A few songs into the recent WKML Songwriter’s Showcase held in Lumberton, Sampson County native Jason Matthews, sitting alongside country artists Sherrie Austin and Ira Dean, starts strumming his hit “For Pete’s Sake” — a tribute to man’s best friend.
Matthews passionately delivers the touching lyrics with his heartfelt, soulful baritone in a song that every animal lover can relate to — memories and love shared between an owner and a long-time family pet. By the time the music stops and Matthews gently sings the last line with his own voice almost breaking, grown men in the audience are wiping tears from their eyes.
It is no surprise to discover later that the song was written as a tribute to an animal Matthews was familiar with. “It is really a song for my friend’s dog,” he admitted during a recent interview. “I was going to this studio and I would write with my friend, and his bulldog was like one of the family, he was in the room for every song that we had written together; everyone just loved him. One day I walk in and I didn’t see the dog. I ask my friend what happened and he looked at the floor with tears in his eyes and said, ‘Jason, I had to put him down; he was in too much pain’. It broke my heart, and I wanted to write something as a tribute to him — he deserved that much because he was such a special dog.”
Like “For Pete’s Sake,” the Harrells Store native has delivered a pack of massive hits, mostly for other artists, including Billy Currington, Luke Bryan, Travis Tritt, Chuck Wicks, Julie Roberts and many others. His latest, “Tough People Do” has been recorded by Trace Adkins and recently became a political anthem when it picked up and was played at the Republican National Convention. The song was also picked up and lauded by USA Today and more recently used by a national Red Cross campaign.
With its chorus, “Tough people pull themselves up by the bootstraps; When they hit hard luck; And they stay strong and they keep on fightin’; Like they don’t know how to lose; Tough times don’t last … Tough people do,” it isn’t hard to see why it has touched a nerve.
Along with “For Pete’s Sake,” Matthews gets a different kind of charge out of the crowd at the Carolina Civic Center in Lumberton after he plays “Tough People Do” — rousing applause along with hoots and hollers, something that the singer/songwriter loves to hear.
“It is always great to get those kinds of responses,” he said. “I want people to respond to my music and what I am playing. That reaction, whatever it may be, is something I really enjoy. They are responding to something that I created, what can be better than that?”
To show his appreciation, Matthews, along with Dean and Austin, stay an hour and a half after the show, shaking hands, taking pictures and mingling with the fans that came out to support them.
“That is really a treat for me,” he said after the show. “To come down and to be able to play for my people, meet them, sign an autograph or talk with them, it is just incredible for me. I will tell you something, I am terribly proud to be from Sampson County and Harrells Store. I just love North Carolina, I love the people there and love being asked to come down and play. When people come out to my show, spend their time coming out, yeah, I am going to sign autographs and take pictures because I really do appreciate it.”
Matthews is signed as writer to Big Tractor Music, and is an artist at Valhalla Music Group, which is run by his wife, Debbie. His breakout hit was in 2006 when Billy Currington recorded his, “Must Be Doin’ Something Right,” a number one smash. In 2008, he released his critically acclaimed debut “Hicotine”, including his hit, “That’s What Mamas Do”, and was followed by “Redneck Tendencies” in 2010.
His current release is a single “I Hope I Don’t Live to See That Day’, that will be on the upcoming “Unhinged” CD this fall.
“If they like the last two records, they are going to love this one,” Matthews said of the new music. “The first thing that has just been released off the record is called, ‘I Hope I Don’t Live to See That Day’ and I just think that it is a great record, the whole thing is.”
The song, which is now available on iTunes, has garnered positive feedback after being played on WKML. “I have had a bunch of people come up and mention how much they love the song,” Matthews admitted. “The radio station (in Fayetteville) has been playing it and I really think it is connecting with people, which is what I always want to do.”
Matthews explained that the inspiration for the song, like a lot of his, including “Tough People Do” and many of his other hits, come from real subjects.
“I am inspired by a lot of things, but you know, hard times can be really inspirationa,l too,” he stressed. “It is no secret that some of the greatest art is created during dark times. It is no different with music. The song ‘I Hope I Don’t Live to See That Day’ is about looking at some things in society that are slipping away and we really don’t want to see it slip away. Every time I drive through a small town and see main streets boarded up, it breaks my heart. Main streets are the heart of America, it there are tumbleweeds and boards on windows, you start thinking what’s left?”
Although his career is that of a songwriter, Matthews said he doesn’t go into the process as writing for other people.
“Most of the time, I am just looking for something that feels good for me,” he said. “To be honest, normally it doesn’t hit me that a song would be good for somebody until we are almost done or finished. It works for some people to go knowing that they will be writing for another artist, it has just never worked for me. I can’t go in and say, I am going to write a song for Blake Shelton today … it just doesn’t work that way for me. When I go in, what works for me is writing a song for Jason Matthews. If I write something for me, then maybe a great artist like that will want it. I just have to be me, it is hard to pretend to be someone else.”
While some of those songs are tender ballads and some are rocking country, all are written to make the listener feel something.
“My theory on songwriting is this: if you are writing a ballad, make someone cry; if you are writing a fun song, make somebody want to dance,” Matthews said flatly. “If you are writing a funny song, make someone want to laugh … If you not having a reaction, you are not really doing your job.
“The thing I love about country music is the lyric and its content,” he continued. “That is the main thing that separates country from any other genre, it is the lyric. It is so important to me. That is what I want to do with my music, I want to communicate with people. I want it to actually say something to somebody who is listening to it. I don’t want it to be background music that you happen to have on while you are driving your car and it is forgettable. That is the last thing that I want. I want it to be something that when it comes on, you stop what you are doing to listen to it. That is what I would like to have.”
While he continues to write on a daily basis and is working on producing upcoming Nashville artist Brandon Lay, Matthews said that he will most likely play showcase shows to support “Unhinged,” which is expected to come out in the next month or so.
“That is the way I really like playing,” he admits, “just me and a guitar or another player accompanying me. There is more to it and you get a stronger reaction from the crowd.”
And he hopes to have more shows in his hometown.
“It is always great to come home,” he said. “This was the first time I came back this year and just to be back on home turf makes me feel good.”
For more information on Matthews or to buy his music, click on to www.jasonmatthewsonline.com; follow him on Twitter or iTunes.
To reach Doug Clark call 910-592-8137 ext. 123 or email to email@example.com.