Jim McCormick has written two number-one Billboard country singles and, with cuts this year on records by Luke Bryan, Keith Urban and Radney Foster, his resume is growing. But the road to Nashville began in his hometown of New Orleans.
“Dad had a Grundig reel to reel he brought back from Germany,” McCormick remembers. “He would play the ‘Mary Poppins’ soundtrack and the ‘South Pacific’ soundtrack. Those two records became staples of my childhood evenings with dad in his office while he was working.”
He attended Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and earned a degree in English. McCormick then returned to New Orleans and spent eight years with his band the Bingemen before the road wore him down. “It was the best times but the wind was out of my sails,” he recalls. “I stopped playing.”
McCormick took a job teaching at University of New Orleans. “Even back then, that was a thankless task and we didn’t have Jindal gutting Humanities Departments,” he says. “Now it’s…barbaric.”
He tried journalism. “I worked at a trade magazine for three years,” he says. “I was happy for one of those years. I just knew something was missing.”
McCormick wasn’t thinking Nashville yet. “I had some friends up in Nashville who’d invited me years before to check it out. I was always like, ‘country schmuntry’ man.”
Jim was 30 and at a crossroads. “I had nothing to keep me here so I started driving up to Nashville, sleeping on friends’ couches for two weeks, hanging out to three a.m. with songwriters who had just fallen off the truck, writing songs with everybody,” he says. “Then come back home and paint houses, hang sheetrock, do demolition work, whatever I could to make a little cash under the table, fill up my gas tank and ride back up to Nashville to sleep on couches.
“I did that for four years…I was driven. I was on a mission. I had a little bit of foolhardiness in me but I fell in love with the songwriting community. Fell in love with the idea of career as a songwriter. I fell in love with the vocation, extending all the way back to those Broadway songs I loved as a child.
“I could see the place I might have with my literary skills and my education,” he continues. “Could see the left hook that I might have if I got in the ring and I began to sharpen it with an eye toward being a lyricist in commercial country music.”
McCormick then became serious—”which means I immersed myself in it and the idiom became second nature to me. All of the things about Nashville I immersed myself in as quickly as I could—made as many mistakes as I could as quickly as I could. I had great mentors up there. I did the ‘bounce back’ for four years and somebody let me in. I got a couple of major cuts in those years, got a Ronnie Milsap cut, a Randy Travis cut, some really stalwart indicators that I might do this.”
Jim recalls the next step: “By 2004 I had a publishing deal. Not long after that, Katrina happened and I became a full time Nashvillean. It cut off my tie here in New Orleans because my family home was destroyed, the girlfriend I’d had through the four years I was developing myself in Nashville, she and I split up the week before Katrina. It was kind of like, ‘Okay God, I’m listening.’
“There were a lot of years of real soul searching,” he reflects. “All the years between being good and being great. All the years of getting your teeth kicked in, of low self-esteem because if you don’t wear the blinders it can really set you back. Your peers are making money, they’re not ‘making a living’, and they’re making money. You start thinking, ‘is this ever going to result in me being an adult capable of supporting himself? Let alone a family?’ But I loved it enough to go after it every day even though rejection after rejection had come.”
Currently an adjunct faculty member of the Music Industries Studies Program at Loyola University as well as at Belmont University in Nashville, McCormick knows where he got his work ethic. “I just kept taking it on the chin,” he says. “I was raised by a very tenacious father. I saw his work ethic as a child growing up. I had a very, very loving mother who convinced me I could do anything I wanted to with my life. Those two combinations were very potent for me and they’re potent for me now as a father.”
Jim’s biggest career year thus far was 2012. “I scored two number-one hits within six weeks of each other and I became a father,” he remembers of the year.
“I think, ‘What did my parents give me that gave me the ability to stand on my own two feet? To dream big and to reach for it but also to take care of myself and not lose it when it really didn’t look like it was going to happen.’ It was a very, very long and circuitous journey that I’m very proud I made.”