Matthew Lawson: Jimmy, thank you so much for chatting with us today. For those who may not be familiar with you, would you introduce yourself and your ministry, as well as tell us about your family?
Jimmy Fortune: I started my musical career as a little kid. My family sang in church growing up. I was the 7th of 9 children. Mama and Daddy sang too. I eventually got a guitar when I was 12 and started playing at places like PTA meetings and clubs. Mama and Daddy didn’t like that. Mama always wanted me to be a preacher. I got my background traveling through Virginia and Washington DC playing cover music. Eventually, The Statler Brothers hired me in 1982, and I had a 21-year career with them. When The Statler Brothers decided to retire in 2002, I decided to go out on my own. I made a promise to God that whatever I would do what would honor him. It’s been 17 years now, and my career is going really good. I teamed up with Gaither Music Group a few years back, and we’ve recorded a few great projectors together Hits and Hymns, Jimmy Fortune Sings the Classics, and now God & Country. That’s a short story of where I came from and how I got from where I am today. I feel like I have a message of hope that no matter where you are in your career or life, some things can happen that deter you from what you love, but if you’re willing to work and put God first, he’ll help you accomplish things for him and his kingdom. That’s my message and mission: to bring hope, love and inspiration to everyone out there who hears this music.
ML: Did you know from an early age that you wanted to do what you do full time? Was it a deep desire that God planted in your heart or something that happened unexpectedly?
JF: I always say the music lived in me. Before I got my first guitar, I found one in a dumpster at 8-years-old with a couple of strings. I got that guitar and would play and play until Mama and Daddy got me a guitar at 12. When I got my hands on that guitar, I told Daddy that’s what I wanted to do for a living. He said, “Boy, you’re crazy. You can’t make a living playing guitar. That’s why it’s called playing.” I fell in love with playing and when I was in elementary school, kids would give me a nickel to play. I would always have a little money in my pocket, so I knew somehow that was what I was put on this Earth to do.
ML: You have a brand new project, “God and Country”. Tell us a little bit about the theme behind this album, etc., if you would.
JF: God and Country is one of my favorite albums that I’ve done. Like I said, I teamed up with Bill Gather and we did Hits and Hymns and Sings The Classics. Then we had to decide what we were going to do for this project…What about God & Country? Surely if our country needs God, we do today. With all the things going on, we need a love for us to all get along towards one another. It’s a celebration of our God through the hymns my mother used to sing to me as well as a celebration of our country and the freedom we have thanks to those who died for our freedom. We live in the greatest country because of them. From “God Bless America,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and even “Battle of New Orleans,” it was an emotional journey of songs that my mom used to sing to me. It filled me with inspiration. If people feel half what I felt when was doing this project, they’ll come out of it feeling that we’re in a great place and are blessed to grow up in a place like America.
ML: Are there any artists (any genre) that inspire you musically, spiritually, etc? If so, who might they be?
JF: I grew up listening to a lot of different music from country to rock ‘n’ roll to gospel. A lot of Bill Gather artists have had input on me through the years. I go all the way back to Billy Graham and George Beverly Shea. My mom was a big fan of George Beverly Shea. When I started listening to the radio, I heard people like Jim Reeves and Eddie Arnold. Later, I loved Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles, especially their harmonies. I am a big fan of the Kingsmen Quartet, James Blackwood from the Blackwood Brothers Quartet – people like with big personalities. I listened to a bit of everything because that’s what I had to do playing cover music at clubs. I love Vince Gill. He’s one of my favorites that inspires me in so many ways. One of my favorite female vocalists is Patty Loveless. I still listen to hear even though she’s not touring much anymore. I could go on all day and give you a list of artists I love.
ML: If you could tell your younger self anything, what might it be?
JF: If I could tell my younger self anything, it would be that I wish I had followed my relationship with the Lord a lot sooner. I knew about Christ, but I didn’t follow him like I should have in my earlier age. Of course, a lot of these wrong turns made me who I am today. Looking back, there are things I should have done differently. I would tell myself to spend more time with your children as they’re growing up. I tried to do the best I could, but I missed a lot of things. We just had Father’s Day and I got a lot of great cards from my children that said nice things. They love me inspire of it. Sometimes when we look back, we see our life lives us, but we don’t live our lives.
ML: What is God currently teaching you in this season of life?
JF: As every day goes by, I try to keep the promise I made to God 17 years ago to try and do what he wants with my music. He’s teaching me to be patient and not judge. When I see people I don’t understand, instead of forming an opinion, I try to look and figure out why they are the way they are. Without getting upset, listen and be patient instead of judging. Try to help people. Just because we don’t feel the same way, doesn’t mean that I’m right. I need to listen and be open-minded. God is teaching me patience. Rather than force the way you feel, try to be an example instead of trying to change someone. You’re not going to change them in one moment. If they see an example, that can do more than you can say to someone. God is also teaching me to be a better father, husband, friend and servant to him.