Jimmy Wayne Talks 'Uplifting' New Album & Children's Book

Jimmy Wayne
Glen Rose/Marushka Media 

Jimmy Wayne

Ask just about any aspiring singer who moves to Nashville to name their goals and the answers usually involve fame, awards, No. 1 records and sold-out shows. When Jimmy Wayne moved to Music City from his home in North Carolina, he had even loftier goals in mind.

A former homeless teen, Wayne wanted to do more than have a successful music career. He wanted to make a difference, and he has. Along the way, he’s scored chart-topping singles and performed at such famed venues as Madison Square Garden, but Wayne has always remained focused on his original goal. He continues that mission to help and encourage kids with a new children’s book, Ruby the Foster Dog; a companion CD, Ruby Toons and a new You Tube Channel geared toward kids called Good News.

“It just seemed like the next step after walking half way across America trying to get adult’s attention to help kids,” says Wayne, who grew up in and out of foster care as a child. In 2010, he left Nashville on foot and walked 1,660 miles to raise awareness for kids who were aging out of the foster care system at 18. He chronicled the seven-month journey in the New York Times best-selling book Walk to Beautiful.

“When I came to town, I said, ‘I’m not going to forget where I come from. I’m going to help people,’” he tells Billboard. “You hear things like that a lot when people first come here. Then things happen and people don’t do the things they said they were going to do. I’m doing exactly what I said I wanted to do the day I came to this town.”

His 2003 debut album on Dreamworks spawned the hit singles “Stay Gone,” “I Love you This Much,” “You Are” and “Paper Angels,” which became a best-selling book and was turned into a popular Christmas movie. His sophomore album, Do You Believe Me Now, was released on Big Machine Records’ Valory Music Group imprint in 2008 and the title track soared to No. 1. His career was on an upward trajectory when he decided to walk across America to help foster kids. His efforts resulted in increasing awareness and changing legislation with many states raising the age from 18 to 21, allowing foster kids to remain in homes for a longer period of time.

Penning Ruby the Foster Dog was a labor of love for Wayne and it’s named after Ruby, a dog he adopted during his walk across the country. “I’m just using all my resources to try to speak to kids directly in a very fun and uplifting way,” he says of the book and companion CD. “There’s two types of kids. There are kids who have experienced what I have experienced growing up, and there are kids who haven’t. I’m just trying to help the kids who are going through what I went through to understand that if they work hard at whatever they decide to do, that there’s hope. They can make it through it just like I did. And with kids who didn’t grow up the way I did. I’m asking them to have a little compassion on kids in their class or kids around them. That kid that they are picking on or bullying might be going through something at home that they don’t know about. Hopefully, they’ll consider thinking about it twice before they go picking on them.”

He’s hoping the book will educate as well as entertain. “I remember my second grade teacher reading James the Giant Peach. I’ll never forget it. It really had an impact on me,” he says. “I just fell in love with books. Whether it was how she read it or the storyline, I remember how it made me feel. So had that been about a foster kid, I can guarantee you I’d never would have forgotten it, ever.”

Wayne’s mother was in and out of jail and he was shuffled in and out of different foster homes as a child. When he was living with his mother, she was often involved with abusive men. “I’ve always been very creative--- drawing and building clubhouses to escape abuse at home,” he says. “I’d go out in the woods, build a clubhouse and stay in it for days to escape being beat up at home.”

As a teen, he ran away from foster care and became homeless. His life changed when he approached an elderly couple about mowing their grass to get money for food. When Bea and Russell Costner realized he needed a home, they invited him to live with them. He finished high school and college, and got a job as a prison guard before his love of music led him to Nashville.

Wayne honored Bea Costner’s impact on his life by launching a label this year and naming it Bea Hive Records. Ruby Toons is the debut release on the new label. Musically, the album is an engaging departure for the singer/songwriter known for his country hits. The collection is an adventurous pop/rock/hip hop amalgam filled with inspiring lyrics and infectious melodies. “I Love U2” is a hilarious Carribean-flavored ode to unrequited love. “Some Small Good Deed” pays tribute to the Costners and how they changed his life. “Don’t Give Up” boasts a buoyant melody and uplifting message. “A lot of these songs I wrote when I wrote songs like ‘Stay Gone,’ ‘I Love You This Much’ and ‘Paper Angels,’ so it was that type of writing when I was writing those great songs,” he says. “So personally I believe this is the best lyrical album I’ve had since 2003.”

Wayne says he’s excited about Bea Hive Records and may grow the label to include other artists. “I may grow this into adding other artists, new artists who want to put out good positive music,” he says. “I’m not into putting out negative music. It has to be like-minded. It might be foster kids who create their own music and it might be a place for them to launch their project. I’m not asking for money or anything. There is no promotion team. It’s just a launching pad. Who knows where it’s going to go?”

These days, Wayne continues to tour and is also an in demand motivational speaker. When he’s not on the road, he’s busy creating videos for the Good News channel on You Tube. “Each video is to help kids think good, say good, and do good,” he explains. “It’s just good news whether it’s a hiking expedition or if it’s a lesson about forgiveness or integrity or whether it’s visiting a science museum. Everything has a lesson and ultimately it comes down to saying, thinking, and doing good. It’s to put out good, positive news and energy in this world, to battle all the negative news we’re hearing and seeing every single day. You can’t turn anything out without being polluted with bad news.”

Wayne has built a successful, multi-faceted career that is creatively fulfilling and he’s done so largely by knowing his audience. “Mine is the thinking instead of the drinking crowd. I don’t connect with drinking people. That’s no disrespect to people who want to drink and party and get their badonkadonk no, but it’s the fact that Bea sat on the front row with her Bible and read in front of my microphone stand when I was cutting my teeth,” he says of Mrs. Costner always sitting front and center at his early shows. “She is the reason why I never sang party songs. I never sang songs about flirting with girls from the stage because you can’t do that with your 81-year-old foster parent sitting on the front row reading her Bible. It’s disrespectful. I couldn’t do it. I had to sing positive songs and inevitably I believe that helped me navigate through this business where I never ever had to play downtown Nashville in one of those bars. I play music that people have to listen to and think about, so my audience is a thinking audience.”

He’s never lost sight of his desire to help others, and a recent letter confirmed he’s still on the right track. “I received a letter the other day from a 12-year-old kid through his guidance counselor who said he read my book,” Wayne relates. “He was inspired because his mom’s boyfriend was beating him up. He didn’t know anything existed outside his little small town. He didn’t realize that there was some guy that he perceives as being famous, who grew up the same way that he’s growing up. You can’t even think that that is true because there’s no way that there is somebody who’s being beat up like me could be successful, who could be on a stage somewhere and could have a book, a New York Times bestseller.

“There’s just no way, but when he read those words -- ‘Yes, I’ve had my head beat against the arm of a wooden couch. I’ve been kicked. I’ve been punched’ -- he was so inspired that he went to his guidance counselor and told her, ‘That’s happening to me at home,’ and in return, the authorities went and pulled this kid out of that situation and put him with good foster parents. This kid did that on his own. He was brave. Then he came to my show the other night and he gave me a Coca Cola and a donut. He said, ‘This is because Bea gave you a Coca-Cola and a donut and I wanted to give you one.’ It just blew me away. It shook me up. There’s no better pay off than that.”

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