February Brings a New Album and a New Heart Valve for Brandon Jenkins
Things can turn around in the blink of an eye, or in this case in the beat of a heart, as Red Dirt Legend Brandon Jenkins came face to face with recently. As Jenkins was in the midst of releasing his 18th album to date and preparing to go to Key West to be a part of the inaugural Mile 0 Fest he found himself being rushed to the hospital on February 2nd with heart problems. He now faces a major heart surgery on Wednesday February 21st.
I got to chat on the phone with Jenkins for a bit a few days ago and get his take on it all, from the new album to getting ready for surgery. One of those surgery prep things was having to shave off his iconic beard, something he hadn’t done in almost two decades.
“I think the last time I shaved my beard was in 1999, and that was just for one day. I shaved it and I immediately started growing it back, I was like ah, hell. I just hope I’m around to grow it back,” said Jenkins.
True to his nature Jenkins kept it real, open and honest about the things he’s facing right now.
“I don’t know what the future is going to hold for me. I think on one hand maybe it will make me more motivated towards the music, but at the same time what seems important right now is not being on the road and that kind of scares me because I’ve always been like a shark. I always keep moving, never stop moving,” he said. “It just kind of makes you think, what are my goals? It totally changes when you are faced with dying. It changes the way you think. When I had that heart attack and the ambulance and the whole thing and them telling me I have to have this surgery and telling me ‘yeah IF you survive’. Well it’s still just surviving now, what’s 30 more years? It’s all eventually going to end. It’s enlightening. It makes you reevaluate what’s important.”
Jenkins discovered that he has a birth defect called a Bicuspid Aortic Valve, which means that while most people have 3 leaflets, or flaps on their aortic valve that regulates blood flow, he only has 2.
“They are replacing a heart valve and my aorta, so it’s going to be tubes and a mechanical valve. I already had the heart catheter thing and they said all my arteries are good so I’m hoping that this goes easy. It’s going to be life changing, when you get a mechanical valve it’s not like they just send you on your way and you are done, it’s going to be a lot of upkeep and having to stay and be in touch with doctors and I’m going to have to take certain medicines for the rest of my life,” said Jenkins. “It’s life changing but at the same time, I really don’t know how I’ve been going for so long. I didn’t realize how bad it was, I’ve felt so bad for so long that I thought it was just because I’m getting older and I’ve partied hard. The last 8 years I haven’t been right, I’ve not been on the top of my game, and when I saw my heart I figured out why. My heart valve isn’t getting any blood through to my heart and it’s backing up.”
While Jenkins is optimistic about the surgery and what it entails, he’s of course also a little worried and anxious about it at as well, as anyone in his position would be.
“I’m just hoping all the plumbing will be able to handle the new flow that comes through. Like anything by the time you get to this point, you are going to feel so much better afterwards though, if I can survive it. I’m not going to lie, it’s scary. I’m scared shitless, I don’t want to have to get my chest cut open.”
As a self employed musician, Jenkins also doesn’t have health insurance, and the surgery and hospital stay is going to have a price tag upwards of $300k. I personally think this is the area where the Red Dirt/Texas Country music scene really shines, when we pull together to take care of our own. There have already been a few different music benefits put together to help raise money for Jenkins, as well as special t-shirt sales, and businesses doing raffles for services to raise money.
“There’s been a few benefits put together, one at Denton at the Rockin Rodeo, and I hear they are going to put one together at the Shrine in Tulsa on the 18th of March. I’ve heard there might be some stuff here in Nashville, there have been some Masonic Lodges in Texas that have gotten some stuff together, and the orthodontist office raffling off free braces. My drummer Michael is the one who put together the shirts, he just did that on his own pretty much and it has raised some money. I got a check from Red Dirt Relief Fund,” said Jenkins. “People don’t realize that yeah there’s going to be all of these medical bills, but I’m not working right now either, so I’ve got to pay rent and my car payment, and all those things. I had been off and was waiting for the Mile 0 fest to be able to pay my car payment and they actually sent half the money in advance and they said to just keep it. So many people have just sent money, and so many people saying that they are praying for me. It is funny how you feel it, ya know? It’s been empirically proven that people that have people praying for them do better.”
There are many different ways that you can jump in and help. For one you can stay plugged into Jenkins’ social media pages for more info on the different benefits that will be going on. You can also go to the website here to order the Hearts Beat for Jenkins t-shirt, or even go here to make a monetary donation. Every little bit helps.
Jenkins latest album, Tail Lights in a Boomtown came out on February 9th and is again the 18th album for Jenkins, which is pretty impressive. It was recorded in Wimberly Texas at Yellow Dog studios with Dave Percefull, who has worked on most of Jenkins’ albums with him. The album also features a great array of players; JJ Johnson, Steve Littleton, Glenn Fukunaga, and Geoff Queen to name a few.
I think the whole vibe of this new album is uplifting and inspiring, which is a slightly different road than Jenkins’ latest records have taken, but you’ll still find his unique flavor and thumbprint on it all the same. There are 10 songs on the album, 7 of which were co-writes.
“The main thing that makes this album different is that it has so many co-writes on it. I mean they are all original songs that I wrote, but usually I might have 1 or 2, and sometimes not any co-writes,” explained Jenkins. “I’ll usually do something with Stoney or this guy Scott Hutchinson in Tulsa that I’ve written with in the past, but this one actually has 7 different songs on it that are all co-writes. I just wanted to do something a little different. These songs are really the ones I think that maintain myself in the song. There’s a lot of songs I’ve written over the last couple of years that were totally out of myself that I would probably never sing or record but these were songs that I felt that even thought they were co-writes they held true to who I am as an artist.”
From the toe tapping opening song, Turn on the Lights, with it’s sizzling fiddle and pounding drum beat, all the way to the slower paced title track that’s tinged with a more leisurely country vibe that ends the album, it takes you on a full ride. It’s got songs that border almost on whimsical and quirky, full of upbeat instrumentals and inspiring messages like Somersault, to songs like Witching Hour that are full of good old rock and roll and tasty guitar riffs. They all of course have Jenkins’ smooth and deep vocals, changing from in your face bellows to almost whispers throughout the album, I personally think my favorites are Fade to Black, which opens with the lyrics “I ain’t getting any younger, and this damn old mirror don’t lie…”, it’s raw and gritty in its message but the music is soft and beautiful which is a great contrast, as well as Other Side of the Wall, which paints a picture of the lonely and sorrowful life of a woman as told by a stranger who has never even met her, but carries the message that even when we feel like we’re all alone, there’s always someone there. Of course the chart topping single Be the Revival is a fantastic anthem for us all, a little something to help us realize that we’re all just human but we can make a difference through it all anyway if we just keep trying to be the best that we can be. The whole album carries Jenkins’ signature “tell it like it is” attitude, filled with things that are genuine and true, raw and real, wrapped in music that helps take it all to heart.
“I was doing what I’ve been wanting to do for a while and was in a good place. After the last year or so, and coming off the The Flag, you know that album was kind of a lot more of a foreboding record, so I was purposefully trying to do something a little more upbeat, uplifting, a lets come together and forget all that stuff. Especially the one me and Stoney wrote together and did, we said let’s make it like back in the old days where everyone was coming together and just having a good time,” said Jenkins.
Go get your copy today if you haven’t already, it’s one you aren’t going to want to miss.
“I’m hoping to be back soon, I told my agent not to cancel any of my May shows just yet,” he said with a hearty laugh. “I don’t know if that’s wildly optimistic, but I know the main part is that you just can’t lift anything or fall or jar yourself, you have to let your sternum heal. It’s going to be a few months, even if I’m able to get back on the road, if that’s even what I want to do. But that’s also coming from a guy who is sitting here with a heart valve that is barely working. Who knows, after the operation I might feel like I’m 25 again. At the same time I’m still writing songs, I just put out a new song that I just wrote yesterday, I’m just trying to keep writing. Been doing a lot of meditating and stuff, getting ready for the surgery. I’ve been just trying to meditate and envision the future and surround myself with light. I’m pretty anxious about it, it definitely makes you feel a whole spectrum of emotions. I’m not looking forward to it but I am looking forward to feeling better. I’ve got lots more songs to write.”
We’ll all be sending Jenkins all the love and light and healing energy possible as he goes into surgery on the 21st.