In Cinderella’s shoes

“I signed a publicity deal the day I moved to Nashville,” says rising country star Jimmy Wayne, who left his home in High Point, N.C., for the glamour of Music City seven years ago.

You’ll forgive the hubris when you hear the rest of his story. Because Wayne, who dropped his last name (Barber) when he graduated from songwriter to recording artist, isn’t all bigheaded over how his wish came true.

After all, the WNC native was due a fairy godmother.

His childhood consisted of bouncing between foster homes while his mom did jail time. That’s when he wasn’t enduring the wrath of a psychotic stepfather who threatened him with a gun, stabbed his mother on Mother’s Day (most guys just give flowers) and paralyzed his stepsister. The singer stole food to survive, slept outdoors when he found himself homeless, and, at 16, got his first lucky break when a kindly older couple took him in.

Talk about country-music credibility — but the songwriter is quick to point out that he doesn’t intend to pen albums full of downers. “I don’t want to do the CD on one side, razor blades on the other,” he quips.

Instead, Wayne says he views his past as a “gift of experience. It’s a tool to benefit other people, to show people you can do something with your life. I don’t need anyone’s sympathy now.”

The 32-year-old performer uses his newfound stardom to bring attention to children living in foster care. And though his cause lends itself to guitar-toting-singer-with-cute-kids photo ops, he admits his availability in that capacity is limited. “I can get out and visit one [foster] home, or I can go somewhere and inspire 20 people to make a difference,” is how he reconciles the matter.

Angel is a centerfold

According to Wayne, the bright lights of Music City haven’t changed him. Forget the ego to match his slick, self-titled debut disc (Dreamworks, 2003) or his polished and fashion-savvy videos (“Paper Angels” and “Stay Gone”). “I still drive the same car I drove when I rode into Nashville,” the pinup-worthy singer drawls. “I could buy a nice car. I could do a lot of stuff — but I don’t need to.

“I know what it’s like to be around the Hollywood lifestyle, but I also know what it’s like to do without.”

Like many country artists, Wayne professes a love of Jesus, and even presumes to use the crucifixion image in his song “I Love You This Much.” The songwriter doesn’t drink or smoke, concedes a dislike of violence, and declines to autograph the body parts of overzealous fans — though he did give a spicy interview to Playgirl last year. Asked about his spontaneity, the musician told the erotic publication, “I like to pull over on the side of the road, know what I mean? Nothing wrong with that!”

“If you read that article, you’ll see I didn’t pose,” Wayne points out. True: Nary a nipple or washboard ab can be glimpsed through his urban-cowboy attire. “It’s just another way of getting the word out there — you never know who might read that magazine,” he notes.

Soul man

Though Wayne keeps a Bible verse taped to his guitar, he’s apparently no stranger to sin — like saying “damn” in a song even though he was told that single word would keep it off Christian radio stations. He’s also not planning to stick to one style, no matter how much of a sure thing it is.

“My next album, the one I’m working on now, is more soulful. It shows another dimension, a [more fun] side of me.” In fact, it was Hall and Oates’ soul-pop classic “Sara Smile” that landed Wayne his current contract with Nashville’s Dreamworks Records.

The singer plays a few verses during an interview at the end of his album. His voice shows a range that country doesn’t allow him, and his easy falsetto rivals Daryl Hall’s.

“There’s a lot of people who told me not to sing it. That if I wanted a career in country music, I shouldn’t sing this song.” However, that same song “opened every door on my path,” says Wayne. “Every single door.”

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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