For Jeff Bates, love and redemption rule

By Jeffrey B. Remz, May 2006

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"The only thing I knew to do was pray. I asked God for help. I got on the phone and started calling everybody I had taken things from. I wanted everybody to know where their stuff was and that I was the one who took it and that I was sorry."

"The coolest thing about that was everyone forgave me...Every single person forgave me. Not only forgave me, but in a lot of cases actually tried to help me."

"That was the biggest surprise ever because I couldn't find it for a long time in my heart to forgive myself. I felt like okay, God forgives, me, everybody forgives me, and I was having such a hard time with hating myself for what I had done."

"I was praying. I was talking to God. I was walking around my jail cell one night saying 'I know you forgive me, but why can't I forgive myself?'"The Bible inspired Bates to turn it around with such ideas as "love your neighbor as yourself."

"I don't have the right to judge me either. I don't think He gives us that right...That turned everything around, and I was able to let it go. I was able to forgive myself and not condemn myself."

Bates makes it clear he didn't do it on his own. "I don't think any of us are that strong. I had help with people from counselors, from people who were qualified to do that, who were qualified to help drug addicts. I had spiritual help. I had help from my community, my family."

The toughest part of all of this was telling his mother, Barbara, now 65, who had adopted him and made him feel a part of the family with eight siblings.

"That's not the way she raised me. I called her and told her. She said, 'Well, I love you, and I'll be praying for you, and I'll see you when you get out... There was no bail. There was no money...That was the biggest help of all, making me face the consequences of what I had done and leaving me somewhere I couldn't get to the drug for awhile."

Bates got his act together with the help of Kenny Beard, who produced both of his albums and plays guitar in his band. Bates landed a few songs he wrote on albums by Tracy Lawrence, Montgomery Gentry and Gene Watson and sang demos of songs sent to other artists to consider cutting.

He soon was introduced to RCA Records powerbroker Joe Galante, who wanted to meet the voice behind all the demos of songs he had been hearing.

That was in January 2002. "I told them the truth about too many marriages, drug addiction, jail. I remember Joe Galante stood up and told me he'd call me in a few weeks and let me know what they had decided...About 15 minutes after I walked through the door, the phone rung. Nobody was more surprised than me."

His first album was "Rainbow Man," which featured hits with "The Love Song," "Long, Slow Kisses" and "I Wanna Make You Cry." Bates wrote most of the songs on the uptempo, but soulful country disc.

But that was about three years ago, leaving Bates to hit the road and develop a fan base, something he seems to have done quite well.

Bates only wrote 3 of the 12 songs on "Leave the Light On."

"To me, I think that's a good thing. The first time around...nobody knew who I was. I'm talking about songwriters in Nashville. Some of the best songwriters in the face of the earth are here. If they don't know what you do or what you're about, then they can't pitch you songs that fit you...The second time around, we wanted just the best songs no matter who wrote them."

"We solicited songs from all over town and spent time looking for them. We had a few that I had written. I think that it gave us a better CD than the first time around, more well rounded."

Bates covers "Rub It In," a big hit for Billy "Crash" Craddock in 1974, but there are only a few degrees of separation between the two.

"It was one of my favorite songs when I was kid...Campy, cheesy fun. Go to the beach type song."

"What was funny about it we had actually been doing it in our show live because I have a predominantly female audience...It's a lot of fun. Then, of course, when I went in the studio with Kenny Beard...We were working with Blake Chancey, and he calls me one day, and he says, 'brother, I had a dream last night. I had a dream you were singing in front of a bunch of women, and you were singing that old Crash Craddock song. (I said) 'You got to be kidding me. I do it live in the show.' At the time, he had never seen my show."

As for the degrees of separation, it turns out that the day they were recording, Bates met Ron Chancey, Blake's father, who produced the Craddock recording.

"It's kind of a weird karma thing going on there," says Bates.

The disc contains several songs about relationships, some jocular ("Hands On Man"), some not ("The Woman He Walked On" and a reprise of "Long, Slow Kisses" from the debut, though this is the version heard on radio, which differed from the CD cut).

"I sing about relationships because the truth of the matter is if it was humanly possible to do so, I would go back and change things I did, things I said. I don't blame anybody for the failure of my marriages but me. In the course of that, I've learned what not to do. I don't know what women want to hear, but I know really well what they don't want to hear. I know what it takes to make a marriage work...a relationship work. It's so simple. It takes openness and honesty... I sing about it now because I want to connect with guys out there that are kind of like me. And hopefully saying what they feel and aren't good at saying."

"I sing what they feel," says Bates of his fans. "I try to connect. At the end of the day, at the end of my life...what's going to matter to me are the relationships and connections I've made people. It's not going to be whether I had a hit record or not. It's not going to be whether I drove a nice car or...a bicycle. It's not about stuff. It's about people. That's the level that I try to connect with people on - with their heart, with their soul, with their emotions. I just treat them like I want to be treated. That means for me staying after every show and signing autographs and saying hi..."

"That don't mean having a fan club. I didn't want a fan club. I didn't want to exclude anybody. If you go to the trouble of going to the store and buying a CD and if you go buy a ticket to a show, you're in."