Growing up in Tennessee, Mickey Utley admits he listened to a lot of the classic sounds coming out of Nashville. Acts like George Jones, Merle Haggard and Kenny Rogers were artists he recalled listening to, but living in rural Haywood County in the western portion of the state, there were other styles of music at play as well.
“I had lot of influences, like Tina Turner [also a Haywood County native from Nutbush], Isaac Hayes and all the music from Stax Records,” Utley tells Billboard. “There was so much blues around, and I also listened to a lot of traditional country sounds coming out of Nashville, but being from that area really had a huge influence on my writing — especially the ballads. I was kind of in the middle of it all growing up, listening to such a diverse group up of music. I have so many memories of listening to black southern gospel. A guy by the name of Ivory T. Ellison has a Gospel hour on a radio station in Brownsville and he’s been doing it for years. I listened to that growing up as a kid.”
All of those sounds come to light in Utley’s brand new collection Get It! Get It! On this mixture of fun-filled uptempo material and rough-hewn ballads (with “You, Me and Tennessee” being a highlight), one thing that is apparent on each track is the blues stylings of Utley’s voice, which brings to mind such respected balladeers as T. Graham Brown and Con Hunley. After recording his past couple of projects in Nashville, Utley cut the new disc in Jackson, Tenn. — where he could get in touch with his early influences.
“I wanted to get back to my roots, so I went back home and got off the road a little bit,” he says. “I just honed into my writing ability and tried to do that a little bit more. When I started to feel good about what I was doing, I decided to put it out and see what the people thought.”
The first single from Get It Get It! is the energetic “Friday Night Rock Show,” a track he describes as “light and easy.” Of the song’s origins, he says, “That was a song of mine that a drummer buddy of mine, Shane Russell, came up with. It’s a blue-collar thing about people having fun on the weekends. Sometimes you just want to unwind a little bit. The character goes home after working an 8 to 5 job and everything around him is what life is all about. That’s what we based it around.”
Utley is signed to Tuff Duck Records, an affiliation that he says he owes to his manager, Chuck Freeman, someone who has been in his corner for a while. “I actually met him about twenty years ago when I was just starting out,” he says. “He believed in me then and we connected back up. He’s got my interests at heart and we’re starting to push the single out there to radio and social media. We’re also working on a publishing deal and just trying to see where it goes.”
In addition to building a loyal and devoted following in the West Tennessee, Delta area, Utley also gained fans through his decade playing his music aboard many cruise ships, such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival. “That was a really big part of my career,” he insists. “I was working a gig in Tunica and an agent came up to me and started me with this thing. We went out to certain ports around the country and you meet so many different places. You get to meet a lot of people and have a good time doing it.”
He said it also that the cruise line experience also helped him to expand his musical repertoire, telling Billboard that what he’d play would all depend on the region he was in. “If you’re going out of Florida, they want to hear a more diverse type of music, but if it’s Texas, there’s more demand for country,” he says. “A lot of people like different things and that’s what you’ve gotta do — throw some covers in there, but we also did some original material. We started some of the songs on the album on the ship, as well. It really helped me to develop myself as an artist.”