Glenn Kearney, who lives in the tiny middle Georgia town of Collins, is gaining national attention for his Christian and country recordings.
He won the Christian Country Music Association's New Artist of the Year award in the fall and his career shifted into high gear, thanks to a growing number of fans and the guidance of a Nashville, Tenn., management company.
His new independent album, The Last Resort, is due out in late May. He describes it as "more traditional country" than his country Christian album, Grace For All.
In May and June, he expects to perform before thousands of troops in Orlando and Tampa, Fla., for some Welcome Home from Iraq celebrations. He's expecting even greater exposure through a music video of his song Two Old Cars that he just filmed in Birmingham, Ala.
"The Great American Country (GAC) cable network has said that they definitely will air it, and we're hoping that the Country Music Television (CMT) network also will pick it up," said Mr. Kearney in a call on his way to film the video.
Mr. Kearney performs at 7 p.m. Friday in the Millen, Ga., Civic Center (formerly Opera House), located on Millen's main street. Tickets are $10.
The big question is: Can Mr. Kearney at 43 make it in a youth-oriented music business where babes and studs with just adequate voices seem more treasured by record companies and radio stations than excellent older singers?
"There are people out there who still know what good country music is all about," Mr. Kearney replied. "It's the real deal. And I think there are people who want to hear those rich, traditional sounds. That's what I'm about."
And what if he doesn't make it?
"If I don't, then I'll continue to do what I'm doing now; keep traveling and keep singing. It's all about the people and the fans, whether that's on a national, regional or local level. It seems wherever I go that it never fails for me to pick up some new support."
He paused, and then added in a quieter, softer voice, "I really want to make a difference in people's lives, one life at a time."
One person who has made a big difference in Mr. Kearney's life is his wife, Janet, whom he met in a Wal-Mart. He proposed to her in the same Wal-Mart where they met and wrote At The Local Wal-Mart about their special meeting. They were married in 1985 and have two sons: Jonathan Wesley, 14, and Mitchell Glenn, 10.
"I don't know how many times I've done that song that people have come up and said they met their wives or husbands like that. One told me, 'I met my wife at a Kmart. Wal-Mart isn't the only place to find a good woman.'"
When he was16, Mr. Kearney fatally shot his physically abusive father in a fit of rage at their home in Statesboro, Ga.
He received a life sentence but was released from prison after serving eight years thanks to a good record and the circumstances of what he now refers to as "the incident."
It was during his first two years at Alto State Prison that he formed a country music band and became its lead singer.
He spent his last years of incarceration in the Bulloch County Correctional Institute near Statesboro. That's where he began perfecting his guitar playing.
Along the way, Mr. Kearney decided to make Christian ministry his life's work and pinpoints Easter Eve of 1984 as when he was saved and when he rededicated his life to Jesus Christ.
Now he tries to use the mistakes he made in his younger years to steer similarly troubled teens down better roads.
"There is a scripture in the Bible that says laughter is like a good medicine," Mr. Kearney said. "I try to use humor in my shows. There has to be more than just me singing song after song, and I'm a cutup anyway. When I can be myself and let my hair down and be loose, it's more fulfilling to me, and I think the audience will come back and see my show again."
Don Rhodes can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.