By Michael Buffalo Smith
I met Candy Coburn and her manager in the lobby of the Music Row Best Western in downtown Nashville. The night before I had attended Candy’s showcase at the Exit/In, where she delivered a power soaked set of tunes and had the packed room in the very palm of her hand.
The first time I heard Candy play was at the Jam 4 George Benefit in Spartanburg, SC back in November of 2007. I had heard about her from our mutual friend George McCorkle, who had assured me that she was headed for the top with a bullet. After seeing her show at J4G I was convinced.
If that show was amazing, the show at Exit/In bordered on stellar. The young lady is not your typical Nashville singer. There’s nothing “cookie cutter” about her. She’s one part Melissa Etheridge, one part Loretta Lynn, with some Janis Joplin and Pat Benatar added in. She is not just a great singer/songwriter, she is an amazing performer.
I met her manager in the lobby, and he showed me the beautiful magazine cover story done on her by Profile out of her home state of Kentucky. A huge, full color spread that would make even a superstar smile.
Her manager and I sat and talked for a bit.
“Candy’s getting ready,” he said.
Apparently she doesn’t go out anywhere, even to an interview, without looking like a star. I like that. Soon she came out of the elevator looking like a million bucks. This was pretty early in the morning mind you, after she played the night before and sat up talking to fans and friends until the wee hours.
We exchanged hellos and talked a bit about Swampland and how one of her managers knows Jim Markel, our Swampland CEO. Then the conversation shifted to a man Jim works with, the great Robert Randolph.
“I always tell the steel players in town when i work with them to try an play like Robert Randolph. I love him and would love to meet him. Do you hear that Jim?” She laughs.
You grew up in Kentucky, right?
Yeah, just outside of the Padacah area. I grew up around there singing my whole life. My grandmother was a great singer. I grew up singing in church. My mom got remarried and moved over to Missouri when I was in high school, so i went to high school and college in Missouri. And my dad’s been in Texas since i was a little kid, so I kind of grew up everywhere. (Laughs)
So your first interest in music came from family?
My grandma, yeah. She just turned 85 last week and she’s still singing in Louisiana every Sunday.
Did you listen to radio? Buy records?
Not too much radio. But my grandma listened to the Glen Miller Orchestra, old country classics. But rock music was the devil’s music in my grandma’s house, and I pretty much grew up with her. (Laughs) I didn’t know who The Beatles were until I was probably in high school. On weekends we were always going to tent revivals and listening to groups like The Statler Brothers, The Kingsmen, The Cathedrals, The Sego Brothers and Naomi - that’s what I grew up around. I think gospel is the backbone of all good music. The harmonies- it’s got a lot of soul.
When did you start performing?
In the church in Kentucky. My grandmother still has tapes of me singing in church. I sang for the first time when I was 3. I sang in front of the church, “Jesus Loves Me.”
When I was a kid I watched the CMA’s on TV and I would get almost teary eyed as a kid watching it. I knew that was what I wanted to do. The weird part is when you’re growing up nobody wants you top be a musician because there’s no money in it. Just like I’m trying to tell my kids now. But I knew that was the only thing that gave me this feeling, playing and singing.
So when did you get into the style of music you do now?
That was way later. I went to school, I sang all through school. I put together a cover band. I bought a place down here in Murfreesboro and I met my husband. I was hoping to finish school down here but i didn’t. I played a lot of bars in a cover band and went through a million musicians. Then I started working on originals here and there. It took me a long, long time to get to what I felt was my own sound. So after a very long, boring, dramatic road, and about 60 musicians or so, I started doing about 50/50 originals and covers. The story is endless. (Laughs) But the first tim I recall playing a legitimate show and getting paid for it was in 2001.
How did you come to do your first album?
I cut my first demo at a studio right next to a strip club, and my band was quitting. They were so bad, God love ‘em, they couldn’t get a whole song together. So it was just pieces. So I got four pieces of songs that I could pitch to a bar to book me. They were gonna fire me, even though it was the Candy Coburn band, and I booked everything and I payed them all. (Laughs) That wasn’t really an album. The first real album, I will give credit to Lou Whitney, at the studio in Springfield. I love Lou. He was probably my first mentor ever. It was patched through from a place called The Outland, where I played a live show and they recorded it. It was still analog, reel to reel, and I think Lou can capture the best sounds in that studio that can whip anybody’s butt in this town. That live CD is one of the best CD’s I’ve ever made.
The second CD I made in St. Louis. That CD was called Enjoy The Ride. After that I did Rev it Up, which is the one I have out now. It’s been out for about two and a half years. I did that in Nashville.
And we just finished this new CD with Joe Scaife (Montgomery Gentry/Gretchen Wilson). I love the album. You heard some of it last night.
Yeah, I loved the first song especially.
That’s “So Called Life,” written by Bruce Wallace. He’s a great writer. I really think the title should be “This Ain’t No Rodeo,” because that’s the line everybody remembers. Bruce is great, and he’s a great singer. He played for Wynonna for ten or fifteen years. He’s unbelievably talented.
Candy jams with Justin McCorkle at the Jam 4 George, 2007.
What’s the coolest thing that has happened for you in your career so far?
The first would have to be working with George McCorkle. Him playing songs with me and helping me. Every night, it’s bizarre, he’s always with us on the road and I know it. Everywhere I go people ask for “Fire On The Mountain.” If I don’t do it they are completely let down. That’s why half of them came top see the show. George was the highlight of my career so far.
The second is my involvement in Susan G. Komen For The Cure, a foundation to find a cure for breast cancer.. There’s a song I wrote called “Pink Warrior,”a and I wrote it with these three other strong, awesome songwriter chicks that are my friends. Now Susan has signed me to be their celebrity ambassador internationally. What’s interesting is that every person who has died in my family died of cancer. My grandmother Tucker from Kentucky fought breast cancer for over ten years. It had gotten so bad she couldn’t taste anything. But she was the biggest fighter I ever knew in my life. I have a song about her on my old record.
So Komen heard it and we got a conference immediately. I was just balling. I was completely floored. All of my proceeds and Joe, my producer’s proceeds, go to the organization. I kicked it off playing at the Mall in Washington, DC in June at the Race For The Cure. I have been playing the song on the road for a month now and everywhere I go people come up to me, not just women, all sorts of people telling me about loved ones who died of cancer. I’m really proud of this song. It might put me on the map. Lots of companies are interested in using the song, Hallmark, Ford Motor Company. It’s very exciting. I think about George too. My best friend, and he died of cancer.
I lost a bunch of friends to cancer, George, Ray Brand, who was a friend of George’s, my friend and rockabilly star Bobby Lowell, recently Ean Evans of Lynyrd Skynyrd - the list is huge.
It don’t make any sense after all these years that there’s still not a cure. It could be me tomorrow.
I’ve got to ask you, did Southern Rock influence you at all?
Yes it did. When I finally did get to listening to rock and roll, the first things I was into were Skynyrd and Marshall Tucker and The Allman Brothers. People still make fun of me because I have this weird version of “Sweet Home Alabama.” It’s got a reggae piece it the middle. It’s really jacked up. But I can’t do a show without a shout out to Skynyrd and Tucker.