Dixon-born singer-songwriter Jon Pardi, 28, started his career in the time-honored country music way.
Pardi grew up loving and singing country music around Northern California in clubs from Elk Grove to Chico. When he turned 21, he moved to the country music mecca, Nashville, barely knowing a soul there. He wrote songs and knocked on doors until he got a publishing (songwriting) deal and then eventually a recording deal with the major label Capital Nashville.
Capital released his single “Missin’ You Crazy” in 2012 and it peaked at No. 29 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. A second single, “Up All Night,” in 2013 went to No. 10, and his debut album, “Write You a Song,” was released Jan. 14 and peaked at No. 3. His current single, “What I Can’t Put Down,” sits at No. 46 after three weeks on the country national airplay charts.
Pardi co-produced the album with longtime collaborator Bart Butler, and co-wrote all but one of the album’s 11 songs with a bevy of Nashville-based co-writers. Pardi has toured with Luke Bryan, Alan Jackson and his personal hero, Dwight Yoakam. He’ll tour this spring with Thomas Rhett and Dierks Bentley.
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Pardi and his band, the All Nighters, play Saturday at Ace of Spades. We spoke with him while he was in Tallahassee, Fla., preparing to play before a crowd of 2013 national champion Florida State University football boosters who were waiting to see the team’s new uniforms unveiled. The former Butte College alum said the Seminole fans were giving him an FSU jersey with his name printed on the back.
How long have you been on the road?
I’ve been on the road for about three years now. We don’t plan on stopping, and we’re getting more comfortable, which is good. Less airplanes, more on a bus. I would say I kind of have a schedule now where I can be a normal person, but not really.
Everything’s great, though. It’s just that it’s nice to have some down time, to do some other projects. You kind of miss out on some stuff, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
We’re gaining fans, one show at a time. We’ve got the album out now, and we’re turning heads. Everybody doesn’t have just two songs to listen to. They have 11, so, it’s really cool to have an album out and watch the fans sing along with the songs they didn’t hear on the radio. That means they have the album, and that’s what I’ve working for since I moved to Nashville, to get that album out, so it’s pretty awesome.
How do you work at songwriting?
For me it starts with the melody and the idea of what you want that melody to say. Because the melody is going to be so emotionally heavy, you can make a melody so meaningful that you know what you want to write about. “I want this to be a fun party song” or “I want this to be a love song,” and that’s kind of where I start. And when you talk about where you get your inspirations from – shoot, I’m on the road all the time. I’m always dealing with things, talking to people. Everywhere you look at, there’s all kind of inspiration around you, you just have to capture it.
With these iPhones, it’s real easy to just get your guitar out and record a little melody so you can remember what I call little song “sparks.” You can take them to Nashville to your favorite guys who are your co-writers, and you play them that and start singing the melody and work that. I always like to picture myself as being there or having done that thing and build around it. You can take a little memory and write a story around that memory. That’s what I like to do.
How’d you get started playing country music?
When I was real young my grandma used to watch me a lot. That was in the early ’90s when cassette tapes were the thing. If you had a cassette tape, you were state-of-the-art. She had this little karaoke machine, and she just loved to sing. We’d play Garth Brooks tracks or George Strait tracks, and we’d sing along, it was fun.
When I was 7, I sang “Friends in Low Places” at my dad’s 30th birthday party. I couldn’t play, but I was singing. It wasn’t like you would’ve said, “Whoa that kid’s awesome!” I was 7 years old singing “Friends In Low Places,” and I sounded like I was 7 years old.
Then I wanted to learn to play the guitar, and I wanted to write songs, and I just kind of stuck with it. I took guitar lessons when I was 10 or 11, something like that, in Vacaville. I remember singing “If I Can Still Make Cheyenne” when I was 12 at a guitar recital. At 18 I moved to Chico and started a band called Northern Comfort. We started playing the Buckhorn and The Maker and The Wrangler, which I think is out in Sheldon. We kind of stomped around every place we could possibly play, but when my drummer quit, I said I’m going to Nashville.
Who are your musical heroes?
Of course I’ve always loved George Strait, and I actually got to hang out with him at the ACMs (Academy of Country Music Awards). For five minutes I had a conversation with him, and he was so cool. Talk about a guy who’s conquered it all, but still so level-headed. I always looked up to him before that, but I look up to him even more now.
Another is Dwight Yoakam because he’s always had his own style. Merle Haggard, Elvis, Ray Charles, Tom Petty. If you’re an artist I don’t think you can just say “I love this one person.” It’s got to be so much more.
I see where you like the Rod Stewart song “Hot Legs.”
I remember the first time I heard “Hot Legs” I was like “This is a country song! That’s honky-tonk.” The Faces (Stewart’s old band), I love the Faces. They have that honky-tonk in the shadows. It’s rock ’n’ roll honky-tonk. It’s all tossed together. They respect the country, but they do their own thing. Artists share from everybody. It’s taking something classic and making it new again.
I don’t know if he did it, but Merle Haggard started following me on Twitter. I was pretty excited about that.