Bartlee Norton and 64 Highway: men on a mission

bartleeSure, a record deal would suit Bartlee Norton just fine. But don’t think the country singer will be satisfied when he gets it, because it’s just another step along the journey.

Bartlee spoke with us recently about his past, present and future. He easily recalled an eye-opening conversation he had with a Nashville music business executive. “He asked me how many male vocalists are on the radio today,” Bartlee said. “I counted about 12. And he said, ‘which one are you going to knock out?’ And that got me thinking. Then he asked me what my end goal was, and I said ‘to have a record deal,’ And he said, ‘that’s not your end goal. That’s just the next goal. You get a record deal. Then you’ve got to have a No. 1 song, then another.’

“There is no end goal,” Bartlee pointed out, “but to survive.”

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That survival has been tough at times for the singer from Cleveland, Tenn. After meeting with UMG Nashville with hopes for a big record deal, things didn’t work out. Nearly a year later, Bartlee had an opportunity to meet with Lyric Street Records for a possible deal with their sister label imprint, Carrolwood Records. But the potential of that record deal fell through when Lyric Street left Music City. Of course, Bartlee did what all good cowboys do: he got up and dusted himself off and cowboy’d up.

Fast forward to today. Bartlee and his band 64 Highway have poured a year into their upcoming album, and they’ve turned to heavy-hitting songwriters for only the best tunes.

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Bartlee explained, “We’re recording some outside material to get closer to our goal of having that song. We’re looking forward to having (the album) out. Hopefully it will be out by the end of July. We haven’t even named it yet.” He hinted, however, that the cut “Whole Lotta Gone” is leading the way to be the title track. “Whole Lotta Gone,” incidentally, was penned by smash-hit writers Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts fame and Bobby Pinson (“Want To”/Sugarland, “Beers Ago”/Toby Keith).

64 highwayBartlee is sold on quality over quantity when it comes to recording. “There will probably be five songs on the new album,” he said. “We may end up getting a few more cuts. We’re not selling albums; we’re selling songs. I would rather invest in five incredible songs than invest in three hits and eight or nine fillers.

“We’ve been working on this album since last June. We’ve dropped songs; we’ve altered some of the song choices. We’ve been taking time to get it where we want it. I’ve never waited this long.”

Bartlee isn’t one to conform to the status quo, however, when shopping for songs. “I don’t sing a whole lot of drinking songs, I’m not a drinker. I can sing about it, but that’s not who I am. You have to be careful with what you’re willing to attach your name to,” he said.

“There are four (songs) for sure done, and I’m in the middle of writing one, but I have to finish it.” He is considering recording it as an acoustic piano-vocal. “We’ve done acoustic-driven tracks in the past that worked out really well. We’re pretty good with coming up with a strong acoustic feel.”

Another song that might be on the album, “Picture in My Pocket” is a nostalgic ballad Bartlee is co-writing with band leader Ian Porter.

The upcoming release will be Bartlee’s fourth. His first album was a self-titled effort. The first album he cut with 64 Highway is called Boots and Bar Stools. (The band also released a holiday album, Christmas on 64 Highway.)

He told us how the new record fits in with his earlier releases. “The solo album is a more polished and contemporary style,” he said. Boots and Bar Stools was more of a rocking album. “With Boots and Bar Stools we took more of a different direction. We wrote all the songs on the album as a band and it had a rock-n-roll feel.

“The new album is rocking but not as raw as Boots and Bar Stools,” Bartlee said.

Bartlee is investing his present and his future in his band mates. “I didn’t use session artists, he said. I used my band in hopes of a record deal. I’ve been in this game long enough to know you’ve got to be smart, not greedy. Smart work outdoes hard work.”

When the band goes out on the road, you can see them in a variety of places. “Typically we look for festivals. We do some rodeos due to my love of the rodeo circuit,” he said, explaining that he cut his teeth singing during rodeo intermissions. “Country people go to rodeos. They already like country music.”

Bartlee Norton and 64 Highway give fans an interactive show. “We’re all about our fans. We want to give people more than what they paid for. That’s what people want. People want to be able to reach you.”

True to their hometown roots, they want their audience to know they’re part of them. “Our audience is never thinking, ‘they’re too good for us.’ We stay two or three hours after the show is over and talk, and make sure everybody gets an autograph or just a chance to meet us. We want to make sure to take the time to meet everybody.

“We want them to see that we’re just some good ol’ boys experiencing the dream of making music and having fun with all of our country friends.”

Meet 64 Highway (Learn more about each at 64highway.com):

  • Devon Goins, keyboard. Devon has played with such musicians as Geron Davis, Vicki Yohoe and Paul Morton.
  • Ian Porter, guitar. Ian’s journey has spanned punk rock, rebellion, religion and most everything in between.
  • Jake Ketterer, drums. At 6 years old, Jake destroyed his first drum kit the same day he got it.
  • Josh Harris, guitar. Jake’s Benton, Tenn., heritage gave him a background in bluegrass music.
  • Keith Guillot, bass. Keith is also an on-call saxophonist for the Chattanooga Symphony.
  • Tim Jester, fiddle. Tim is classically trained and has played with orchestras and string ensembles in the US and Europe.

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