Steel Magnolia no stranger to hard times
By Steve Wildsmith | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It’s been a long road for country band Steel Magnolia, and with the announcement this week that half of the duo checked into rehab for “issues related to alcohol and substance abuse,” the drive still has its fair share of rough patches.
But Meghan Linsey, who is upholding Steel Magnolia’s tour commitments — including Saturday’s appearance at the Foothills Fall Festival in downtown Maryville — without romantic and singing partner Joshua Scott Jones, no ride ever worth taking is an easy one. She realized that before Steel Magnolia sang its way into the national spotlight, and no doubt she never labored under the illusion that a little fame and fortune would make life’s problems go away.
“It’s definitely been a long road,” she told The Daily Times last week. “I started 11 years ago coming to Nashville and writing and getting in the studio and doing demos. I think I was 14 when I first put a band together, so I’ve actually played shows from the time I was 14 until now, and I moved to Nashville when I was 18. I met (Josh) a couple of years later, and he’d been living in the trenches, too.”
Linsey spoke with The Daily Times two days before Jones posted a message to fans on the band’s website, announcing he had entered a “rehabilitation and treatment facility” for the aforementioned issues.
“Hundreds of thousands of people in the world struggle with these battles daily, therefore I am sincerely grateful for all thoughts and prayers at this very poignant juncture in my life and career,” he wrote.
The announcement came six days after Linsey posted her own message to fans, expressing regret for several show cancellations and thanking fans for support for Jones, who she wrote was “unable to perform.” On Friday, she again wrote to fans, declaring that all Steel Magnolia shows would go on — “Obviously with Josh taking this time to get healthy he will not be with us, but we will still the playing the same hits you’ve heard at radio and putting on an amazing live show,” the statement said.
During last week’s interview, the band’s publicist steered Linsey clear of any questions related to her personal life, but she seemed enthusiastic about being on tour with Reba, the headliner of Saturday’s portion of the Foothills Fall Festival concerts.
“It’s just exciting to be asked to do something monumental,” she said. “I’m excited to be out with a woman, especially a strong woman in country music, to be able to learn and observe and take it all in. I’ve been a Reba fan since I was a little girl. The first cassette tape I ever bought with my own money was a Reba tape — mostly because I liked her hair on the front cover. It’s interesting to come full circle.”
No surprise there — Linsey has developed a reputation as something of a Nashville fashionista, doing her own hair and makeup and writing “Meg-nolia,” a style blog for The Boot, a country division of AOL Music.
“I’ve always loved fashion and hair,” she said. “All through high school, my hair was a different color every week. It’s fun for me, and I love getting to do red carpets. It’s how you show the world part of your persona.”
Jones and Linsey met in Nashville, reportedly at a karaoke bar called Lonnie’s Western Room. They harmonized well together and started gigging around town as a duo, but after months of banging on industry doors, they weren’t having much luck. When producers for the Country Music Television competition show “Can You Duet?” sent out word they were looking for contestants for the second season, friends recommended the two audition.
“We were so busy playing shows that we wanted something to happen so bad, so I think we were ready for it,” Linsey said. “I think at that point, we were at the end of our rope. We had tried everything, so we tried out, not expecting anything, really. And we got through and kept getting through.”
They’d been in Nashville long enough — and seen “American Idol” enough times — to know that winning wasn’t a guarantee of success. But one of the judges that season was Scott Borchetta, CEO of Big Machine Records — home to Rascal Flatts and Taylor Swift. After winning, they signed a contract with Big Machine and soon released their debut single, “Keep On Lovin’ You.” It peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and remains their biggest hit to date.
“We heard the song, actually, when we were on the show, and as soon as we heard it, we both looked at each other and said, ‘This song feels good,’” Linsey said. “If we can both agree on something musically, it’s probably really good, because we have such different opinions about music. When we can find common ground, it can really resonate with a lot of different types of people.”
After charting two additional singles in the Top 25 last year, the band released its self-titled debut album in January. It peaked at No. 3 on the Hot Country Albums chart and at No. 7 on the prestigious Billboard 200, and while the most recent single — “Bulletproof” — slowly climbs the charts, Linsey and Jones are also under consideration for a Country Music Association award for Vocal Duo of the Year. (The awards ceremony will be held Nov. 9.)
Not bad, especially given all of the other honors for which the band has been nominated. But while such nods are nice, they don’t define Steel Magnolia — what the band is, what it can do or what the members might struggle with, as human beings instead of country stars. They’re some of the straight stretches of life’s road, but that doesn’t mean the bumpy parts won’t be waiting around the next bend.
“There was a time a couple of years ago when we were heating our apartment with our oven,” Linsey said. “It just takes time, and we’ve had to struggle as much as 90 percent of songwriters in Nashville — that’s just part of the deal. You’ve just got to keep faith, really.”