Singer Josh Bagwell has that ‘it factor’

By Mitch Talley

One of North Georgia’s most popular promoters, Jay Shell of the Rome City Brewing Company, is expecting big things from up-and-coming country music performer Josh Bagwell.

“He’s just got that ‘it factor,’” Shell said in a phone interview. “There’s something that makes you want to be around him. That’s something that you can’t really teach, can’t train somebody to be that way. Either they have it or they don’t. And Josh has that.”

Shell first met Bagwell when he was owner of the Rome Brewhouse. Shell has since sold that business but still books the music for them as well as his Rome City Brewing Company. He also owns and promotes the Rome River Jam each year.

Persistence and respect were two keys to helping Bagwell, a Calhoun native, convince Shell to book him the first time into the Brewhouse, where he has proven to be a popular performer.“

I get e-mails every day (from new performers), and persistence is the key” to getting his attention, Shell says.
“I remember meeting Josh for the first time, and he’s like, I’ve e-mailed you several times,” Shell recalled. “I went back and found his e-mails, and he was so respectful how he acted, went about it, never got frustrated because he didn’t get an e-mail back or didn’t hear back from me. He just stayed persistent and again was just super nice and such a good dude that it was easy once I met him and laid eyes on him and shook his hand. Hey, this is a good guy, and when I seen him perform, I went wow!

“Because I do a lot of the same things everyone else does – I go look at YouTube videos and check [new performers] out and say, hey, is this person worthy to be on the stage? They’re not gonna embarrass me, are they? Hardly ever I’m gonna put somebody up there blind and not know anything about them, but once I saw some of Josh’s videos, it was a no-brainer to get him on there.”

Asked what fans see in Bagwell’s performances, Shell says he’s a country music fan, too, and “I’m sure they see the exact same things I see in Josh. He writes good songs and he’s a really good dude. That’s always a plus – personable – and again, it just goes back to having that it factor. It’s something you can’t explain, but again he just has that persona – hey, I want to be a part of that, I want to be around that guy.”

Shell says with today’s social media, it’s easier than ever to find new artists, to listen to them, “but it’s still hard to get people to come to shows, and that’s a tricky thing to get done. So that’s been my goal with Josh and several others. If I can just get him in front of the right people, they’re gonna fall in love like I’m in love. It’s really cool to watch it grow and grow and grow.”

Shell has seen many stars in their embryonic stage, performers like Zac Brown Band, Old Dominion, Sam Hunt, Florida/Georgia Line, and Kane Brown. He would like to see Bagwell enjoy the same success.

“He’s one of my favorite up and coming guys,” Shell said. “His level is the level I love the most when they’re starting to take off. That’s when you form that bond and connection with them is when they’re at this level and working hard, not meaning that when you get to be famous – Zac Brown used to come here and do this same thing – they work hard too. But it’s very cool to see what Josh has got going on and what he’s doing.”

The Best of the North Georgia Mountains Publisher Mitch Talley recently spent a few minutes talking with Josh about his musical journey and where he hopes his talents and ambition will take him some day.

M – Let’s go way back to when you first got interested in music, back when you were in middle school or before that?

J – Back in middle school I did a talent show, played with a little rock band, never really took it too serious, definitely never thought that it would amount to anything or be what I’m doing for a living now, I guess. At that point it was just for fun and a completely different kind of music. So after I got out of college, music was always something I loved to do. It’s just kind of a way for me to escape, to feel different emotions. Tried my hand at writing songs and fell in love with it and fell in love with being out on the road playing live shows. Just something I wanted to tackle as a full-time thing.

M – When was your first professional show?

J – About five years ago. I played at Cox Capital Theater in Macon, Ga., for a sorority event. That was my first show as a solo artist.

M – What was that like?

J – I remember I was so nervous I couldn’t remember the words to any of the songs. It was a really cool feeling, though. People really enjoyed it, and we had a great time. I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life when I played that show. It was a feeling that you can’t really describe until you’re standing on stage and playing songs that you wrote and you see people interacting to them. It’s a feeling you can’t really describe – it’s an adrenaline rush, a great feeling.

M – Did you sing cover songs that show or originals?

J – Back then we were doing a lot more covers than originals. If we played 20 songs, we were probably playing 15 covers. Up till the last year and a half or two years, it didn’t really make a big flip to where we were doing 90 percent original stuff and a very small amount of covers unless the venue asked for it.

M – Let’s talk a little bit about how you got into the business.

J – The first handful of songs I wrote, I wrote those at home by myself. That was just a way for me to express different emotions and get things off my chest. I started making friends in Nashville, just kinda connecting through social media. Then I started making trips up there, had a good friend up there introduce me to a whole group of people up there that became like family to me that are all successful songwriters and singers now. Kinda went up there and started writing songs with them, sleeping on people’s couches. Back then I was still working at the fire department full time here in Georgia, and I would get off shift at 8 o’clock and I’d go straight from there and go up to Nashville for a writing session that day, usually around 11 o’clock. I’d stay up there and write my two days off from the fire department, turn around and drive back and work another shift, and turn around and go right back to Nashville. I did that for about a year and a half, two years before I decided it was time to really take that leap of faith and move up there and make it a full-time thing.

M – When was that you moved to Nashville?

J – We moved to Nashville, Magen and I back in October of 2017.

M – How long y’all been married?

J – Four years, April of 2016.

M – I hear y’all got a baby on the way.

J – Yes, we’re telling everybody what it is tomorrow. (This interview was done in February. Gunner Jacin Bagwell was kind enough to arrive before our deadline, two weeks early on June 2 at 8:59 p.m., 7 lbs., 3 oz., and 20 inches long, and mom, baby, and dad are doing fine!)

Gunner Jacin Bagwell

M – How do you think that will influence your songwriting?

J – Magen and I had our appointment to go find out what it was on a Tuesday, and I remember the feeling of just how excited we were and the anticipation. We didn’t really care what it was just as long as it was healthy, and I tell you it’s already kind of influenced my songwriting. I had a write the next morning, and a couple of the guys up there I write with – they’re kind of two of my favorite co-writers I write with up there – we were sitting around talking about a couple of other ideas and they were congratulating me on having the baby. One of them asked me if I knew what it was. I said, man, we just found out yesterday. I ended up telling them what it was, and we were all really excited and high-fiving, and one of the guys said we gotta write about that today, we got to write a song about that today. We all mutually agreed. The day after, we kinda took all the emotions I was feeling and we put ‘em into a song. I get to tell people what that song is tomorrow after we reveal the gender, I guess.

M – As far as Nashville, who is it you work for now?

J – I’m working with Vanderbilt Life Flight as a paramedic. I do all the logistics for Life Flight up there. It’s split into two divisions – the air side, the ground side – we cover all the events at Bridgestone Arena, CMA Fest, and really any other large scale event in Nashville. We work a little over a thousand events a year. Basically I do a lot of the planning and making sure all the equipment is ready and get everybody prepared for these events and do all the ordering of supplies and pretty much make sure the day-to-day stuff is running the way it should. I usually work for them two or three days a week and the other days I’m either doing shows or writing songs, sometimes a combination of both.

M – How many shows do you shoot for per week?

J – Most of the stuff I do up in town is showcase/writers round type things. I try to do several of those a month. Those are usually through the weekday, and most weeks we leave on Thursday or Friday to go out on the road and play shows out of town.

M – What kind of areas do you cover on the road?

J – Mostly all stuff in the Southeast. We do some stuff a little bit of northeast, like up toward the Carolinas and Virginia, places like that. We really try to work hard through the Southeast and really try to cover the ground that we’re familiar with and try to establish a faithful audience, where I grew up. Hit close to where we’re from and trying to touch with the people from that area who live where I grew up. I feel like they can relate to my story.

M – Tell us a little about the four songs on this EP you got out now, how you came up with them?

J – All the songs on there are based off a lot of my real-life experiences . We’ve got everything from songs about friends back home and growing up and graduating from high school, and having your heart broke to things you’ve had handed down from your grandparents. We really tried to cover all the bases and tell a little bit about my story through my songs and hope that people will really gravitate towards it. I’m releasing five more songs this year, got the first one that’s gonna be coming out at the end of January, just really trying to grind that hard this year and put out as much music as we can and do as much writing as we can.

M – Yeah, I really love that one “Hand Me Downs.”

J – “Hand Me Downs” was one of my favorites on there. I wrote that song with a couple of my buddies up there in Nashville. I got the idea from a record player that my granddaddy gave me; it was one that he had bought my grandmother for her birthday back years and years ago. That kinda inspired the song. I was sitting around the house one day and that record player was sitting in my living room and I just got to looking at it and thinking about how much more it meant to me than anything else in my entire house. Thinking about all the other things that had been handed down to me and just the emotional connection with them, and what all that kind of stuff means to you. That’s where that idea came from.

M – Which granddaddy was that?

J – My Papa Kerce, my mom’s dad.

M – What kind of response are you getting to the new songs?

J – Man, people are really loving ‘em. We had really good success with the EP. It debuted at #14 on the iTunes chart and got down to I think #11 on the iTunes country chart so that was a pretty big accomplishment for us. Never really thought it would do that well but it did.

M – What kind of goals do you have for your career?

J – This year the goals are kinda staying the same – just writing as much music as we can and try to say a lot of what I want to say as a songwriter, just keep telling my story through my music and keep putting music out and do songs people will gravitate toward. Get out on the road and try to play a lot more shows this year. Just tell our story to fans and try to build new fans. Just build on the fans that we already got, just try to garner as much new following as we can.

M – Can you talk about 94.9 and what it’s meant to your career.

J – It’s really, really cool what 94.9 does and iHeart radio in general. They do what’s called Backyard Country, and since the beginning of my music career, they’ve always played my music and always been supportive of me and other young artists in Georgia. They’ll take your song and on Friday nights they’ll play it on the radio. I remember the first time I heard one of my songs on that. They actually invited me down to Atlanta and let me come in and record the show with ‘em and get to talk on the radio and talk about what I’m doing. That was a really cool experience – probably three or four years ago now. It’s been a huge thing for us to be able to get that radio exposure early in your career.

M – It’s all about getting the music out in front of people.

J – Yeah, absolutely. It helps you reach out and touch a whole lot of new people. Radio play is such a big thing in this business. You get a lot of help from social media nowadays, but just getting it on the radio and people that might not know you or follow you and are in that area that have their radio on. They also play it on another one of their stations down in Macon as well when you can get on that so you touch a lot of that area and it’s really cool.

M – I guess it’s usually hard to get radio play?

J – Typically, you really start getting radio play after you get a record deal and you go out on radio tour. That’s kind of how that game goes. It’s really tough to get on the radio without having a record label behind you. That’s why it’s such a big blessing for 94.9 to play young artists’ songs on the radio.

M – As far as a record deal, is that something that’s…?

J – That’s obviously a big long-term goal of mine. I don’t know how far down the road that’ll be, but hopefully one day that becomes within reach. It’s not something that’s in the immediate future for us, but hopefully with a few more years of hard work and keep doing what we’re doing, an opportunity like that will come along.

M – Is that something where they contact you or you just work with them trying to convince them to sign you?

J – The whole goal of most every musician that’s trying to do this long term for a career is to try to convince a record label that you’re worthy of working with them. I think it takes a lot to get to that point. It really takes a movement on your end for a record label to get behind you because at that point, their name’s on what you’re doing and they’re the ones that’s paying for what you’re doing and they just want to know that you’re worthy of that. They like to see boots on the ground and see that you’ve really brought an audience with you and you’ve got something to bring to the table just like they do.

M – When you were playing that middle school show years ago, did you ever think you’d be to this point?

J – I didn’t. It was never really even a thought in my mind that I’d be living in Nashville writing songs and singing for a living. That was just kind of a hobby back then, and it was a completely different kind of music. It was just something I did for fun back then, never really even a thought in my mind that it was something I’d be doing.

M – Did you keep singing through high school and college?

J – I always had guitars and I always kind of played around with them, but I was too nervous to play in front of people. I never really did. Me and some of my guy friends would sit around in my room and play some of our favorite songs, just messing around with it. It wasn’t until later in college that I probably wrote my first song and said this is something I really want to tackle as more of a career move.

M – Do you remember that first song that you wrote?

J – Yeah, it was terrible. Looking back now, it’s always funny to go back and listen to some of the first songs that you wrote, how bad they were. That’s not to say that what I’m doing now is great, either, but I feel like it’s a lot better than what I was doing back then.

M – What ways do you think it’s better now?

J – I just feel like I’m actually telling more of my story and learning how to tell my story more as a songwriter as opposed to back then I didn’t really know what I wanted to say. If I did know what I wanted to say back then, I didn’t know how to say it, I guess. But through the years I’ve really learned how to tell more of a story in my songwriting and kinda express who I am as a songwriter. And I like to think I’ve become a little bit better at it.

M – What’s your favorite song right now that you wrote?

J – Probably a song of mine called “Take My Money.” That song’s gonna come out in the fall. I’m in love with that song, doing it live. It’s a pretty new song. I wrote it at the end of last year. It’s one of those that’s stuck in my head. It’s a good feeling song.

M – Can you summarize what it’s about?

J – Yeah, I got the idea laying in bed one night. I get a lot of ideas laying in bed at night, just laying there and thinking. I saw something on TV, a commercial. Somebody on the TV said, “Man, if this was something you could buy, I’d say take my money. Whatever it cost, take my money. I’d be willing to buy it.” You know, you hear a lot about somebody in a relationship wanting you to take ‘em back, things that people try to get somebody they’ve been with back. That’s what “Take My Money” is about. If there was a way I could buy you back, take my money. If I could buy back what we had, take my money, that feeling we used to have, those things we used to do. Take my money. It was a cool twist that we put on it. Yeah.

M – Who are some of your big influences?

J – A lot of the things that made me really want to start writing music – I listen to a lot of ’90s country, a lot of the stuff I grew up on. I’m a big – he’s not a ’90s artist – but a big Eric Church fan. His first album is really what made me want to tell my story through songwriting. It made me feel a lot of different emotions growing up. I love a lot of his music. Some of the older stuff – I’m a big Travis Tritt fan, Tracy Lawrence, artists like that. Some of their songs. Those are people that were really big influences on me. Another big influence was a lot of Jason Aldean’s stuff back in the early days. I loved a lot of it.

M – How would you describe your style as an artist?

J – I feel like my style is kinda like Jason Aldean’s in a way – a lot of it’s upbeat with a rocky edge to it.

M – When did you take up the guitar?

J – All through high school, I always had guitars, always kind of played around with it. Got in my bedroom and like I said before, I was always a little bit too nervous to play in front of people, other than just my close group of guy friends. But I really dug deep into guitar playing when I started writing my own songs. I taught myself, kinda watched YouTube videos and figured it all out on my own. I still don’t consider myself a guitar player, but I can hold my own if I need to.

M – What kind of pushed you past the fear of not wanting to play in public? What made you finally take that plunge?

J – Just the thought of me knowing deep down that this is something I really want to do, and finally saying to hell with it. If I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna have to man up and just go for it. People will either like it or hate it. That was kinda my mind set. This is what I want to do and I’m gonna do it.

M – I guess it’s a matter of confidence?

J – Yeah. That’s kinda part of the journey is you gain more confidence as you go. You gain confidence in people liking your songs and liking what you’re doing on stage and seeing how the crowd interacts when you’re on stage. That transfers the energy of us and the energy of my band. That’s what gives you the confidence to keep going and keep doing this.

M – What’s it like when you get a great response from the audience?

J – It’s a great feeling. It’s one of those things where it tells you what you’re doing is worth it and really helps validate what you’re doing. It makes you feel like what you’re doing is not for nothing.

M – What are some of the places you’ve played around this area?

J – One of my favorite places has always been the Brewhouse in Rome. That’s the place around here – the owner of it back then, Jay Shell, gave me my first opportunity to play on a stage here at home. He always has been a big supporter of mine and has always loved me and what I’m doing. He’s been super encouraging to me, uplifting. He’s been behind me from day one. Like I said, he gave me a place to play here at home, and he helped me get on the stage for Rome River Jam, playing with Kane Brown and Riley Green. Some of the places in the immediate area are a place called the Crazy Bull in Macon, and a place that was formerly called The Gin down in Tifton. That’s a place where so many of the artists that are bigger now got a good start in the Southeast. A place called the Blue Room in Statesboro – we played several places in Statesboro. We used to play in Athens all the time, just trying to hit all the little college towns around here and try to get the music out to the college-age folks.

M – How old are you?

J – I’m 30. I’m 21, Mitch. At least that’s what I tell people all the time when I’m out playing. People ask all the time how old I am; I joke and say I’m actually turning 21 tonight.

M – That’s funny you mention that. My middle son Chris turns 21 today.

J – That’s great. Good for him.

M – What do you think maybe is gonna push your career over the edge?

J – I’ll just say it like this. This is one thing that I’ve learned throughout the years that I’ve done this and my years living in Nashville that there’s no algorithm to any of this. There’s nothing set in stone that says this is gonna be somebody’s break-out moment. It’s one of those things where you just work hard and you work hard and you write the best songs that you can and you put those songs out and you just hope and you pray that that song will connect with people the right way. It helps you get that boost start and helps you take off. But as far as what I think will be a breakout moment for me or a moment that sets me over the edge, I don’t have any idea. I wish that I did, I wish if somebody knew the key to success in this business, they’d tell it to me. The small amount of knowledge that I have, it’s man, you’ve just got to keep writing the best songs that you can and keep putting those songs out and getting out and playing as much as you can.

M – How much of a help do you think it’s been living in Nashville?

J – I think it’s been a tremendous help. I think being here that you really learn the hard work that goes into being successful in this business. It really teaches you a lot about what it takes to be successful, and it teaches you too that there’s 10,000 other people trying to do exactly what you’re trying to do and the only way that you’re gonna make it is to outwork all 10,000 of those people. If you’re at home sitting on the couch, there’s a thousand more people out at one of these music venues in Nashville socializing and politicking with other songwriters and drumming up work. So you’ve just got to outwork all these other people.

M – Any other big shows you remember more than any others?

J – I’ve played two shows opening for Kane Brown. I opened a show for him before he really had any success; we played a show together at the Brew house in Rome. That’s like a 400-500 person venue, and that wasn’t a sold-out show, I remember, probably a couple of hundred people there. To me back then, it was a huge show, but that was pretty early in my career. I guess the one that stands out the most, or one of the bigger shows that I’ve played, was when I opened for Kane and Riley Green at Rome River Jam. Getting to be on that stage and play for a hometown crowd was a pretty surreal moment. It was a great opportunity and I was appreciative of that, but it’s also a great feeling to go and play that stage in Rome – the Brew House by myself and sell a couple of hundred tickets and know that those people are there buying tickets to watch you. That’s another one of those moments that validates what you’re doing. You get 200, 250 people that spend their hard-earned money to buy a ticket to your show to watch you when you’re the main act that night. That’s a pretty cool feeling.

M – Any kind of message you’d like to send to your fans?

J – Just that I appreciate every single person that has bought a ticket to a show and listened to my music and told a friend about it. Keep listening and keep supporting us, and we’ll keep bringing music to ‘em.