"You know, it's great to do what you love for a living, but it's a whole different game to get to do it with the one you love." Sounds like a terrific line for a country song! "But how realistic are those lyrics?" you might ask. Well, in this case, they're absolutely accurate and spoken with feeling by Rory Feek. For Rory and wife Joey Martin, real life is indeed a country song. This talented husband and wife duo burst into the public's awareness last year on CMT's hit series, Can You Duet. However, they had been living a true country life from their early childhoods.
Joey grew up in Alexandria, Indiana, a small farming and factory town as the middle child of a family of five, all of whose names began with "J". Joey explained, "When my parents started having children, they started by naming the first girl Jody. As the numbers grew, for whatever reason, they continued with J's” (Julie, Joey, Justin and Jessie). Her parents are Jack and June and their farm dog was named John Wayne! There was always music in Joey’s family with her father playing guitar and her mother was a gospel singer. Meanwhile Rory was cutting his country music teeth in Kansas under his father's tutelage. His father, a railroad worker, was also an aspiring country music singer who never quite got the courage to head to Nashville, but passed along his passion to his son. In 1995, ex marine Rory took over his father's dream and headed off to Nashville in his Chevy 56.
This is where their paths diverged somewhat. Rory found success as a song-writer fairly quickly signing a publishing deal with his hero Harlan Howard with whom he worked for five years. He followed this with 3 years of writing for Clint Black's company Blacktop Music, then set up a joint company, 'State One Music Publishing' with his long time friend and songwriting partner Tim Johnson. In 2002 Rory and Tim discovered, funded and co-produced Blaine Larsen's incredibly successful debut album. Rory also co-wrote Blaine's single ‘How Do You Get That Lonely that peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard charts. Their Company became a major success and they now have six writers on staff and an office on Music Row.
In addition Rory has written major hits such as Clay Walker's 'The Chain of Love', Collin Raye's 'Someone You Used to Know' and the mega line dance hit, Blake Shelton's 'Some Beach'. His songs have also been recorded by Kenny Chesney, Randy Travis, Terri Clark, Mark Wills, Reba McEntire, Waylon Jennings, Lorrie Morgan, Buck Owens, John Michael Montgomery and Charlie Pride. However, Rory didn't follow through on a singing career; he noted that "I quickly realized it was a beauty contest, and it was a game I wasn't willing to play, and one I wouldn't win".
So let's see what Joey had been getting up to. A country girl through and through, Joey loved horses and after graduating high school, she got a job as an assistant veterinarian while at the same time singing in a band and as a solo artist. In 1998 she packed all her belongings into a cattle trailer and headed to Nashville, to a small rustic cabin in Lewisburg to work for another horse vet. Who would believe this would lead to her meeting Kix Brooks (of Brooks & Dunn) and Wilbur Rimes (father of Lean Rimes). Soon she was working full time at the Rimes' horse barn and becoming more involved in the Nashville music scene. In 2001 she was signed to Sony Records and cut her debut album. However politics plays a role in Nashville as elsewhere and when a new management regime took control of the reins, out went Joey's album. But Joey is a determined and positive individual and continued to hone her skills as a songwriter and singer. In 2004 she recorded another album, with the help of Rory’s producing skills, but it is only available on-line.
The couple's separate paths converged in 2001 when Joey saw Rory perform. "His songs felt like home. That first night I saw him playing at the Bluebird Cafe, he was speaking my language. Those were the only kinds of songs I wanted to sing". In response, Rory noted that "Joey's musical gift completes mine, her voice makes the words I write come to life." In 2002 they were married. Initially, although very much together, they followed their own individual career paths. Joey, always open to new endeavours, opened a country diner with sister-in-law, Marcy. So where did she hone her cooking skills? "I've always learned to cook or bake by watching my mother while I was growing up. If I ever needed to find mom, I didn't have to look much further than the kitchen, as she was always cooking for her large family. Everything she made was homemade. My favorite dish was chicken and noodles, mashed potatoes, home grown corn, sliced tomatoes and her famous Angel biscuits. The Angel biscuits are a specialty for me, I guess, and so I've carried on the tradition of making and serving them at Marcy Jo's Mealhouse ". Joey's days started at 4 a.m. when she prepared meals and poured coffee for her customers and then she spent the afternoons concentrating on her music at their farmhouse while Rory worked at his publishing company.
It was in 2008 that a friend persuaded the couple to compete on the new CMT/American Idol TV show. They were an instant success, with Naomi Judd, one of the judges, telling them "No matter what anyone tells you, never change what you are doing." "That was the moment that cemented [the collaboration] for us," Rory says. Joey continues: "I grew up singing [The Judds'] 'Mama He's Crazy' with my mom, and I had so much respect for Naomi. She confirmed everything we already felt-- that God pointed us in this direction on purpose--and she put her stamp of approval on it."
So what did the audience and judges consider was so special about these two talented individuals as a country duo? First they look totally authentic. Rory is rarely parted from his overalls while Joey, who would look wonderful however she dressed, is most comfortable in wrangler jeans, belt buckles and boots. But looks aside, they harmonize beautifully, and the chemistry and sense of intimacy between the two made the listeners want to be part of their world. Add heartfelt lyrics that tell stories related to everyday life and feelings and the two soon became fan favorites. 'Cheater, Cheater', the song they performed on ‘Original Song Night’ on the show, became an internet phenomenon. They are now signed to Vanguard/Sugar Hill Records and their musical adventure together is just beginning.
Their debut album release 'The Life of a Song' is a country enthusiast/line dancer's dream. Seven of the songs are co-written by this talented couple drawing on their life experiences. I couldn't resist writing a dance to 'Play The Song'. This was the song they used to audition for the TV show and which took them into the competition. Written by Rory a few years previously as a cry to Nashville traditionalists for more acceptance of new ideas in the country music world; the lyrics are timely and the rhythm is such that you just have to move to it. 'Tonight Cowboy You're Mine' was a family team effort with Rory's daughter Heidi collaborating on the lyrics. It's a beautiful traditional country waltz that would be perfect for Valentine's Day! 'Cheater, Cheater', the TV show's winning track and one of Joey's favorite songs on the album, is fast paced and full of toe tapping' musical action. Rory notes that he can relate to the man in 'Loved The Hell'. "It's taken me a long time to come around and get 'the hell loved out of me'." He explained that he had been in some crummy relationships, noting they were "mostly my fault honestly. Joey's love is like a compass. It leads me closer to it (an extraordinary relationship) everyday". However, ‘To Say Goodbye’ is Rory’s favorite song choice because “This song if anything may encourage people to pay attention to their loved ones and love deeply while you can”.
‘Boots’ is already a major line dance hit entitled ‘Bossy Boots’ written by multi award winner Robbie McGowan Hickie. Robbie has the knack of discovering line dance song gems and he sure uncovered a diamond with this one. These are just a few of the songs on this album and each track has its own story to tell. Rory and Joey's lyrics tell stories that capture the listener's imagination while their melodies move the heart.
So what does the future hold for this talented and down to earth duo? “We really don't know, but we do know that we are extremely excited to be out there having our shot in the country music world and trying to record and present our style of music to listeners. We believe that there is still a huge hole that we'd like to fill in the traditional sounding format of country music.”
Do they think they might ever visit the UK? I was told that Rory visited Europe before about 7 years ago, but Joey has never been. “Our girls, Heidi and Hopie really are wanting us to go soon so that they can come too”. So keep your fingers crossed that this talented and delightful couple will appear on UK soil at some point in the not too distant future. And what is even more exciting is that you might find Joey dancing right by your side in line. As Rory explained, “Joey loves to line dance and used to go out dancing all the time, but doesn't have much time to anymore. The roles have been reversed and she's doing the singing now and watching others dance. But don't get us wrong, you just might catch her jump off the stage in the middle of a song and join in!”