Flash forward to 2011, and the tables have turned just a little bit. Lorrie, now an Opry member since 1984, is now feeling some of those feelings as her Hall of Famer father. Her son, Jesse Keith Whitley, is embarking on his musical journey, and Lorrie says there are a lot of emotions that go along with the territory.
“It’s an emotional train wreck,” she admits. “That’s what it is. I was always nervous when I went on stage. But, I’ve never been as nervous as I am when Jesse takes the stage. I know what that feeling’s like. I know how it is to be on that circle of the Opry. I know what it’s like to be center stage with the spotlight on you. I know how nerve-wracking that can be, and as a parent, you want your child to feel safety and comfort, and I know when he steps on that stage, that’s not what he’s feeling. He’s going through some pretty intense emotions. I finally understand what my dad felt like when I walked out there,” she says with more than a twinge of family pride.
Whitley, Lorrie’s son with Keith Whitley, is excited about his career, and with good reason. His new EP, Kentucky Thunder, has just been released. “I can’t wait for it to hit radio and for people to hear it,” he says. “It shows pretty much who I am as a person. It talks about a little bit of my heritage. It’s got one of my dad’s songs on there, with Mom singing on it. It’s such a cool vibe. It’s awesome.”
The disc was produced by veteran hit-maker James Stroud, and working with the legendary producer was very intimidating. “I walked in, and I was so nervous the day we walked into the studio. I was sweating bullets. My voice wasn’t up to par that day, and I was thinking ‘Oh, my God, I just couldn’t wait to get in here, and all those professional musicians, they were so nice. James said ‘let’s make this more Jesse, more in your style. He stopped a song, and said “Let’s try it this way, and I thought ‘Ok.’ He’s such an awesome producer. I was honored to be working with him for my first album. It was truly awesome.”
Whitley is ecstatic about the early success the disc is finding online. “That’s really cool, because when we got the songs, and we started putting them up on Facebook, iTunes, and Reverb Nation, people started texting and calling me saying ‘I just bought your song. It rocks. We went from #800 to # 1 in a day and a half on Reverb Nation, and now we’re sitting there at # 12, and been there for about two weeks. There’s all these great and talented artists in this town, and to be sitting there at # 12, that’s an honor. That’s really cool,” he says, though he admits “I hope to climb back up to number one. That would be really nice,” he says with a smile.
If you’re looking for a copy of his father on a musical level, don’t. Whitley’s vocals bring to mind the Southern Rock of Charlie Daniels and Hank Williams, Jr. more than the Bluegrass influences of his father. Still, music has forever bonded Jesse with Keith, who died when Jesse was two. “Absolutely,” he says. “I talked to my dad, and ask him for guidance, and ask him for help, and for him to show me things, signs that I’m doing the right things, and there’s always an answer. Whether it be a song coming on the radio, or I will see him in my dreams. I do remember him a little bit, even as I was so young. I think that’s really cool, because a lot of people that age don’t really remember a lot. I’ve got quite a few friends that have lost either their mom or their dad, and don’t remember anything. I feel blessed to be that young and remember a few things. I definitely feel a connection with my dad, and find myself asking for his advice, sure!”
Thankfully, he still has his mother to ask her opinions about the musical industry. Lorrie appears on Kentucky Thunder, adding her distinct vocals to Jesse’s cover of “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” the 1988 smash that lifted Whitley’s career to the next level. Lorrie also has a lot to be excited about these days. She’s got a new album, I Walk Alone, that showcases her songwriting like never before, and she’s also involved in the marketing of a new wine named after one of her trademark tunes.
“Yes, I am,” she tells Roughstock. “It’s a very special limited edition wine called “Something In Red.” It’s only available through the Belle Meade Plantation Winery, and there were only about 900 made, and 100 with the signature on it. It was released on Valentine’s Day, and I got to taste it for the first time then. It’s absolutely a beautiful wine.”
She also is very involved in charity work with the American Heart Association. “That is very near and dear to me because my father died from heart disease. He was only 52 years old, which will soon be my age. It seems so young, and it was something that devastated our family. I think what’s even more devastating is to learn that heart disease kills more women than any kind of disease. So it’s really important. I’m the chairperson for “Go Red For Women,” to make women aware of staying heart healthy, exercise, and eating correctly. I’m really honored to be a part of it.”
Before we ended, I had to ask Lorrie—an artist that literally grew up at the Grand Ole Opry her thoughts on the recent announcement that Jean Shepard—a member of the show since 1955, would be inducted this year into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“I am so happy,” she says, adding that “I think it was so long overdue. So many times, I think we don’t acknowledge our artists that paid the way for us while they’re alive. They sometimes wait until they pass away, and then it’s like this big honoring thing. I think it’s so cool to honor Jean now when she’s still here, and she’s strong and she’s as vibrant and as mean as she ever was,” she says slyly. “I’m so proud of her. She’s one of our grand ladies of the Grand Ole Opry, and certainly an icon in our business, so I’m really proud for her.”
Lorrie is currently working on a new website, so for the time being, fans can keep up with her at www.facebook.com/pages/Lorrie-Fans/111375392208340?v=app_2405167945., and Jesse’s website is www.JesseKeithWhitley.com.!