’m singing and writing more than I ever have in my life right now. I promised Him it would always be for His glory. He needs us all trying to do the right things, things for our children, and our children's children. Try to be a good example for others.”
Bringing the strength of his experience and character, Jimmy offers sound advice for those whose passion lies in making music. ”Do what you love and don't give up on your dreams, but don't fall into the world, into the false things that are out here in the world. You can get caught up in the things that bring you pleasure for a little while. But, the only things that really last are love, hope and doing something for others, spending time with your family and your friends as much as you can. Love the things that can love you back.”
Jimmy Fortune’s voice gives those who listen, while here on earth, just a taste of what angels must surely sound like.