To honor his musical hero, Dylan Scott could think of no better way than recording his favorite Keith Whitley songs. An Old Memory, a seven-song EP of Whitley covers, will come out Aug. 16 via Curb Records.
“My dad introduced me to Keith when I was a kid,” Scott tells Billboard. “The first Keith Whitley album I ever had was his Greatest Hits, so those songs are the ones that I wore out over and over and over again. It was hard to narrow it down because I wanted to keep going and do more and more, but these are my favorites.”
Produced by Jim Ed Norman, Matt Alderman and Curt Gibbs, the EP features Scott’s take on some of Whitley’s best-loved classics: “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” “I’m Over You,” “When You Say Nothing at All,” “Ten Feet Away,” “Miami, My Amy,” “Between an Old Memory and Me” and “Tell Lorrie I Love Her,” featuring guest vocals from Lorrie Morgan, who was married to Whitley at the time of his death. Their son, Jesse Keith Whitley, contributes background vocals on “I’m Over You.”
Scott’s father, Scotty Robinson, who once played guitar in Freddy Fender’s band, introduced his young son to a wealth of traditional country music during Scott’s childhood in Bastrop, La., but it was Whitley that left the strongest impression. “The first thing was the tone of his voice. That really hooked me,” Scott says of the singer/songwriter, who died in 1989 from alcohol poisoning at 33. “When I started playing guitar, I would learn guitar to his music. Then when I started writing music and started diving into his lyrics I thought, ‘Man, his lyrics are real.’ That spoke to me.”
In resurrecting Whitley’s hits, Scott recorded at Nashville’s legendary Sound Emporium Studio where the Kentucky-born artist had originally recorded them. “I brought in the same musicians that played on his album,” he says, citing Mac McAnally, Eddie Bayers and Carl Jackson. “[I was] hearing the stories and being right there in the same vocal booth as Keith. The drummer [Bayers] was like, ‘Man, just looking across here and hearing you sing, I was just thinking, I used to watch Keith do the same thing.’ It was a very, very cool day.”
Scott also enlisted his father to play guitar on the EP. “My dad is my biggest cheerleader,” says Scott, who scored the No. 1 hit “My Girl” from his self-titled 2016 debut album. “He was beside himself because that’s where it started for me — me and my dad playing guitar to old Keith Whitley songs.”
Scott was also thrilled to have Morgan join him on “Tell Lorrie I Love Her.” “We literally sang it in the same mic. It just gave me chills. When I listen back, it’s probably one of my favorites on the project.”
Morgan shared with him her memory of the day Whitley wrote the song, sitting at the kitchen table in his boxer shorts as his daughter watched cartoons and Morgan cooked dinner. “He pressed record with his toe on a recorder and just sang that song down. They had to clean up some of the noise of cartoons playing in the background and whatnot. It’s just one of the coolest stories I’ve heard in my life.”
Scott named the EP An Old Memory because the song “Between an Old Memory and Me” was pivotal in his career. “That’s the song that got me my record deal when I came to town at 19 years old,” he says. “I started writing with a guy named Charlie Craig, who was a co-writer on that song. When I debuted on the Opry, I played that song.”
Scott is hoping this album will educate young country fans who might not be aware of Whitley. “I try to play a Keith song every night onstage. His voice is too good just to let that go,” says Scott, who was among the performers at the May 9 tribute concert to Whitley in Nashville at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s CMA Theater to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his death.
In addition to celebrating Whitley’s legacy, Scott is hoping the project will show another side to his artistry. “I’m not just current country music. I can do old-school country music as well,” the 28-year-old says. What started as a collection of old country song covers became the Whitley EP. “I know I’ll never, ever be Keith Whitley, but I wanted to do something to pay tribute to him. It just seemed like the perfect time to do something like this, and show the kind of music that I grew up on.”