Interview by Harry Chapman
Country star Jamie O’Neal is always in motion.
It starts with her family, husband (producer/songwriter) Rodney Good, her three dogs and her 4-year old daughter, Aliyah.
“You think you know yourself, and you know where you are headed,” she says. “It’s like to know motherhood is out there, and it not be a goal of mine is crazy. I’m surprised I’ve taken to this so much. My dad laughs and says you have become the entertainment director for Aliyah.”
The world of entertainment has always been a part of Jamie’s life. As a little girl, she and her sister, Samantha, toured with their parents all over the country. Her dad, Jimmy Murphy, recorded hits in New Zealand and mom, Julie, was a dancer on the Australian version of Bandstand. They opened for many county acts, aspiring to make it to Nashville.
The family traveled in two vans, the family in one, the band in the other. And now that she’s a parent, Jamie has a great appreciation for what her parents went through.
“For my sister and me, it was an adventure,” Jamie recalls. “But I cannot imagine what it must have been like for my parents. It had to be hard.”
Finally, they got a shot at Nashville and had an album produced by a young Belmont graduate, Mark Wright. But her parents’ divorce split the family act and took Jamie away from Nashville, to Los Angeles where she attended Beverly Hills High School.
“It was a great school,” Jamie says. “It really helped me with performing, and I had a lot of great friends there.”
Out on her own…
When she reached her late teens, Jamie took off for Australia where she did jingles, performed on television and opened for several acts including Tom Jones. All this time, she continued to hone her songwriter skills.
Nashville still kept tugging at Jamie’s heart. She would come to Music City only to be told she was too R & B. Back in Los Angeles, she was told she was too country. Along the way, she had the chance to tour with legendary Australian singer Kylie Minogue.
“The level of touring was incredible,” she says. “I got to see the world and play for 80,000 people at Wembley Stadium. I had been playing clubs and fairs all my life, but nothing like that! I feel like everything in my life has led me along the way to be a solo performer.”
Finally, the stars aligned in the mid-1990s for a return to Music City. She landed a publishing deal with EMI and started pitching songs. That led to a performance for producer Keith Stegall and eventually a record deal.
Making her own music…
Her solo album on Mercury, Shiver, produced two number one songs, “There Is No Arizona” and “When I Think about Angels.”
The success of that album led to the distinction of being named Academy of Country Music’s Top New Female Vocalist, along with three Grammy nominations.
“Standing on stage with Stevie Nicks and all the people I had looked up to for years was just fantastic,” Jamie remembers. “But I’m just as happy when Martina records one of my songs, or Cee Cee Winans. Even the Desperate Housewives soundtrack cut ‘Damsel in Distress’ by Idina Menzel (a song she co-wrote with her father and step-mother). That was really cool and different from country music.”
Not too long after she hit her stride, Jamie took on a new challenge – motherhood. Jamie says she drove her friends crazy with songs about motherhood and parenthood and looking into her daughter’s eyes. Along the way, she says she’s learned a lot about balancing responsibilities.
“You’re doing a juggling act,” she explains. “You have to take off your performance hat and be a mom. I’m not really good at multi-tasking. A lot of moms can multi-task their butts off. But I’m just not one of those people.”
In 2005, Jamie released her second album Brave on Capitol, Nashville. That album produced the hits “Trying To Find Atlantis” and “Somebody’s Hero,” which is being used by American Greeting Cards for Mother’s Day. The song is a salute to mothers that don’t get recognized for the tough job they have.
“The lyrics pertain to being a full-time mom,” Jamie explains. “You know you are a cook, a taxi driver and everything you do is a sacrifice for your kid. But what you get back out of that is an unbelievable feeling. Not like you are doing it for nothing. Sometimes, you do feel like you never switch off.”
Jamie still spends a lot of time with her old roommate and songwriting partner Roxie Dean. Roxie is a mother of an 18-month old little girl. They are working on a children’s book and CD together.
“You spend hours when they are really little ones watching ‘Wiggles’ and ‘Doodlebops,’” Jamie says. “There is a lot of great stuff out there, don’t get me wrong, but the music is lacking. I feel like we can really do something here because we love seeing the enjoyment on the kids’ faces and we really just get into it.”
The project is being called “The Giggle Gang.” Jamie describes it this way, “There will be a book about each character and then a song about the character. What they are doing, where they are and what they have to do with The Giggle Gang. It’s like a television show in the works, but the books are described as if the show is already on TV.”
A future filled with promise…
What’s next for Jamie O’Neal?
She says she is working on two new albums – one she describes as classic country and the other is a project for 1720 Entertainment, with whom she recently singed a new record deal.
The classic country album, Jamie says, is something she’s wanted to do for a while.
“We went into the studio and did them in my own way,” Jamie says. “I just wanted to do something different, but to pay homage to the heroes I grew up listening to and the songs that moved me. Of course, when you do your own music, there is nothing in your head to compare it to and revert back to. But with the classics it’s like major pressure. I’m like listening back to the originals and going gosh, I’m never going to be able to get this.”
The other album is a new project for 1720 Entertainment. One of the songs, “Field of Daisies,” gives advice to young girls. The song is about developing a sense of self-worth. Another cut (written with Roxie) “Soldier Coming Home,” has a bit of a twist.
“We civilians could learn so much from the troops and how they treat each other and how much respect they have for family and not taking for granted how long we have each other in this life,” Jamie explains. “We should treat everybody like they are soldiers coming home.”
Jamie does reach out to our nation’s troops and has done a couple of USO tours. The soldiers, she says, are incredible. “When you see how long they are deployed, how tough they have it and what’s remarkable, they never complain. They do an amazing job.”
Living in Williamson County has provided the perfect environment for Jamie. She and Rodney can record in their high-tech basement studio with Aliyah close by, along with the rest of her family. Dad Jimmy lives in Bellevue with wife Pat, and mom, Julie, has her own company Julie Murphy Special Events.
For this star, it’s all about creative freedom.
“I think that’s why Keith and I had success,” she says. “Because it was just he and I making the decisions and cutting the songs we loved, and putting it out there. But you know, you do everything you do for that hour and a half that you are on stage. That’s what we love.
“And, when you write a song, so you can go on stage and perform it, and hopefully by then it will be on the radio and fans will sing along with it. You travel for hours, you work for years, and it all comes down to that short performance that you do on stage. And, hopefully, the audience shows up and likes it!”
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