615 Artist Spotlight: Jimmie Van Zant
615 Artist Spotlight: Jimmie Van Zant

Jimmie Van Zant knows that upon meeting fans, the question is always going to be asked -- about his famous family tree. The singer smiles when discussing this with Billboard, saying that he definitely doesn't shy away from it. In fact, it's something he is very proud of.

"First of all, it's my family, so I am very glad to be a part of it," said the cousin of the late Lynyrd Skynyrd legend Ronnie Van Zant. "I've been asked many times whether doors open or close because of it. In my day-to-day, the Van Zant carries weight no different than DuPont paint or Chevrolet or Ford. There's a brand name, but there is to be expected quality, and we try to deliver that. It gets tough sometimes. I get messages on Facebook saying I'm riding off of coat tails, but it's no different than if your dad had a restaurant or a car dealership. Before he passes on, he tells you to carry it on. Do you want to sell out? No, it's priceless. That's something you can't buy."

In the Van Zant case, it's the music that is that precious family heirloom. "That's what I do. That's what Johnny and Donnie do. Ronnie just happened to make a movement in the business, and we're just a part of the train. It's common people, common ways, and common thoughts. That's what we built our lives on."

The singer is currently promoting his newest single at country radio, the infectious "Feels Like Freedom." It's the title cut from his latest disc. Making the album was a great experience, Van Zant says. "I had great songwriters and a great producer in Kent Wells. We cut at the Sound Kitchen where Skynyrd did God & Guns, their last record there, so there is some credibility to all the people put in place. They allowed me to be myself, and I allowed them to be what they were. I'm happy with that. I'm looking forward to doing another record in 2013, and as long as I can walk and get up in the morning, I'm going to continue to create music."

Van Zant spoke glowingly of the studio partnership between himself and Wells - one of the fastest rising producers in Music City. "It was great. I thought he was my brother. I did the research and found we had the same kind of background - the same roots, and the same soil. We sat down and talked, and when we got in the studio, it was just like magic."

One goal the pair had in mind when making Feels Like Freedom was to stay true to what he does artistically. "In today's music, there's a lot of people who sound alike. They don't have their own identity or tones -- which is being yourself instead of trying to be something you're hearing. But, you've got to be yourself before you can sell anything. That's my rule of life. I am what I am. All I can do is what I have. I can't give any more than that, but I promise you I will give my very best. That's all I've got to bring to the table."

The singer is in the middle of a radio tour, and can also be found all over Facebook and Twitter. He said it's a must in today's viral world. "We're very active. It's innovative. You've got to keep up with the changes. I love a '66 Camarro or a '63 Corvette, but things change. I think Facebook and Twitter are great thing.s But, on the backside of that, it's depleted from the old vinyl records. You've got downloads and digital. But, I have nothing bad to say about it. There were times I used to lick stamps from mailing out letters to people where we played, asking to come back. Now, it's all at the push of a button," he says with a sense of wonder in his voice.

Van Zant, who has just started a endorsement deal with Moon Pie, will soon be releasing a new single to radio, the powerful "Unfinished Life."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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