Jaime Wyatt Premieres Track Off Prison Stint-Inspired 'Felony Blues' Album

Jaime Wyatt
Olivia Jaffe

Jaime Wyatt

Listen to the music of Jaime Wyatt and you'll hear a lot of things. There’s the twang of Buck Owens, mixed with the freewheeling sounds of The Byrds or Rick Nelson’s later Decca recordings. Sprinkle in a dash of the eternal cool factor of Linda Ronstadt, and you’re very close to the unique musical stylings of Felony Blues, her upcoming album. She says she comes by the sounds naturally.

“I fell in love with California country as a kid,” she tells Billboard. “My mom would tell me stories about her great-grandparents playing country in Bakersfield, and then in Los Angeles. There’s also an uncle who is a champion fiddle player. That always really enthralled me. My mom sang with quite a bit of twang in her voice -- otherwise, I wouldn’t have any explanation of wanting to learn to play country in Washington. We grew up very rural, but everybody was trying not to be that.”

More than anything else, Jaime Wyatt is a survivor. The singer turned to drugs after an early record deal disappeared, and she wound up robbing her dealer -- which netted her eight months behind bars as a result of a plea deal.

“It’s not a good thing to advertise, I guess,” she admits. “The only reason I feel passionate about saying it or calling the record Felony Blues is that I really believe in the cause. I tell a lot of people that I’m not a victim. People who actually do time and get a record, there are people who don’t have a voice. Nobody talks about shit like this except for Merle Haggard back in the '60s because he went through it. That’s the only reason I feel like I should vocalize it. Otherwise, I wish that I could hide the fact that I’ve been in jail.”

Listen to a premiere of Felony Blues' "Your Loving Saves Me," featuring Sam Outlaw, below.

Of her time behind bars, she says that it was exactly like one might think incarceration would be. “It’s kind of like a living hell every day because you’ve got to put on every day, and act tough. I never could. I couldn’t fight. I didn’t want to. So, I always had to work my mind and manipulate and entertain so I wouldn’t get fucked with.”

She’s now on the other side of her time being locked up -- and has put her drug use behind her. When asked what advice she might give to someone to avoid the path she went down, she said it’s not that easy.

“Addiction is something that most folks don’t have control of,” she admits. “You’ve got to let it run its course. Advice never works. You just find people that love you unconditionally and you stick to them like glue -- even when you’re using. You hang out with people who love you, and not your dealer. You find people that are clean and that love you. There’s a lot of places you can go for that. One for me was Narcotics Anonymous. You can go to church or a spiritual center, anywhere where there’s someone you can relate to, as long as they don’t use -- even if you’re still using. Hang to them, and things will change.”

Felony Blues can be summed up in one word -- real. “Stone Hotel” details the specifics of her case (“That song is about how to keep your head up. You’re accosted every day. If you’re lucky enough to leave your cell, you’re accosted, and they search you anytime they want”), while “Wasco” -- though a little lighter -- also stems from her time in jail.

“'Wasco’ is about my bunkee. She was writing someone she liked who she thought was cute, and they decided they were going to get married. He had several years left on his case. He was serving time up at Wasco, and she was writing him. That was our only entertainment -- watching them plan their wedding.”

Did it happen? “I don’t know,” she admits with a laugh. “You do time with these people, and then they either go out, get loaded and do their own thing, or you see them again somewhere. So, I don’t know how it ended up. It was romantic, and equally ridiculous at the same time. I thought ‘Damn it. Fuck yeah. Go get married. Have something to look forward to.’ If it all works out, we’d be flipping birds at the system.”

Also included on Felony Blues is an exquisite cover of Merle Haggard’s barroom classic “Misery and Gin.”

“That was a circumstance of being in the right place at the right time. I had the pleasure of meeting the songwriter, John Durrill, and we had the same publishing administrator. We met at a random showcase, and he starts telling me about some of the songs he’s written for Cher, and the Ventures. Then, he mentions Merle Haggard. I asked him which one. He told me about doing this song for Bronco Billy back in 1980. He played it for me, and he said 'I really think that you could grasp this song emotionally.' He knows my whole story and my journey. That song has a particular desperation feel to it. I felt honored to even try it. He even adapted the lyrics for me a little bit, and I absolutely bonded on that song.”

Of "Your Loving Saves Me," Wyatt says, “I was inspired by my friends in Seattle that are really good dancers. There was club that was kind of a speakeasy called Underwood Stables in Ballard. They took me under their wing, and got me some bookings. It was inspired by the unconditional love that they gave me. I worked it out with Jamie Kent, a friend in Nashville. I was in the studio, and knew I needed a great male voice on the cut, and I couldn’t think of anyone. My mom said ‘Call Sam Outlaw.’ So I texted him and asked him to do it, and he nailed it. It was really fun.”

Felony Blues will be released Feb. 24.



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