Breaking long-established rules is nothing new in country music. In fact, it’s often what separates successful artists from homogenized trend-chasers. For baritone throwback Ray Scott, that renegade spirit has taken on a life of its own, with his post-major label trajectory leading to a second act as an independent artist. Scott’s latest LP, Guitar for Sale, is out June 9th on his own Jethropolitan label.
Twelve years ago, when he was signed to Warner Bros., he scored a Top 40 hit with his single “My Kind of Music,” a defense of traditional country sounds, and in 2012 he made waves with “Those Jeans” on Sirius XM. “It’s almost as if I had two career lives,” says Scott, whose impossibly deep singing voice resonates with even more bass when he speaks. “There are people out there who remember me from those days and a lot of people who only heard me for the first time when ‘Those Jeans’ became popular. Either way is fine with me.”
Guitar for Sale, his first with producer Michael Hughes, is the fourth album that the North Carolina native has released since striking out on his own, a run of albums that has seen him develop into an unlikely do-it-yourself success story. None of those self-released albums – including an excellent self-titled effort in 2014 – or singles have charted in the United States, yet Scott has had four Number One singles in the United Kingdom and, perhaps most importantly, he’s built a steady career with the help of satellite radio rotation, in particular from Sirius XM.
“I’ve had a little luck. When you go up with no promotion and no real plan, and all of a sudden satellite radio comes along and you sell 300,000 to 400,000 copies of a song, that’s a gravy train,” Scott says. “You find ways to make it work. It’s a combination of underground success and the fact that people these days are looking for more authentic, traditional country music.”
Scott certainly knows what makes a classic country song. “Livin’ This Way,” the whiskey-soaked single from Guitar for Sale, is the sort of bleak, no-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel track that’s scarce, to say the least, on commercial country radio. “Country music, real country, to me has always been about the truth. It’s not always happy, it’s not always formulaic, in that sense,” he says. “It’s dark as hell and everything a record label would probably want me to stay away from.”
Not that Scott, who writes all of his own music, doesn’t know how to craft a hit. His songs have been recorded by Trace Adkins and Clay Walker, and one of the entries on Guitar for Sale, “Pray for the Fish,” originally appeared on Randy Travis’ 2002 Rise and Shine album. A rollicking, fish-eye-view spoof of a river baptism, the song demonstrates the glimmers of light that Scott allows to poke through the gloom, thanks to his admittedly warped sense of humor.
“I throw [the humor] in there more or less to keep things from being a wrist-slashing fest,” Scott says, chuckling. “If you talk to most comedians, and I don’t consider myself a comedian, but they’ll tell you comedy comes from a dark place. And, you know, that may be the case.”
Through it all, Scott says that his writing usually is inspired by “something I’ve been experiencing firsthand, or at least observing.” “Ain’t Always Thirsty,” off Ray Scott, was a stunner of a semi-autobiographical country weeper. On Guitar for Sale, he follows suit with “Life Ain’t Long Enough.” “I could’ve kept that crappy job that had me coming home cussing every day,” he sings and it’s not too hard to see the parallel with his own career choice.
“In your 20s, your definition of success is definitely different than when you’re in your 40s. The delusions of grandeur and everything else go away,” says Scott, who turned 47 in March. “I’m glad to be in the spot that I’m in. Obviously, I would’ve liked to have been in this place 10 years ago. But it’s a good time for the type of music that I’m doing.”