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For Jeff Bates, his life is a country song

By Jeffrey B. Remz, June 2003

Page 4...

Bates hung out with other songwriters, which led to his drug problems. "I ran across a songwriter that was smoking this stuff (crystal methamphetamines), and for the next year and a half, I had thought about how I was going to get more. I had a lot of self-loathing, a lot of 'why me' syndrome. The drugs made me feel like that."

"Everything else went to hell. Southern Storm. Everybody went their own separate ways. I started missing gigs, not always showing up.""About the only thing I kept together was I kept making songwriting appointments," says Bates.

But his drug habit was catching up with him. He pawned off his own equipment to buy drugs, and when that no longer kept him above water, he would pawn the equipment he stole from friends. "As soon as I started selling everything, I had to get more of it. Anything of any value, I started to sell."

"My addiction got worse, and I required more and more of the drugs. I stole about $25,000 worth of musical equipment from a friend of mine."

On March 14, 2001, Bates was arrested in Nashville for carrying a couple of grams of meth in his pocket and theft. His friend gave him a key to his dwelling. No one else had one, and there were no signs of forcible entry, leaving fingers pointing at Bates.

He was looking at 6 to 15 years in prison.

"When I did that big theft, I was up for seven days straight," Bates says. "My mind was gone. About seven days after I'd been in jail, I realized what I'd done. I didn't want to be that guy any more. All of a sudden, you're in jail, and there's no way out. From my perspective, everything I'd cared about, I had blown."

Mercury Records was checking him out at the time of his arrest, according to Bates. "That was out the window. Writing deal - gone. Friends - gone. A lot of them were mad and angry and with good reason."

But help was on the way in the form of Kenny Beard and an incredible twist of fate.

He got Bates in a drug treatment facility in jail.

During his troubled times, Bates says he had "little to no contact" with his family. "I hadn't talked to my mother in months. I would not go to see her. I didn't want them to see me on drugs. I figured they would figure it out."

"I had to call her (while I was) in jail.

Part of the treatment program was being totally honest with everybody plus I wanted to be. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life. I knew it was going to break her heart."

"I said, 'Mama I'm in jail.'"

After explaining, Bates says, "I figured I would get the worst butt chewing. I said I'm sorry. I got missed up in the wrong thing, and I did this. I'm looking at 6 to 15 years time. She said, 'Don't you know you can't do anything to make me not love you.' She said, 'I'll be praying for you, and I'll see you when you get it.' She let me know it was love and hard love."

"I had blown all my chances in my music career. I also had lied to anybody to anyone I had cared about, family and friends. I asked God to help me.' I don't know how to help me. I don't know how to change. Will you change me? I know you can.'"

"If you want me to go back to Mississippi and be a welder, if you want me to got o Arkansas where I'd lived for seven years where I did sandblasting. If you want me to stay in jail, I know there was no music career."

"My next move after that prayer - it was the most sincere prayer I had ever prayed in my life - I called people I'd stolen from. I told them I would pay them back. No one else pressed charges."

Bates contacted Beard as well and told him he pawned his prized guitar, Old Magic. "I had to call him from jail and tell him where it was. I didn't want him to lose it."

Beard apologized for not having recognized how much help Bates needed and made him promise to contact him when he got out of the pen.But things soon started turning Bates' way in a hurry.

"My first visitor in a month...was my song plugger, Rusty Gaston. (Pluggers try pitching songs to artists to record). He said, "You're not going to believe this, but today Gene Watson recorded two of your songs, and Tracy Lawrence recorded one."

"I cried like a baby. It was a direct answer to a prayer I had prayed the day before."

"I was in total shock," Bates says.

After 94 days, Bates was out on June 15, 2001. "The day after I got out of jail, I saw him," says Bates of Beard. "He met me at the door with Old Magic in his hand and shoved it in my hand. He said, 'here you go back and get your writing (deal) back. I love you. Now come in, and let's write a song.'"

"I cried," Bates says.

Life soon started falling into place. He got a job pouring concrete for homes. He managed to resume his writing job, focusing on songwriting instead of playing.

"All chances of a record deal were already gone," he says.

Not so fast. Beard managed to get demos that Bates recorded into the hands of RCA label execs.

On Jan. 29, 2002, Bates played for Galante and Rene Bell, the head of A&R (the department in charge of finding talent), though he knows he could have looked better. "I had put a little weight on from getting on the drugs." Bates went so far as to wrap himself in Saran Wrap to appear thinner.

"I went up and sang dressed in black. I did three songs, " 'I Wanna Make You Cry,' 'The Wings of Mama's Prayers' and 'My Inlaws are Outlaws.' I told them the story of my life, the jail, the drugs, dysfunction. Joe Galante shook my hands and said they'd call me in a few weeks. About 15 minutes after I walked through the front door (of my home), it was him."

Bates secured a record deal.

"I'm happier than I've ever been in my life," says Bates. "I'm off drugs, clean, 2 1/2 years. I feel God's beaten me over the head with blessings. I did pay everybody back. I made restitution. I can't think of one person that didn't forgive me."

Somehow this all sounds like a good country song.

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