Singer-songwriter Drew Womack knows first-hand the ups and downs of the music industry. He also knows how to bounce back, not only from a fickle industry, but also from a serious and debilitating health issue that threatened his livelihood.
Today, Womack’s health is restored. Nearly a decade after being forced to step out of the spotlight, he is cured and pain free. He’s also free from the record-industry establishment, back to making music, his way.
This summer, Womack releases a new album, Sunshine To Rain, on Blue Lightning Records; a label that he co-owns. The album marks a new musical approach; a retro-modern sound Womack jokingly refers to as “Gangsta Folk.” Twelve songs that reveal an intimate snapshot of the singer-songwriter’s recent experiences; songs that reflect a struggle that forced him out of the spotlight, and nearly cost his career.
Womack first hit the national recording scene with his band, Sons of the Desert out of Waco, TX. Signed to Epic Records in 1997, their debut album, Whatever Comes First, spawned several country radio hits including the title track, which charted in the Billboard Top 10.
Life was looking good as Sons of the Desert began working on its second album. One of the tunes that Womack was especially excited about recording was “Goodbye Earl,” a comedic song about the murder of an abusive husband. The band had been performing the song in concert and it had become a fan favorite.
After recording the song, a conflict with the record label arose. Label mates, the Dixie Chicks, also wanted to record the song for their upcoming album. Despite a friendly agreement between the members of Sons and the Chicks to both record the song, a label executive squashed the agreement and vowed to make sure the Sons’ version was never released. “Goodbye Earl,” became one of the Dixie Chicks’ biggest hits.
Frustrated, Womack and Sons of the Desert moved to MCA Records, where they released, Change, and several more radio singles. In addition, Sons collaborated with Lee Ann Womack (no relation) on her blockbuster hit, “I Hope You Dance.”
During the time that he was performing and recording with Sons, Womack was also writing, and collaborating with several of Nashville’s top hit makers. Womack had written nine, top-10 hit songs including Kenny Chesney’s first #1 smash, “She’s Got It All” (co-written with Craig Wiseman). He also had collaborations with Peter Frampton, Jack Blades (Night Ranger, Damn Yankees) and Tim McGraw. As a songwriter, Womack earned five ASCAP awards and two BMI awards.
Meanwhile, Sons had racked up three Academy of Country Music awards, a Country Music Association award, two Country Music Television awards and a total of 11 nominations among the most prestigious country awards shows.
The band ventured on and recorded several more songs, but MCA decided not to release them. And once again, those songs went on to become big hits for other artists, including “God Bless the Broken Road” (Rascal Flatts), “Red Ragtop” (Tim McGraw) and “Raining on Sunday” (Keith Urban). Sons of the Desert soon left MCA and disbanded.
“Being on two major labels was a great learning experience,” recalled Womack. “As an artist, it took me several years to really get a grasp of how it all works. But the most important lesson I learned is that the music industry is a business and the labels make their decisions based on business. Knowing this, I harbor no hard feelings whatsoever.”
In 2003, Womack released his first, self-titled solo album, which resulted in two top-five singles and an international tour.
Just as things were turning around and looking up, Womack, who had already been suffering from recurring back pain, was on tour in Australia when he severely tweaked his back. Upon returning to the States, an MRI revealed that he indeed had broken a vertebra. He faced a major decision: surgery to correct, or risk permanent disability.
“Looking back, I really did not understand or appreciate the degree of the pain and how it was impacting all parts of my life. I simply didn’t understand, until I was out of pain.”
Following the procedure, Womack required an extended recovery period, as well as extensive physical therapy.
Unable to perform, Womack continued songwriting. “There was a point where I just didn’t know how I would return to performing. So, naturally, this inspired me to continue songwriting.”
During this time he also collaborated with many of the leaders of the “Texas Red Dirt” movement, co-writing, producing and singing with artists including Pat Green, Cory Morrow, Robert Earl Keen, Josh Abbott and many others who have since become Womack fans.
Ultimately, with the support of these peers, his family and his many fans, Womack was able to start performing again.
Sunshine To Rain is a new beginning as well as a significant musical departure for Womack. Free from the rigor of tailoring his music to meet the confines of country radio, the new recording has a cutting edge sound that mixes Americana, crossover and the familiar alt-country twang that his fans will instantly recognize. Moreover, the album is infused with unique instrumentation (sitar, horns) on many of the tracks.
“During my recovery, I realized that I needed to write and make music my way, not how I thought others expected or wanted me to write. As I wrote, I no longer heard a country label rep tell me, ‘a sitar won’t fly on country radio.’ Sunshine To Rain is the album I always wanted to make. I believe there is a song for each listener.”
The album’s powerful title track is inspired by a woman that Womack encountered at a liquor store – a victim of alcoholism, ironically packing all her belongings into boxes bearing the labels of the very thing that ruined her life in the first place. Grammy nominated songwriter Radney Foster and singer-songwriter Jess Klein add harmonies to this chilling song. “Rescue Me,” looks at being at one’s lowest point and reaching out for someone to pull them out, while “Through the Night” is about trying to get through an incredibly painful moment that feels inescapable.
Lighter moments on Sunshine to Rain include “I Know Love,” a fun, Lyle Lovett-esque song featuring a horn section and gospel singers, inspired by post-operative pain medication. Womack started writing the song “Butterfly” with his young son, however the boy lost interest and Womack took it in a different direction. “It’s about a conflicted frog stalking a butterfly,” he says. “The Way Love Rolls” is a lighthearted biography of the singer-songwriter’s life and his starting a family.
With a healthy body, attitude, and musical approach, Drew Womack is jump-starting his career, writing and making music his way – just the way the fans want.