About five years ago, David Shelby learned a valuable lesson: if you want to be a country singer, you better get real friendly with Nashville.
So it's no great surprise that after spending a year in Music City during 2009-2010, the Clinton Township native -- who actually holds a degree in jazz and contemporary media from Wayne State University -- is enjoying some country love these days with "Moonshine," the single from Shelby's album "Rust Belt Country."
"It's the farthest I've ever gotten, so it feels great," says Shelby, 36, who splits his time these days between Nashville and Detroit. "It really seemed to help that I was getting more involved down in Nashville. The move really got the ball rolling; I got a production deal, publishing, and people started listening."
Some of the feedback, however, was surprising.
"The overall feeling from industry and label people was they liked (the music), but being that I was a Yankee, as they put it, from Detroit, they wanted to hear more of that kind of sound in my music," Shelby says. "So I came back here and hooked up with a couple writers, and the songs are a little more Detroit rock than Nashville polish. I tried to go for the grittiness of my home town more.
"And when I took it back down (to Nashville), they said, 'This is something we can work with.' "
Country wasn't Shelby's first musical stop. Of Polish and Russian heritage, accordion was his first instrument, and his jazz training on trumpet led to a tenure with the Glen Miller Orchestra, as well as occasional gigs with Motown artists and other oldies acts, including the Wolfman Jack Fabulous 50s Tour. But country music was always a fascination, and after seeing Garth Brooks play at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 2003, he was hooked.
"I guess I just fell into that genre because I've always loved it," Shelby explains. "My parents were big country music fans. It was always on the radio at the house. I always loved the storytellng and the writing.
"Even when I was touring as a trumpet player I would always have a guitar in my room at night, writing song after song. I knew someday I was going to make a push for something greater than just being a sideman, and (country) wound up being that vehicle."
Shelby's immediate plans are to continue working "Rust Belt Country" but also get some new material under his belt. He'll hit the studio to record three new songs in January, and Alabama's Teddy Gentry is among those he's considering to produce.
"We want to make a push towards the big boys, the big charts and the monitored radio panel and all of that," Shelby says. "One thing I've learned is you have to let go of what your expectations are and what you think Nashville wants and just be yourself and let the chips fall where they may."
David Shelby performs at 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 7, at Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill in Great Lakes Crossing, 4698 Baldwin Road, Auburn Hills. Admission is free. Call 248-454-8629 or visit www.countrybarmi.com.
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