Joey Hendricks and the Heart of Country Music

What makes a country artist country? Is it where they were born? Where they were raised? Whether they have a twang when they sing? Or is it something more?

Joey Hendricks grew up outside of Seattle, Washington citing The Beatles, The Doors, and The Eagles as some of his favourite bands. During his junior year of high school Joey started writing songs, and this is when that country music storytelling tradition started revealing itself to him in the forms of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Waylon Jennings. That’s when Joey decided that he wanted to move to Nashville to “focus on being a songwriter” and surround himself with whom he believes are “the best songwriters in the business…and learn from the best”. In an attempt to pitch one of his songs, Joey and his co-writers made a demo that featured Joey on lead vocal. It got into the hands of someone on the Sony Nashville team and the label ended up offering Joey an artist deal. Now, this seems to me like the best country music fairy-tale come true, but for Joey there is still a question about whether he fits the genre, and traditions therein, that he now hopes to be a part of.

Country music to me is truth telling, storytelling, and lyrics and taking pride in that side of everything…my biggest goal as an artist is to show people that this is an amazing genre about truth telling, and real life, and experience, and I just hope people can see the authenticity that I’m trying to portray – Joey Hendricks

I’m a firm believer that we can’t know where we’re going until we know where we’ve been. So, maybe it’s best to see what country music means to some of the legends that defined the genre.

Country music isn’t a guitar, it isn’t a banjo, it isn’t a melody, it isn’t a lyric. It’s a feeling – Waylon Jennings

Country music to me is heartfelt music that speaks to the common man. It is about real-life stories with rather simple melodies that the average person can follow. Country music should speak directly and simply about the highs and lows of life. Something that anyone can relate to – George Jones

Based on these definitions of country music, a genre rooted in elevating the feelings, experiences, and everyday life of the every-person, and honouring the experiences that make us all human. I think Joey and his heartfelt sincerity fit beautifully within this tradition.

“Yours or Mine”

The first time I heard Joey’s August 2020 release “Yours Or Mine” it felt like coming home. There was something intrinsically familiar and, in that way, comforting about the song as if it had always been there playing in the background of my life. The instrumentation on the track planted the song firmly within the modern country music genre, and because of that firm connection to the genre definitely gave me that comfortable/familiar feeling. A definite instrumental highlight for me was the keys/piano track on this song. The keys take on the role of a secondary emotional voice playing off of the analogies seeped in memory that Joey sings in the verses.

Who’s head turned first when we locked eyes in this dim-lit dive
I say it’s yours
You say it’s mine
Whose hand reached first when you dropped your purse on that hardwood floor
You say it’s yours
I say it’s mine

The thing that I love about these lyrics is that they play off of the traditions of country music but steer away from the stereotypes of the genre. Yes, the lyrics are written in a way that allows the listener to see the story playing out in their minds, classic country music fair. However, the specific images used are not traditionally country. The purse, locking eyes, and hardwood floors. It sounds more like a Taylor Swift singer/songwriter perspective than traditional country music. What brings it back to the genre is Joey’s singing voice. Joey’s southern twang-drenched vocal delivery is both warm and bright, rich and emotionally resonant as he goes from the more intimate memory space of the verses into the soaring emotional release of the choruses. He is using the master’s tools to rebuild the master’s house in this song, taking elements of modern country music as we know it and adding/expanding them while honouring them at the same time.

“Hollywood”

Joey’s latest song “Hollywood” shows a lot of the same song structure that we got in “Yours or Mine”. Joey starts off with a classic country slide/pedal steel guitar riff pulling us right back into the reminiscent memory space we got in his previous release. The lyrics then follow a similar story structure to “Yours or Mine”, once again giving us a very cinematic and multi-sensory experience.

I’ve been Rocky Mountain stoned in Colorado
I’ve had Santa Barbra sand beneath my feet
I’ve been a drunk tequila sunrise desperado
I’ve had a desert sunset steal my breath from me
I’ve done a lot, but baby honestly

At first glance, these lyrics seem like traditional country music lyrics talking about The Rockies, desert sunsets, and getting wasted on Tequila. Its imagery that is very rooted in the guitar-slinging nomadic cowboy singer that we’ve all grown accustomed to in country music. However, other flavours start to reveal themselves, almost like throwing chili peppers into your margarita, looking at the lyrics a little closer. There are so many references to California Dessert Rock specifically the Eagles when Joey reflects on the “tequila sunrise desperado” that he once was. Given that the Eagles mixed a lot of country music elements with other genres under the Americana/Rock umbrella, these veiled references feel more like a way for Joey to express the kind of artist he wants to be, and the trajectory he wants to follow. We hit the chorus and it becomes clear that Joey is striving for a slightly edgier emotional hook while still staying firm on this being a country song. The line that stuck out to me the most in the chorus is “All the drugs in Hollywood won’t get me high as you do” played over a very Dierks Bentley “The Riser” sounding chorus.

All in all, I think Joey has a bright future ahead of him and I cannot wait to see what happens with the release of his debut EP.

Stream and download ‘Between The Clouds’ here.

Follow Joey on his socials: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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