Twenty years ago, Jimmy Wayne was in high school listening to Jody Lee Hager, an inmate from the local prison in Dallas, NC, talk to his class.
“The prison would send him around to the schools to tell the children, ‘Think smart. Don’t be like me,’ Jimmy recalls.
Hager also had a guitar. He picked it up and played an original Christmas song called “For Days Like This.” It was a song about what it’s like to spend Christmas behind bars. Jimmy was was transfixed — and transformed. The troubled kid who’d spent most of his childhood either in foster homes or living on the streets was all too familiar with the pain he heard expressed in the song. Suddenly, he had a new reason for being: music.
“Immediately that weekend, I bought my first guitar at a yard sale for forty bucks,” he says. “I noodled around with it, but I wanted to learn so much from this guy. I contacted the prison warden and begged him to let me inside the prison just to sit down with this convict, to learn. And eventually, he did. So I would be in this prison surrounded by murderers and life-timers. We would sit there in the prison yard and he would talk to me about songwriting.”
In a twist of fate that sounds straight out of Hollywood, prison officials recorded Jody playing guitar and took his cassette tape to Nashville. He met Kix Brooks, who played the tape for producer and Asylum Records president Kyle Lehning. Lehning flew to North Carolina, saw Jody play live and offered him a record deal.
But Hager never recorded an album. “Under some very unfortunate circumstances, he Continue Reading