Music has been a part of rising country star Matt Kennon’s life for as long as he can remember.
“The first record I played was the Eagles’ The Long Run,” he recalls. “I was three or four years old. It wasn’t so much about the words, it was about the feel of the music.”
The words did come though, and when they did they came in spades. Matt’s personal, yet universally accessible, songwriting is part of what defines him.
Raised in music-fertile Georgia, he discovered homegrown country artists like Travis Tritt and Alan Jackson. “I remember being home sick from school one day listening to my clock radio and I heard Travis Tritt’s ‘I’m Gonna Be Somebody’ come on and then Alan Jackson’s ‘Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow’,” he remembers. “That’s when I really felt that country music was cool and might be the road I needed to travel down.”
He began singing at karaoke bars and then, as his confidence grew, he put bands together. He played the Atlanta club scene, performing covers of southern rock and country songs.
Later, under the guidance of respected songwriter and producer Chip Martin, he started recording original material. An album he put together to sell at shows further solidified his desire to make a living doing what he loved. “There were three songs I’d written and the rest were songs I’d found through Chip and his network of friends,” Matt says. “I had 1,000 CDs pressed and I sold them all within a couple of months. That’s when I realized that maybe it was something I needed to pursue.”
Matt moved to Music City and found a job at a local Harley Davidson dealer. When Martin followed, Matt had an instant ally.
Not long after he moved, Matt met Travis Tritt’s former manager Gary Falcon in a parking lot on Music Row. “I recognized him because all I ever watched was CMT,” Matt says. “I only had one CD and I gave to him.” Impressed, Falcon introduced him to producer Kyle Lehning, who agreed to produce Matt.
In addition to a shot, Falcon gave the fledgling country artist an important piece of advice. “He told me, ‘If you’re going to stay in town, you need to write songs’,” Matt remembers. He took the advice to heart and began working on his craft.
Recording sessions with Lehning led to one of his songs, “Turn It Around”, being recorded by superstar Randy Travis. “I’m grateful for that,” Matt says. “It got me a publishing deal.”
Matt eventually found a home with award-winning Nashville producer James Stroud, who signed him to BamaJam Records. “It couldn’t be a better fit,” says Matt. “James just let me be me.”
Matt’s album, which includes songs he wrote with master tunesmiths Rob Crosby, Noah Gordon and Brian White, among others, features his own unique blend of music.
“It’s country, but it’s got a hint of rock ‘n’ roll mixed in,” Matt says. Indeed, guests on the project include Mark Slaughter of Slaughter and Jimi Jamison of Survivor, the band that sparked Matt’s performing fire years earlier. “It’s just good American music,” Matt contends.
As a songwriter, his lyrics tell his story and the stories of countless others who have been challenged by life and have overcome the odds to achieve success. As a singer, the passion behind his life experience is in every note. “I don’t want to sing about anything that I haven’t been through,” he says. “It’s honest and it’s real.”
Matt’s breakthrough single, “The Call,” is a perfect example. Written with Noah Gordon and Jeremy Campbell, the song speaks to the saving power of a well-timed phone call. “I’ve known people who have committed suicide and I knew girls that had abortions,” Matt says. “We’re not going to bring anybody back with this song, but hopefully we can save lives."
The whiskey-voiced Georgian has a story to tell and songs to sing. “I put my life story all over my body,” the heavily tattooed Kennon says. “You can just look at me and know I’ve lived a pretty wild life. God’s going to use that as a testimony.”
Matt’s mother, a poor woman who could barely support one young son, made the painful decision to abort him. She arrived at her doctor's office two weeks too late to have the abortion performed, and was told she had no choice but to carry the baby full term.
The same doctor had another patient, a mother of four who had tragically lost three of her children in a house fire. Unable to have more children, the woman jumped at the chance to adopt Matt.
It was his adoptive parents that instilled in him a sense of right and wrong and fostered his musical leanings. Indeed, the fast-paced thumper “Mama Raised The Hell Outta Me” is a story of maternal influence that hits close to home.
While he went through a rebellious phase that saw him chasing wine, whiskey, women and worse, he came out the other side intact. “The good Lord’s been watching out for me,” Matt says. “I was raised in a Christian home; we went to church twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday. There was a rebellious side, but that upbringing stuck with me.
“I’m the prodigal son,” he adds. “I was living differently than the way I was raised. That’s why I put ‘mama tried’ right here,” he says, pointing to his right forearm. “It wasn’t her fault.”
“I’m a walking contradiction,” he adds with a smile. It’s that contradiction that makes his major label debut both satisfying and unique.