2009 AGT Winner Kevin Skinner Discusses Career, Inspirations and New Album

After winning the 2009 edition of America's Got Talent, Kevin Skinner went to work and set about recording his debut album Long Ride. In this interview with Stormy Lewis, Kevin discusses his career, meeting some of his heroes and more.

In the summer of 2009 the plight of an ‘unemployed chicken farmer’ named Kevin Skinner resonated with a down-on-their-luck America’s Got Talent audience.  Starting out as an underdog, Kevin Skinner’s story resonated with America and eventually he went on to win the $1 million prize and forever had his life changed.  No longer needing to worry about where his money is coming from the artist who sang many fantastic covers on the show has recently released Long Ride, his self-written debut album for Cypress Records.  He recently discussed that album and his career so far with Stormy Lewis.

Stormy Lewis: What was it like to win America's Got Talent?

Kevin Skinner: It was an experience like none other before. It was really just a whirlwind, I guess you could say. Going out for the first time to LA and meeting people, then moving on to Vegas, you know. Seeing all the different places was really neat to do.

SL: You have your new album out. What would you like to tell people about Long Ride?

KS: I would like for them to know that all of the songs on this album were songs I wrote. And, not all of them were wrote for a reason, but more than half of them songs are from things that happened to me over the years. It’s just music that I feel like a lot of people can relate to and I know my fans...I get a lot of email, and at the concerts I can see them singing along with the words. That just makes you feel good as an artist to know that people are relating to the music. That's what like to I try to do, to keep it real, to keep writing songs and, you know, do the best I can do to write songs that people can relate to. I think that's what people like to hear.

SL: You recently got to open for George Jones.

KS: Yes, m'am.

SL: What was that like?

KS That was really a good experience.

SL: Did he give you any advice?

KS: You know I talked with him, and he smiled and shook my hand and told me “Good luck on your career.”  He actually signed my guitar and I have another signature on there from Willie. And he then invited me onto his tour bus and he told me he hopes that I can do good. And he told me that I did a good job. And later (again) he told me good luck with my career.

He took out time to meet me and I am finding more and more—I opened with Charlie Daniels this past weekend— that these guys and gals are just great people. They are everyday average people like myself, and they like the same things that everyone else likes, they are just into a different line of work, I guess you could say.

SL: "Solid Ground" reminded me of George Jones' "She's The Rock."  Can you tell me a little bit about writing that song?

KS: You know that's a song that, I feel like it’s for my mother...Well, you know, I lost my grandmother—I wrote the song “Her Stone” – that song's about my grandmother who passed away. But, I guess that the feeling popped into my head that everybody needs someone to lean on and “Solid Ground” is one of those songs that the husband when he hears it can think about his wife when she wakes him up in the morning and he's off to work and gives her, or she gives him that last kiss and sends him on his way. I think that's a song about people and everyday life. And there again it’s a song that people can relate to and I have had a lot of people tell me that that's one of their favorite songs on the album.

SL: I actually really enjoyed it. It reminded me in places of George Jones and some of the phrases reminded me of Merle Haggard's “Always On A Mountain When I Fall.”

KS: Sure, I know that song.

SL: You mentioned “Her Stone” was about your Grandmother. One of the questions I was going to ask you is how did she influence your career?

KS: You know this music is something I have always done and it runs back down through the generations, everybody in my family before me has had music in their background. She was one that would, when she would see that I was struggling or frustrated because I hadn't reached that height yet that I felt that I should have been, she was always one to reassure me and say “just keep on doing what you're doing. There's always going to be someone out there who that's going to like you and help you so don't get your head down. Keep your head up and keep doing what you’re doing. She was just a big influence on keeping me strong and I felt like, when I wrote that song, after she passed away, that was my way of paying her back now that I have been known worldwide. I feel like I finally reached my goal and it’s a good feeling and it’s too bad that she wasn't here to see it, but I think that she may know about it anyway.

SL: I have heard that "Find Your Way Back Home" was inspired by your oldest daughter. Is this true?

KS: That's a song that I wrote for her. And it’s another one that it’s a pretty personal song, right along with her song. That's a song I wrote for her and I feel good getting up on stage and singing it when, like I said, I see so many fans that are sitting there singing along with it. And I feel like I've done a good job when people show me that. And I just hope to keep on writing music of the same caliber, if you will, and keeping it real that people can relate to.

SL: And I'm sure my mom would have loved to have that song when I was a child because she could not take me out of the house without me wandering off.

KS: Laughs.

SL: My favorite song on the album is “Road of a Hard Outlaw.” You gotta tell me if that was inspired by a true story.

KS: (Laughs). Well, I had other people ask me that too. I guess you could say I got really creative when I wrote that song. It kind of played out to me like a movie, you know, and a lot of people...You know I recorded this album in Nashville and a lot of studio players were the older musicians and they have been around the block a time or two with a lot of artists there who come on and walked the line before I came along. They were just beside themselves after they completed the album. They said you know we don't think we've ever seen anyone who has this kind of writing ability like you do all on one album. And that made me walk away with a pretty doggone good feeling because these guys have seen a lot and they don't just say we like it. If it ain't good, they'll tell you.

SL: I believe you wrote all the songs on your album, correct?

KS: Yes.

SL: How important is it for you to write your own music?

KS: To me it’s everything. I love singing cover songs; I'm just a music lover all the way around. But, I think, for an artist to move on, you got to show people out there that you can create and write. And I believe, you are ever really going to get to far, in my opinion by singing other people's music. I think it always good for a person to be able to write. And there again you are sharing your feelings and your emotions with people so I think it’s a good thing.

SL: I know you have covered a lot of songs. Down here in Texas we have Pat Green and Corry Morrow and they have an album called Songs We Wish We'd Written. What are song of the songs that could make your “I Wish I'd Written It” album?”

KS: You mean like some of the songs I have already written that I didn't include on my album?

SL: Like some of the songs you have covered that you actually wish you had written?

KS: Oh, you mean like songs that have already been recorded?

SL: Yes.

KS: Oh, okay, I understand. One of my most favorite songs is “The Blues Man” by Hank Williams Jr. I don't know if you have ever seen the movie, but there is a movie of Hank Jr. that explains why he wrote that song. You know, he fell out of a mountain and it almost killed him but he came back. It kind of hurt him and he took some time alone and he went up to a cabin by himself and he wrote that song sitting up in that cabin. And the people behind him were wanting him to get back into music and keep doing his concerts as soon as he could, but he just needed some time alone and that's how that song come about. But I'll tell you want he just did a heck of a job and it’s definitely a song I wish I could have written.

SL: And it’s nice to hear someone who is new to country music know some of the more in depth tracks from Hank Williams Jr. because a lot of times its just his lighter stuff that gets remembered. And you forget sometimes how really good of a songwriter he was.

KS: Sure.

SL: Now that you are out on the road and travelling a lot, who are you listening to the most these days?

KS: I like Randy Houser. His new CD is going to be released on the 21st of this month. I have actually already sought him out and they’re going to hold me one. The name of the CD is They Call Me Cadillac. There's one particular song on that cd I really like, it’s called “Whistlin’ Dixie.” I just listen to...I like 80's music and I like country, but I try not to drawn any lines on music. I listen to all kinds of music. I guess these days I guess you could say I listen to a wide variety [of music].

SL: Which would you rather play: The Grand Old Opry or The Ryman?

KS: Laughs.

SL: I know, that's a mean one.

KS: Now I know why they call you Stormy. It’s in the works for me to go and make an appearance at the Grand Old Opry. I don't know when, but I have heard that they want me to. But you know, playing the Ryman would be neat too. It’s really, I guess I'd be honored to play either or.

SL: I'm delighted to hear you are about to play The Grand Old Opry. What would that mean to you?

KS: That would be a huge step for me to know I was able to walk out on the same stage and play where all the legends and all the greats from before my time had been. That would just be great.