lake Shelton relocated from Ada, Okla. to Nashville at the tender age of 17. This bold career move had more to do with blind faith, though, than with any kind of youthful confidence. "I think it was a combination of having confidence, but mostly (it) was just (about) being naive," remembers Shelton, who is releasing his second album, "The Dreamer," in February.
"At 17, you don't really know that much about the world, and I had no idea what I was getting into when I moved to Nashville. I just thought it'd be easy - that you go there, you meet the right person, get a record deal and be rich and famous in no time," Shelton recalls.
Shelton was originally signed to Giant Records, but that label closed down the very week his first single, "Austin," shipped to radio. The single's early airplay and chart activity, however, prompted Warner Brothers to sign Shelton quickly.
I was in complete shock over the early and quick success of "Austin," Shelton comments. "But mostly I was shocked over the power of a single song."
His genesis wasn't quite that easy, of course. But then again, it wasn't long before Shelton - who is still only in his mid-twenties - started to see success come his way. He certainly hasn't paid the kinds of dues many others have doled out before him, however. That's for sure.
Much of Shelton's initial confidence (guts? balls?) can be attributed to the kind words he received from Mae Boren Axton (the mother of Hoyt Axton and a writer of "Heartbreak Hotel") when he was introduced to her shortly before making his Music City trip.
"She told me that if I would move to Nashville one day, I might have a chance at getting a record deal. She was the only person (at the time) that I'd ever met who was in the music industry. And I think that little nudge gave me a lot of confidence," Shelton explains.
"She was just one of those people that would insist that you either have 'it' or you don't have 'it,'" he continues. "And nobody ever knows what that 'it' is. But she would tell me, 'You've got what 'it' takes."
In less promising situations, naivete can lead you directly to getting your butt kicked. But its blissfully ignorant nature can also move you to take chances you might not otherwise try, were you to wait for maturity to give you more wisdom about the world and its pitfalls.
In Shelton's case, he highly doubts he would have so boldly entered the lion's den that is Nashville, had he waited too much longer than he did.
"That's something that I think about a lot - especially now that we've had a little bit of success. I'm glad I moved when I did. I'm glad I made every decision that I did along the way. I wonder what might have happened if I'd of waited until now. What kind of a person would I be? What would I be doing? And I'd have to say that there'd be a good chance that I might have never moved to Nashville if I'd have waited until now - when I'm 26. Because I'd probably have my roots into doing something else and it'd be a lot bigger risk. I had nothing to give up by moving there when I was 17. Maybe if I'd have waited until now, I'd have had a family or something that it'd be impossible to get away from."
Shelton knew from an early age growing up in Oklahoma, that writing and playing music would be his first and foremost career choice. "It was always the first thing for me. I always thought about other things: my hobbies are hunting and fishing. But you know I was smart enough to know that there was no way of making a living doing that. The only other thing that I really really loved to do was make music. I did awful in school. I had an awful grade point average and just wasn't interested in school at all. I think music was what kept me out of trouble. I was always able to get along with everybody - including my teachers. Because I had music as the one thing I was most interested in, this was the reason why I pursued it the way I did."
Even with this love for creating country music, however, the astounding talent he soon found himself competing with in Music City opened Shelton's eyes wide to the harsh competition that rules that town.
"Before I moved there, I thought I was writing pretty good songs," he remembers. "But when I got there, and I went to a few writers nights and saw songs that people weren't getting cut that were the best songs that I'd heard in my life, that's when I started throwing everything that I'd written in the trash, and said, 'Man, I've really got to step up here'."
Before Shelton recorded his debut album, he had a publishing deal as a writer. And while he was never able to place any of his songs on other artists' albums, he now has a better understanding in retrospect on why he was not more successful.
"That was a thing that was real frustrating to me for a long time, because I was writing a lot of songs every year. And now looking back, listening to those songs, man, they weren't of a real broad type of music. It was a real narrow field in the type of songs I was writing. I feel like I was only writing songs that I (alone) would be interested in, and looking back, even I'm not interested in them now," he says, laughing.