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Jaime Wyatt On Her 'Felony Blues'


Country music is full of performers with tales of hard living, including about time spent behind the bars of a jail cell. Truth be told, such stories are often greatly exaggerated. Though, there are some country legends - names like Merle Haggard or David Allan Coe - who did indeed serve prison sentences. Now comes a singer-songwriter from the Los Angeles country music scene who has some all-too-true stories of her own to tell. Meet Jaime Wyatt.


JAIME WYATT: (Singing) I don't want to wake up somewhere where you don't have to lose. Bought my ticket for the rainbow. And it just hasn't come through.

GONYEA: That song kicks off Wyatt's 2017 album called "Felony Blues." It ended up on some yearend best-of lists. And she's just back from a tour of the U.K. and Spain. She joins us now, already back out on the road again, from a studio in Oklahoma City. Jaime, welcome.

WYATT: Hi, Don.

GONYEA: So I think we should start with the inspiration for your album - your jail time. You were young. You were, I guess - what? - in your late teens? And in this time period, you're living kind of a wild life. You developed an addiction.

WYATT: Oh, yeah.

GONYEA: And you ended up in trouble with the law. You eventually served eight months in jail for robbing your drug dealer - a felony.

WYATT: Yeah. I'd been living the life and got into drugs. And luckily, I did not have to go to prison. They really wanted me to do three years.

GONYEA: So you spend eight months in the LA County jail, not knowing how long you're going to be there...

WYATT: Right.

GONYEA: ...What your sentence is going to be. There's a song in this CD called "Stone Hotel." It tells much of this story. It starts with you in your cell, talking to the inmate in the cell next door.


WYATT: (Singing) Don't be mistaken. I'm a pirate. I'm a thief from way back. And all this time, I was just trying to get my money stack. And judge said, young lady, you never felt the blues. No, not yet. And I keep trying to remember what his face looked like. But I stand on my shoes, stand on my shoes.

Yeah, that's the demoralization - something that I have had to cope with over years. And I was angry. But I do believe that, you know, consequences are good. Like, I got into recovery as a result.

GONYEA: Let's listen to another song here. This is a ballad. It's called "Giving Back The Best Of Me."


WYATT: (Singing) Got a brand-new windshield on a broken-down car. Got a stash of bourbon wrapped up in my coat of arms. Oh, these heartless things.

GONYEA: That song is just drenched in a gorgeous pedal steel guitar. You hadn't been doing country music earlier in your career. Why the switch?

WYATT: Well - and actually, I did grow up around a lot of country and folk. My father sang country. And my mom always sang country. So my first band - the record really sounded like some Grateful Dead-style country. I also got exposed after this experience in being incarcerated. My mother recommended I listen to, like, Merle Haggard and David Allan Coe and, of course, Johnny Cash. Everyone knew Johnny Cash sang about jail and hard living and being rebellious and all that. So I started really listening to Merle Haggard talk about his experiences being a branded man, right? The song "Branded Man."

GONYEA: I paid the debt I owed them. But they're still not satisfied.

WYATT: Yeah.

GONYEA: While we're on the subject of Merle Haggard, you actually close this record with a song you didn't write. It's a song that Merle Haggard made famous. It's called "Misery And Gin."


WYATT: (Singing) Memories and drinks don't mix too well. Jukebox records don't play those wedding bells. Looking at the world through the bottom of a glass. All I see is a girl who's fading fast.

I became friends with a songwriter by the name of John Jurell (ph). And he recommended the song for me. He's like, I think you understand this. And I do. It's a gorgeous piece of work. I mean, it's just - it is incredibly moving for me and an honor to cover it.


GONYEA: There's a song on here that feels like a song of just pure gratitude, gratitude for those who stuck by you. It's called "Your Loving Saves Me." Here's a bit of it.


WYATT: (Singing) Here we go around again, closer than we've ever been.

GONYEA: I listened to that. And it sure sounds like you're in a good place. Especially when you compare it to the songs it lives right next to you on the album about your time incarcerated.

WYATT: (Laughter) Yeah, I think that's true.


WYATT: (Singing) There ain't no borders. There ain't no boundaries. Good, good people all around me. Hard as concrete. Soft as gravy. Jesus is cool. But your loving saves me.

GONYEA: Is that line, Jesus is cool, but your loving saves me?

WYATT: I'd always wanted to say that in a line because, like, music has been my savior. And the people that have helped me continue to do it are, like, saints to me because I - you know, people have taken me into their homes. And my friends Holly (ph) and Ben (ph) really kind of like - have mentored me, advised me and really just kind of supported me and made me feel like I was worth making music. It's taken a lot of people like that to encourage me to continue and move forward.

GONYEA: Jaime Wyatt. Her album is "Felony Blues." And you can find her on the road these days. Thanks for coming to talk to us.

WYATT: Thank you so much, Don.


WYATT: (Singing) Your loving saves me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.