Soulful vocalist and ace songwriter James Otto recently previewed new music during a brief acoustic set at the MusicRow office.
He performed a trio of new songs, including current single, “Somewhere Tonight,” which was penned on a writer’s retreat in Charleston, S.C. “It was supposed to be sunny and beautiful, but it wasn’t,” said Otto. “It was an icestorm. Like a bunch of dudes, we didn’t have any supplies but we had alcohol, so we fueled our songwriting with that.”
He followed with two additional new tracks, the nostalgic “They Don’t Make Them Like You No More,” and “Love Makin’ Music.” He is currently in the studio co-producing a five-song EP with Corey Crowder (Chris Young), tentatively slated for release later this year. In late 2014, he bolstered his team by inking deals with The Agency Group and Clearview Artist Management. Otto has been out of the artist spotlight recently to focus on family and songwriting.
The assiduous singer-songwriter, known for hits such as “Just Got Started Lovin’ You,” doesn’t take his success for granted, writing five days per week in his home studio. “Luckily, I’ve been able to make a living as a songwriter in this town. It’s getting harder and harder, though. I think I wrote 2,000 songs in the past several years.” He recalls his introduction into songwriting as equal parts interest and naiveté. “When I moved to town, I guess I didn’t read enough liners. I thought you had to write songs to become an artist, so I thought that’s how it worked.”
When not writing, Otto has been on the road doing a series of solo shows, opting for an acoustic set over a full-band setup. “I did a DVD shoot with Travis Tritt at the Franklin Theater [in Franklin, Tenn.]. He told me after the show, ‘You have the kind of voice that you should be out there doing acoustic shows.’ So I thought I would take what we do as songwriters out into the world. I’ll be out on the road doing acoustic shows five nights per week soon for about a month. It’s an opportunity for fans to hear me, not covered up by a band, and also to tell the songwriter’s story and be a little more uncovered.”
He wrapped the performance with an emotional acoustic rendition of “In Color,” the 2008 Jamey Johnson hit song that Otto co-wrote with Johnson and Lee Thomas Miller. He notes that the song originally garnered interest from the likes of Alan Jackson and Trace Adkins. “I thought I would get a big hit single, and a big break,” he recalls. Six months later, a phone call came from producer Frank Rogers. “He broke the news that Trace had signed on to do The Apprentice, and said Trace was delaying his record. He also said Jamey had gotten a record deal and was going to release the song.” The move turned out to be a good one for Otto and Johnson. “In Color” was a Top 10 hit, and won Song of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2009.
“I’m still proud to be part of that record. Nashville’s been so good to me,” Otto sums. “No where else in America is like here, for artists.”
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