Tin Pan South Goes South Detroit With Uncle Kracker And J.T. Harding

J.T. Harding and Uncle Kracker.

This year’s Tin Pan South Festival launches its series of free virtual concerts this week in a big way, with one of tonight’s (Oct. 20) kickoff concerts featuring Uncle Kracker and J.T. Harding at 7 p.m. CT via tinpansouth.com. The longtime friends and co-writers filmed their show for the renowned songwriter festival from their shared hometown of Detroit. The antics were high and the musical stories were rich as they chatted about their hits and reminisced about the good old days when people could freely go to live shows.

Harding and Uncle Kracker have been friends for years and penned the 3x multi-Platinum hit “Smile” together, and there is rarely a dull moment when they meet back up for a show or a songwriting session. When Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI)’s Jennifer Turnbow suggested J.T. represent the North this year since all the shows were virtual and divided up by region, JT immediately hit up his buddy and headed back home to Michigan, where the two filmed the show from Kracker’s game room on their phones.

“I didn’t notice there wasn’t an audience because his Sopranos pinball machine, with all the cast members faces on it, was staring at me. I sang “Sangria” to Tony Soprano,” Harding told MusicRow Magazine.

“It was fun doing the show but anything’s fun with J.T.,  ’cause you never know what’s gonna come out of his mouth next!” Uncle Kracker added. “You never know what he’s gonna show up wearing, you never know what he’s gonna do…he’s always a hoot!”

“Writing with Uncle Kracker is great because growing up we haunted the same malls, we know the same musicians from the local band scene, and we get each other’s references when we tell stories and jokes,” adds Harding. “There’s a lot of laughter when we write. Our writing styles are different, which we talk about during our Tin Pan show. Kracker always starts with a full chorus ready to go. I usually start with a title.”

During the show, Uncle Kracker explained a little about how he developed his writing approach: “I was in the studio at 12, 13 years old writing raps all the time, and one night my best friend Kid Rock said ‘Where is your chorus?’ And I was young, and so I said it doesn’t need a chorus! I didn’t get to put the demo in on the way home from the studio that night like I usually did, and it kind of screwed me up, so now I always start with the chorus. If I don’t have a chorus I don’t even start a song.”

It isn’t always smooth sailing on co-writes either, Kracker says. “I remember when we were writing ‘All Summer Long,’ Kid Rock had a sweet idea to have a mashup – he’s got ‘Werewolves of London’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and he’s got this knocking beat behind it. But the hardest part about writing that song was me and him fighting about catching walleye off a dock, because I’ve never caught a walleye off a dock! If it wasn’t for that one line, that song would probably have been written in 18 minutes!”

Tune in to the show this evening for plenty of laughs and other interesting behind-the-scenes stories from both artists. For Harding, getting a chance to spend time with his longtime friend who he shares some great stories and memories with and go back home was a double treat.

“My favorite Uncle Kracker story I think was once when he was on a big TV show singing, his young daughter was watching from home. He told me she waved at him, then started crying because he didn’t wave back. She didn’t realize he couldn’t see her from inside the TV! Such a cute story, and he’s a really great dad. Ironically that same daughter who’s a teenager now was telling us to keep it down when we filmed at his house last week, ha! But I always enjoy coming back home. So many great artists have come from Detroit and I love how much hometown pride they have. Bob Seger, Kid Rock, Eminem, Uncle Kracker—they could live anywhere in the world, and they all still live in Detroit, Rock City. I think that says a lot.”

Though doing the show virtually was fun, both Harding and Kracker are eager for things to get back to normal someday post-pandemic. Like their fellow songwriters, they have been connecting via virtual co-writes. Kracker, for one, actually hasn’t minded not leaving the house.

“Zoom writes are easier for me,” admits Kracker. “Anytime I don’t have to leave this house I’m like on the moon. I couldn’t be happier! So this couldn’t have worked out any cooler for me with the Zoom write stuff. You do miss the camaraderie, but I don’t write with many people anyway and the couple people that I do write with I know and love, so I miss the camaraderie between us but I do enjoy not going anywhere. And by the way I still smoke like it’s 1987 here, I smoke cigarettes and people frown on that, so if I can grab my laptop and my cigarettes, then I can vibe!,” he adds, laughing.

“My newest song rockin’ up the charts, ‘Beers and Sunshine,’ was written entirely over Zoom,” said Harding. “Darius Rucker. Josh Osborne, Ross Copperman and I wrote it, and the pandemic has stopped a lot of things, but it has not stopped songwriting. We are still at it everyday and I feel as inspired as ever. I miss the in-person writes, but my new motto is, ‘Be the life of the zoom party.’ And be careful what you wish for: I always wanted to be on the Brady Bunch, and now my head is bobbing in a little blue square every day next to my co-writers on a zoom write!”

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Hollabaugh, a staff writer at MusicRow magazine, has written for publications including American Profile, CMA Close Up, Nashville Arts And Entertainment, The Boot and Country Weekly. She has a Broadcast Journalism and Speech Communication degree from Texas Christian University, (go Horned Frogs), and welcomes your feedback or story ideas at [email protected]

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