Right Place, Right Time
Singer-musician Jimmy Wooten is working on his first full-length album.
Success is music to Jimmy Wooten’s ears
Everyone has a story.
In each edition, 318 Forum’s Tony Taglavore takes a local person to lunch – someone well-known, influential or successful – and asks, “What’s Your Story?”
You know that old saying about being in the right place at the right time?
Jimmy Wooten knows it’s not just a saying. It’s a fact.
Time after time, in his 39 (almost 40) years, the popular singer and musician has reaped the rewards of being in the right place at the right time.
But the greatest reward came in the summer of 2007. In his early 20s, Jimmy had just moved back to Shreveport from Nashville, Tenn., the result of a band gig gone bad. So here he was, a young man full of raw musical talent, living with his parents and following in his father’s footsteps by selling cars.
“I was living at home, tying my tie with my dad in the mornings. He’s made a great career out of (being a car salesman), but I had only played music as a career. I was just thinking, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this forever.’”
Then came the day – the customer – who changed Jimmy’s life.
“I was on the car lot, and James Burton (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, Grammy Award winner, Elvis’ lead guitarist) comes to look at cars. I had never met James Burton, but obviously knew he was a guitar legend. I shook his hand, realized who he was, talked with him, told him my name, and he said, ‘I know you!’ He said, ‘What in the heck are you doing selling cars?’”
Jimmy told James the story of Nashville being a bust. Then, James told Jimmy to do something without telling him to do something.
“In a nutshell, he didn’t necessarily tell me to quit my job, but he kind of did. He was like, ‘You don’t need to be doing this. You need to be playing music. I will give you a personal reference to anybody if you want a gig.’ That made me think.”
But not for long. A few days later, Jimmy gave his notice.
“The fact that a guitar legend encouraged me that I don’t need to be selling cars, that had an effect on me. It had a big impact.”
During lunch, Jimmy told me his story at one of his favorite places, Ki’ Mexico, in Shreveport. In fact, most of Jimmy’s favorite restaurants are local restaurants. With an upright posture and wearing a tight-around-his-arm muscles black and gold T-shirt given to him by a fellow musician, Jimmy enjoyed a couple of tacos (Silvestre and Nopal). I had the Spicy Tortuga De Pollo – and a lot of water.
Since that time on the car lot, Jimmy has made quite a name for himself. He is easily one of our area’s most popular performers. From restaurants to hotel nightclubs to private parties, Jimmy plays them all. Last year, he was on stage for more than 200 local and regional shows.
“2022 was the biggest year I’ve ever had in my life, whether it’s income, exposure or getting my name out there. This year is going good, too.’”
However, Jimmy purposely plays fewer shows in 2023 so he can work on his first full-length album. Jimmy hopes to release it late this year or early next year.
But back to that being in the right place at the right time ...
Take the day he was fresh out of high school (Caddo Magnet) and playing with some of his buddies at a local recording studio.
“Joe Nadeau, who is a local musician, had just finished playing with Kenny Wayne Shepherd (five Grammy Award nominations, two Billboard Music awards). … He was in that studio because he had signed a record deal with somebody there. He heard me playing drums and said, ‘Come in the office.’ They were like, ‘Hey, we like your drumming. How old are you?’ I said, ‘17.’ They were like, ‘You’re really good. Do you want to go on the road with us?’ I said, ‘You mean like a tour?’”
Yes, a tour. The next day, Nadeau gave his best sales pitch to Jimmy’s parents.
“He talked them into letting me go on the road. Of course, my mom said, ‘That’s my baby. If something happens to him, something will happen to y’all.’”
So young Jimmy packed up and headed out. He was a touring professional musician.
Did I mention Jimmy was fresh out of high school?
“While my other friends were bagging groceries and stuff, I was actually making real money.”
Jimmy wasn’t a stranger to the music industry. He grew up around it. Parents Jimmy and Tammy founded The Gator-Dilla Band, which was “probably the top act anywhere around here through the ’80s and ’90s. I was born into playing music.”
If the bar Jimmy’s parents were playing on a weekend night was closed during the day – kids weren’t allowed in bars – they would bring Jimmy along to “load in,” an insider’s term for setting up equipment.
Jimmy thought he was living every kid’s life “until I got to do a sleepover at a friend’s house. I was in middle school. I realized my other friends’ parents don’t do what my parents do.”
Now, Jimmy does what his parents did. “I found a way to make a living doing what I love.”
But along the way, Jimmy – “I would consider myself an ADHD poster child” – admittedly needed to grow up. He needed to mature. Not coincidentally, Jimmy did so when he knew there would soon be another mouth to feed.
“We decided to have kids. That’s what changed everything for me.”
Jimmy and wife Sara are coming up on their 10th wedding anniversary. They now have two children: Wilder (6) and Woods (4). Sure, “making it big” would be nice, if for nothing else, the money. But if he doesn’t, Jimmy feels he’s already “made it.”
“I could care less about being famous. I can make a living playing music, support my family and not struggle. I can have security for my family and my children.”
But back to that being in the right place at the right time …
In 2014, Jimmy got called for a fill-in role in Neal McCoy’s (nine top 10 songs, two #1’s) band. Jimmy just happened to be available. Neal ended up liking Jimmy’s bass playing so much, he offered Jimmy the job full-time. For three and a half years, Jimmy “played the biggest country music festivals. Even played the Grand Ole Opry.”
But when Wilder was born, Jimmy gave up the road. That is, until 2019 when Neal asked Jimmy to come back. The problem was Jimmy had his own thing going and was doing pretty well. Jimmy had released a single and was even selling T-shirts at his shows.
“It felt like (it would be) a step back, even though (Neal) was famous.”
So, Jimmy proposed a deal. “I told him, ‘If I can sell my T-shirts and stuff at your merchandise table, and you maybe let me sing a song …’ So, he would introduce me, talk about my music, I would sing a song, and I would sell my stuff at his merchandise table. It was big for me. I gained a lot of fans.”
As we pushed our empty baskets to the side, and as I continued to drown the spiciness of my sandwich, I asked my final question. As always, “What is it about your story that can be an inspiration to others?”
“You need to work hard to get good at whatever it is you want to do. Do that, and success will come. The money will come. You can go to Wal-Mart and get a job. If you work as many hours as they’ll let you, you will eventually make more and more and more money. Then one day, you will manage the place. You can work at McDonald’s and do the same thing.”
It also doesn’t hurt to be in the right place at the right time.