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On Tour

A Mississippi musician reflects on life, songwriting and touring with Luke Combs.

Written by Eugene Stockstill | Photos Contributed by Jamie Davis

Country musician and Mississippi native Jamie Davis has hit the big-time. If you watched the Grammy Awards on TV earlier this year, you may have seen him on stage with Luke Combs’ band. If you listen to country music on the radio, then more than likely you’ve heard the No. 1 hit song he co-wrote with Combs and others, “The Kind of Love We Make.” And if you care enough to go digging into country music’s archives, you can sample some of his own country-fried sounds on the LP “Jamie Davis and Soul Gravy” (produced by Belmont-born Mac McAnally). Born in Tupelo and raised in Booneville, Davis went to Northeast Mississippi Community College and Mississippi State, all while cultivating a lifelong love for music. And now the 39-year-old finds himself in the spotlight, touring all over the world this year with Combs. But when Davis comes home, he comes to the Blackland community in Prentiss County, where he lives with his wife and two children. We caught up with Davis recently to ask him about his life, his music and being on the road.

Q: What was it like to be on live television during the Grammy Awards back in February?

A: Man, I kind of get in a zone and try to be aware of what I’m doing, whether it’s playing or doing backing vocals or whatever. Once that curtain comes up, it can get to you, and your knees get shaky. It was the best of the best music people in all genres (at the Grammy Awards). It was really cool, but it will get to you. I think I had a small anxiety attack right before we went on. It’s a rush, and it feels like it’s coming at you at a hundred miles an hour. It’s very intimidating.

Q: How did you wind up working with Luke Combs?

A: I had a couple buddies, Dan Isbell and Dustin Nunley, who were already working with Luke. Dan was writing with him, and Nunley was a guitar tech at the time. They recommended me for a guitar tech position in Luke’s crew in 2019. Luke’s production manager, Jerry Slone, took a chance on me and hired me. I started out as guitar tech, steel and keys. Then at the end of 2019, they put Nunley in the band, and I was moved to Luke’s guitar tech slot. I joined the band this year.

Q: Wikipedia describes you as a country/soul/Southern rock musician. That’s a bunch of territory. You sound country to me on “Jamie Davis and Soul Gravy.” How do you like to describe yourself as a musician?

A: We listened to everything when I was growing up. My dad listened to R&B and funk, and my mom listened to soft rock. But when it comes down to it, I like to say I’m country. The stuff I write sounds country, and the way I play, I like to think I sound country.

Q: How did you know that you wanted to be a full-time musician?

A: I started singing and learning songs when I was 8 or 9 years old. I really didn’t take it seriously until I was 12. My first concert was George Strait, and Garth Brooks opened for him. I saw those guys play, and it got me super interested. In college, we went to see a cover band at Rick’s in Starkville, and we were just old enough to get in there. We saw an R&B/funk cover band called Seventeenth Floor. That night I remember being like, this is what I’m going to do. Nothing else was ever going to satisfy me.

Q: Who taught you to be a musician?

A: My grandparents got me a couple of guitar lessons when I was 8 or 9 years old. From there, I started learning some more chords myself. As I got more serious, my granddaddy’s buddy started letting me come over and let me and my brother pick along with him. I did that for a year or two. From 12 to 18, I picked around and taught myself the best I could. Dustin Nunley was the first real guitar player I ever met, and I learned a lot from him. He’s one of my best buddies. Jerry Carnathan taught me a bunch, too. I don’t know if they realize they were my teachers.

Q: What’s your current practice regimen, considering that you’re touring with Combs right now?

A: I try to practice most every day. I’m a full-time writer for Sony, too, so I’ve usually got a guitar in my hand. If I’m at home, off tour, I probably practice two or three hours a day at a minimum. When we’re out here on tour, I’ll find a guitar and a spot somewhere and practice for 45 minutes, at least. I try one day a week not to play at all.

Q: Why?

A: I try to get my head out of it ... to shut it off one day. There are guitars everywhere in the house. You can tell it’s a guitar player’s house. But even when I try to not pick up one, I usually wind up playing a little.

Q: You hit it big with “The Kind of Love We Make.” How did it feel to know you helped write a No. 1 song?

A: It was amazing. We’d been writing songs, trying to write commercial hits for years. It was amazing watching a song you had a part in come alive. After one show, they called me into one of the green rooms and told me we had a No. 1. It felt like a weight off my shoulder. It felt like, you’ve finally got your work done.

Q: What’s your song-writing process?

A: I truly believe that there is no wrong way to write a song. We start them every way. I don’t sit down and try to write them the same way every day. We work with tons and tons of artists. Some days we’re just starting off with a title, and that’s it. Some days you’ve got a melody in your head, and you try to find a title for it. Or you have a riff or a chord progression, then you find a song for it. I don’t have one way that I do it.

Q: Could you describe the ups and downs of being on tour?

A: I enjoy it, man. I don’t think that people, when they start off playing music, realize how much work it takes. But it doesn’t feel like work if you love doing what you’re doing. I miss my family. I thank the Lord for FaceTime, so that we can see each other. There’s not a bad part of touring, except being away from family.

Q: What’s it like being both a music star and a family man?

A: It’s definitely a balance. My wife has been my greatest supporter through the years. She takes care of the homefront while I’m gone. But when I come back home, my boys don’t care that I’ve been on tour. They’ve just grown up knowing it’s something Daddy does. I don’t think they know how cool it is. I hope that one day when they get older, they will. It’s two separate things, though. I try to leave my work out there.

Q: Who are you listening to right now? Anything that might surprise those who enjoy your music?

A: I listen to a lot of old stuff. I still listen to George Strait. I listen to Stevie Wonder. I like Boston, Jerry Reed. Basically, I’ve been listening to a lot of Luke Combs songs lately, because I have to learn all of them.

Q: Do you have a favorite song, artist or album?

A: I don’t know if I could tell you my favorite album. My favorite artist is Merle Haggard. Man, I just thought he got it, the songwriting, the guitar-playing. That was just what I always wanted to do: Write songs and play guitar. He’s got a song called “Footlights,” that’s probably my favorite. It hits even harder now.

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