Not your father's country music
Young and trendy Jo Dee Messina will be among 15 performers at the annual Charlie Daniels Angelus Country Concert on Sunday in Clearwater.
By PAMELA DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 24, 2002
Jo Dee Messina's penchant for dancing, changing her look and sounding more pop than bluegrass have attracted a much younger audience than many of her country music peers. Teen People, the bastion of what's hot and what's not for the young and trendy set, included Jo Dee Messina in its short list of cool country singers.
Jo Dee Messina will bring her rocking country talents to the Charlie Daniels Angelus Country Concert on Sunday in Clearwater.
"You don't have to be on a tractor to be a country singer," Messina told the magazine in 2000. The majority of her fans are 25 and under, the singer says.
"My music has high energy and attitude. Shania Twain had the same kind of young audience because her songs had that strong 'I'm going to make it' kind of attitude to them and that's what kids are going through," Messina, 31, said on the phone from her home in Nashville.
Messina describes her sound as rocking country.
"It's not pop. The most pop song I had was That's the Way. The rest of the stuff, Lesson in Leavin', I'm Alright, Bye Bye, those are real rocking, energetic songs."
Messina's third album, Burn, released in 2000, delivered four hit singles, including the title track, and gave her the opportunity to go out on her first headlining tour.
On Saturday, she will be one of 15 country acts (and the only woman) to perform at the Charlie Daniels Angelus Country Concert, an annual event benefiting a non-profit group home in Pasco County where young people with cerebral palsy and other disabilities live.
Other performers include Montgomery Gentry, Trace Adkins, Blackhawk, Chad Brock, Jeff Carson and Clay Davidson.
"Charlie has asked us to do this for the last two years, but we've been slammed. I'm excited to be able to do it. Charlie Daniels has done so much for so many people in the course of his career," Messina says.
Messina has won awards from the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music and nominations from the Grammys and American Music Awards. She recently was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Country Collaboration With Vocals category for a song she performed with Tim McGraw.
No one knew much about the feisty New Englander when she hung out at Fan Fair in 1994. But with demos circulating Nashville record labels and a budding friendship with McGraw, Messina had enough guts to approach an A&R guy for Curb Records and say: "Ya'll need a redhead over there on that label!"
The icebreaker worked, and Messina joined the label in 1995. McGraw has co-produced all three of her albums. She also credits country radio for her success.
"It's not that I'm phenomenal. It's not that I'm a beauty queen. It's not that I'm the most fabulous singer in the world," Messina says. "It's because radio was gracious enough to play my songs and the fans were kind enough to request them. That's what builds a career."
The first time Messina heard herself on the radio was when Tampa station WQYK-FM 99.5 played Heads Carolina, Tails California in 1996.
After listening to her tape the night before and liking what he heard, program director/morning show host Tom Rivers (who is now WQYK's general manager) planned to play the song and talk to Messina live from her Tampa hotel room on the air the next day.
But Messina had another plan.
"She'd hung up on us so she could call her mother and hold the phone up to the radio speaker for her to hear the song," Rivers said.
"I remember thinking to myself afterwards," Messina recalls, "How does my mother know I'm not just playing this on a tape deck and just saying it's on the radio?"
Radio also had an impact on Messina's career after Sept. 11.
Stations dropped her single Burn from their playlists because of lyrics such as "I want you to burn, burn for me baby."
"That was the first crossover song of my career and was actually approaching the Top 10 on the adult contemporary chart, which is a big, big deal," Messina says. "Before the end of the day it vanished. But it was understandable."
Yet another song from that album, Bring on the Rain, "took on a life of its own," she says. "Stations wanted to play the song after Sept. 11 because of its soothing melody and hopeful lyrics."
For the video of Bring on the Rain, Messina made some major changes in her physical appearance.
"I had gotten a little bit of grief about how much I was loving catering," she says. "And somebody had made some wisecrack comment at one of the award shows last year and I really got my feelings hurt. It made me stop and look at myself and realize that I was kind of heavier than I'd been in a long time."
Messina used a photo of singer Janet Jackson as her fitness goal and even worked with Jackson's personal trainer. The results are a leaner and stronger Messina who proudly fit into a Dolce & Gabbana ensemble for her recent appearance at the American Music Awards.
Messina is now collaborating on new songs for her next album, due out later this year.
Like country music peers Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood, she has also dabbled in acting with an appearance on Touched by an Angel.
"Music is what I love and what I do and who I am. But I'm looking into some acting stuff coming up," she says. "But it's like saying I want to go to the circus. It's not saying I'm going to leave town to join the circus."
The Charlie Daniels Angelus Country Concert takes place at Clearwater's Coachman Park Sunday starting at 11 a.m. Tickets are $25 and $15 from Ticketmaster, (813) 287-8844 or (727) 898-2100.
The scheduled lineup of performers at the Charlie Daniels Angelus Country Concert:
- Charlie Daniels
- Jo Dee Messina
- Montgomery Gentry
- Trace Adkins
- Chad Brock
- Clay Davidson
- Jeff Carson
- Craig Morgan
- Marshall Tucker Band
- Molly Hatchet
- Confederate Railroad
- Wiley Fox
- Daniel Lee Martin
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