Regular readers of Red Guitar Music will be no strangers to Denny Strickland. The Arkansas born, Nashville based, singer-songwriter featured in our country showcase slot earlier this year. I'm very pleased to report the promise of the single 'We Don't Sleep' hasn't proved to be a false dawn. The debut album 'California Dreamin' was recorded in Nashville with Sean Giovanni (Big & Rich, Randy Houser, Tyler Farr) at the helm. The album is now available and contains an excellent range of modern country music with definite chart potential.
On the surface there’s no mistaking where country singer-songwriter Denny Strickland is coming from; born outside of Jonesboro, Arkansas, he’s certainly rooted in country music, and his singing achieves that blend of assertion, melodiousness and sensitivity that many male singers pursue but few attain. But the more you listen, the more distinctive his work becomes, particularly on his new single 'We Don't Sleep', one of the first tracks to be released from his forthcoming debut album. Strickland describes himself as "a romantic committed to touching every heart he can reach," but his message isn’t generic; it’s both personal and relate-able. You can feel that, whether you are the focus of his music or not.
Trying to guess the identity of the characters in these songs misses the point; what matters is that every word, every note, comes from an actual place in his heart — the place where we’ve all harbored love and pain. “My feelings are very real,” he confirms. “That makes these new songs the truest I’ve ever written. You know, I get emotional when I sing. I wear my feelings on my chest. I probably get that from my mother, just as I learned about humility from my father. I think of myself as a happy medium between the two of them.”
He inherited another quality from them both — fearlessness, particularly when presenting himself honestly in the studio or onstage. From the age of 4 or 5 he travelled with his parents as they hauled their show horses to events, often stealing the show when placed in the saddle himself. Eventually he distinguished himself as an American Quarter Horse Champion. As a result, long before he first played music in public, Denny knew how it felt to have a spotlight beaming down on him in front of an audience - t felt like home. So when he began exploring music, Denny was already primed to perform. Shortly after beginning his studies at Arkansas State University, he bought a guitar, realised that it felt natural in his hands and taught himself to play. Before long he was performing in solo gigs, including a weekly spot at the Hollywood Cafe in nearby Tunica, Mississippi, the town where eventually a chance meeting prompted Denny to take his first step into the music world.
While attending a horse show, he felt his dad nudge him. “He pointed out Marshall Grant, who was for years Johnny Cash’s bass player and also an accomplished horseman. Dad told me to go and give him my demo. Marshall listened to what I had and told me that it "absolutely knocked me out" — those were his words. He called his wife over to listen too.” This led to a close friendship as Grant coached Denny on the music business. They performed a number of times together, including once in Memphis where Grant surprised Denny by inviting him to join him afterwards in signing copies of his autobiography. “We sat together at this table. He’d sign each customer’s book and then slide it down to me and say ‘Sign it.’ It was like an assembly line,” Denny recalls, with a laugh. By the time Grant had passed away in 2011, Denny had learned enough from him and from his own experiences to try his luck in Nashville. He had got to know several country music giants by then, including Rosanne Cash, Kris Kristofferson and the Statler Brothers, with whom he had served as pallbearer at Grant’s funeral. Still, Music City proved a struggle at first, a trial-and-error process of finding people that understood what Denny was looking to create. “Eventually I realised that the best thing I could do was to do what makes me happy,” he says. “When you know what you can bring as an artist, that’s when you can build your audience. Besides, we’re only here for a short amount of time. We might as well explore. So although it took years I found my sound.” With the video for his single 'Get A Grip' clocking up well over half a million views on Youtube, it's clear modern country music fans are finding him too.
From his on-the-job music industry education to a life-changing near-death encounter with a tornado, to the inspiration he derives from his muse, Denny Strickland has survived, learned and is now emerging as a rare combination of complexity and clarity, poetic imagery and aching honesty, evident within this latest track 'We Don’t Sleep'. “If you love it, you love it,” he shrugs. “If you hate it, you hate it. But I’m still exploring. All I can tell you is that while I don’t know where I’ll be down the road, I do know that everything I write and record will be truly me."
Denny's debut full-length album California Dreamin', produced at the Record Shop studio in Nashville by Sean Giovanni (Big & Rich, Randy Houser, Tyler Farr) comes out 1st August 2017,