Country Star Jo Dee Messina Talks About Her Decades Long Career

Tour that brings her to TempleLive at the Cleveland Masonic follows release of new single 'Just To Be Loved'

click to enlarge Jo Dee Messina. - Courtesy of 117 Entertainment
Courtesy of 117 Entertainment
Jo Dee Messina.
Country singer Jo Dee Messina’s career began well before she released her debut album in 1996. When she was only a teenager, she started playing clubs around the Boston area where she grew up.

“I was about 14 when I started that,” she says via phone while taking a break from rehearsing and working on the setlist for her upcoming tour. Jo Dee Messina performs at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 16, at TempleLive at the Cleveland Masonic. “I loved it. My mother used to take me out and sit with me. I used to sit in with other bands. When I was about 15, I put my own band together and started doing shows on my own. It’s always been a way of life for me and what I love. I was born outside of Boston and was exposed to all sorts of music, but country music was always my safe space and something that spoke about my life. It was my home and what I gravitated toward.”

She moved to Nashville in the early ’90s and had to make an adjustment to a new environment.

"When I first got to town, there wasn’t a lot of singing happening,” she says. “I was just trying to survive. I had to keep a roof over my head. I found my way around town and got to know people. I didn’t sing the first couple of years. I was mostly just trying to make a living.”

For her self-titled debut, she teamed up with producer Byron Gallimore (Tim McGraw, Faith Hill). Thanks to the album's first two singles, "Heads Carolina, Tails California" and "You're Not in Kansas Anymore," songs that balance Messina's pop and country impulses, the LP wound up being a hit, but the recording process wasn’t without its hurdles.

“For me, I always have a harder time in the studio than live,” she says. “I grew up singing live. For me, my comfort level is higher on the stage. At that point in your career, everything moves so fast. It's great to be able to relive that now with a bit of wisdom and being able to take it slowly and appreciate every concert and every fan.”

She had some financial issues she made her second album, I’m Alright.

“The record label had taken so long between records – longer than with other artists,” she says. “I did run into some financial restraints. 'Lesson in Leavin'' and 'Bye Bye' and 'I’m Alright' were cut already. We were sitting on those songs. They wanted to have the right song for the single. I was young and we didn’t have a lot of money to start with. Touring cost a whole lotta money and you don’t make a lot on the frontend. I got into a pretty good hole.”

And yet, the record came out and became a hit. After a bout with cancer took her off the road in the late 2010s, Messina’s career has been stable since then, and country music has become hugely popular. Messina says she doesn’t mind the way many modern country acts have embraced pop music.

“When I was little, Dolly Parton was doing pop music,” she says. “That’s not the case with her new stuff, but it was with stuff like '9 to 5.' I am used to that [pop sound], and I come from Boston, so I was exposed to all sorts of music. And to me, it’s good to see that the format has a wide range as opposed to being rigid. It’s open to a lot of different styles.”

Last year, Messina released “Just To Be Loved,” a shimmering ballad that's "a story about a girl I used to know." Messina says her 13-year-old child received “inappropriate messages” on her phone, and that made her want to write a song addressing the issue.

“I was talking with songwriters about the incident, and they said that social media has such an impact especially on young girls,” she says. “They feel like they have to sell themselves out to be loved. That song says that you don’t have to change who you really are, and who God made you to be. You are loved. He loves us with a love that is greater than any human. The song tells that story.”

Messina, who champions authenticity, says the live show that she’s bringing to Cleveland will be a celebration of her decades-long career.

“It’ll be me up there being myself and having a really good time,” she says. “I’m grateful to be able to do what I do. We have older songs that people know and we have hits and brand-new music. There is something in there for everybody.”

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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