"I am a soldier, trained and conditioned/ served my time but I didn't lose this mission/ fighting a war, think I'm the only soldier for the lonely." - Soldier For The Lonely - Jedd Hughes-Terry McBride-Jennifer Kimball.

Jedd Hughes

At 18 expatriate Australian child prodigy Jedd Hughes took the plunge to flee for greener bluegrass pastures in the U.S.

The hotshot guitarist had won his first talent quest at eight and represented Australia at 12 in the Music For Youth Festival in France, Belgium and Sweden.

Now at 22 he has blazed a trail that landed him a solo album deal with major Nashville label Mercury.

Hughes made a whirlwind tour of Tamworth after having Christmas with his parents in Mildura.

Now, after winning best new talent Golden Guitar at the 33rd Australian Country Music Awards he has returned to Nashville to tour to promote the acclaimed Transcontinental album.

Hughes told Nu Country his graphic story in 20 short fact filled minutes on the phone from Tamworth.

Jedd has vivid memories of leaving Quorn - a tiny town north of Adelaide - where he was raised.

"My last memory was a road between Port Augusta and Quorn," Hughes revealed.

"It was a pretty drive. We lived on a small farm, about 100 acres with sheep, crops and goats. I went to the Quorn Area School till I was 15 and went to Tamworth when my parents moved. I went to Country Music College at 15 while at Oxley High School. I was doing legal studies, maths, music, English and woodwork. But I never finished Year 12."

Instead Hughes, just 17, headed to the bush.

"I went on the road with Tania Kernaghan for eight months then worked with my dad for a few months fencing to pay my fare to Texas," Hughes recalled.

"I needed to save money. I also went on the road in the band for Young Stars Of Country - Adam Harvey and Beccy Cole. Then I met Kym Warner and decided to follow him to Texas."
Kym - son of South Australian bluegrass ace Trev - and former Dorrigo and Coffs Harbour chanteuse Carol Young formed the Greencards in Austin with fellow import - the English fiddler Eamon McLoughlin.

Greencards cut their debut disc in Austin where they lived until they moved to Nashville recently.


"I had played most of the places you could play in Australia and knew I could learn a lot more from the South Plains College at Levelland in West Texas about writing and playing bluegrass," Hughes revealed.

"I had just turned 18. I started on a two-year associate degree but I only did three semesters. There were about15-20 in the class. I also had one-on-one tutorials. A friend Matt Jenkins, now on Universal South Records was also in the course."

CMA Horizon winner and chart topper Joe Nichols volunteered to produce Jenkins, 20, who hails from Aledo in Texas.

Hughes also hooked up with those famed Panhandle lecturers, musicians and radio veterans Joe Carr and Alan Munde.

"I had private lessons with Joe Carr and Alan Munde," Jedd added.

"I had mandolin lessons with Joe and guitar lessons with Alan. I also took the history of bluegrass course with Alan. Kerry Banks plays with the Maines Brothers and was head of the faculty. I saw the Maines Brothers play in Lubbock. Lloyd plays with them when he is in home."

But it wasn't Lloyd - prolific producer and sire of Dixie Chicks singer Natalie - who discovered Hughes.

It was Terry McBride, 46 and son of the late Texan singer Dale who has made five albums with McBride & The Ride - formed in 1989 and recently reincarnated with new album Amarillo Sky on Dualtone.

"Terry spent some time living in Lubbock and did a workshop at South Plains," Jedd added.
"We did Thursday Night Live on cable TV. I did Buddy Miller song I Don't Mean Maybe. We became mates right off the bat. I was ready to move on. I was itching to move on."


Terry McBride & The Ride

Hughes wrote about 80 songs with McBride who produced his debut disc Transcontinental.

Ten of the 11 songs on the disc were co-writes with McBride. The duo also wrote Brass Bed - a tune cut by another hot new Nashville artist Josh Gracin.

Gracin, an ex-marine from Westland, Michigan, landed a major record deal with Lyric Street after being on American Idol.

His self-titled debut disc was a major success with 260,000 sales after the hit singles I Want To Live and Nothing To Lose.

"I have pitched stuff to quite a few others, quite a few things to Patty Loveless for her next record and to the Greencards who are living in my house in Nashville," says Hughes.

< Josh Gracin

"Ironically I lived with them when I was in Sydney when I was touring with Tania. So it's back to three of us. Kym produced Ben Atkins second album Mabelle for Hightone in Austin and asked me to play guitar on it. It was the only album I played on in Austin."

That was shortly before Hughes headed east to Guitar Town.


"I then moved to Nashville and a week later Terry heard Patty Loveless was holding auditions for a guitarist," Jedd said.

"I went out and bought every Patty album I could find and learned all her songs note for note. I went into the audition and shook the whole time. Her producer and husband Emory Gordy was sitting in the corner. He was a hero of mine from the Here Today album. It was terrifying. I couldn't get it together. My voice shook, my hands shook but I knew every song they threw at me, note for note. I waited an hour for their decision. They called me and said we're rehearsing, come over. I was just part of the band but some nights we would do a duet of Porter and Dolly song Someone I Used To Know that Patty recorded with Travis Tritt. I was still on road with Patty when I got my deal."

Hughes and McBride pitched demos of their originals to three major labels.

Patty Loveless

"We cut some demos and took them to David Conrad at MCA," Hughes revealed.

"I had three meetings with major labels. At one meeting with a label there was absolutely no response. I thought are we barking up the wrong tree. But David liked it right off the bat and we got the deal and made the album."


Hear that rattle, fear that hiss/ beware of the Judas kiss/ watch your step, cover your back/ can't trust a snake in the grass." - Snake In The Grass - Jedd Hughes-Terry McBride-Jennifer Kimball.

Hughes co-writers included McBride, Tommy Lee James, Josh Leo, Jennifer Kimball, Al Anderson, Billy Burnette and Bruce Robison.

McBride and Kimball were Hughes co-writers on Snake In The Grass and Soldier For The Lonely.

Loveless and Alison Krauss added harmonies to Soldier for the Lonely and The Only Girl in Town.

Jedd revealed sources of three of the best songs on the album.

"Snake In The Grass was the second song we wrote," Jedd said.

"Every Christmas I come home to my family. I was working with my dad making concrete for fences. You just reminded me. I had a dream about snakes last night. Anyway while working with dad I heard a snake in the grass hissing. I went to my dad's ute and wrote it down and took it to Nashville. It was in Mildura where my folks moved the year I went to the U.S."


"I wrote Soldier For The Lonely while I was sitting on Patty's bus," he recalled.

"I was listening to Rodney Crowell doing a sound check. I was kind of feeling pretty far away.

It's not a love song, more about dealing with loneliness and depression and coming to terms with dealing with those things on your own. I finished it with them in Nashville."

That theme recurred in High Lonesome penned with McBride and Billy Burnette from the famed Memphis clan who made a solo disc before joining Fleetwood Mac and Dylan.

"I wrote High Lonesome with Terry and Billy Burnette who had just come off the Bob Dylan tour in Australia," Hughes added. "He's a really cool guy. He has got huge hair like Marty Stuart. For the new album I'm writing solo mainly."


But Hughes, like fellow expatriate Catherine Britt, has hooked up with acclaimed Texan troubadour and hit writer Guy Clark who has toured here twice.

"I wrote with Guy Clark for the last project but I'm hoping to have a Hughes Clark song on this album," Hughes explained.

"When you write with Guy he likes to take a break - for a couple of weeks - a couple of months and come back to it. We wrote Outback Boy about me moving from Australia to Texas. The first thing I see is a guy with a machine gun at the airport - yes, Dallas-Fort Worth. It's quite tongue in cheek, Americans poking fun at Americans."


Hughes also hired a Brisbane drummer for his touring band last year.

"I met Mick McCartin when he was playing with Lynn Bowtell," Jedd said.

"I called him and said come to America, spend some time on the road. He has now come back to Australia."

Although the drummer has returned many more Australians are heading to the U.S. to follow Keith Urban, Sherrie Austin, Jamie O'Neal, Britt, Greencards, Audrey Auld and Hughes.

"There are so many young Australiana taking the plunge in the U.S.," Jedd added as our 20 minutes ticked over.

"The main thing about America for me is the bluegrass," Jedd said.

"I also wanted to go to Nashville because that's where a lot of the best songwriters are. I wanted to learn from them, writing with Guy was a prime example. Touring in America there's no comparison, the population in America so much larger. You can tour the college circuit and really build a young audience that is into the music. Australian audiences are great but they're so much older. They don't hear the music on commercial radio."

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