Jaime Wyatt’s new album Felony Blues, whose title is a nod to records like David Allan Coe’s Penitentiary Blues, is largely an autobiographical collection of convict love stories, prison songs, and honky-tonk laments. The album is being released June 30, 2017 on Forty Below Records. Wyatt is a striking figure with an old soul and a voice like a force of nature. Regardless of genre, the Los Angeles-based Wyatt is a dynamic performer, who sails naturally between vintage ‘60s and ‘70s country/rock ’n’ soul anthems and heartfelt country ballads of love and corruption.
Wyatt got a record deal at the age of 17, with multiple soundtracks and movie placements, but after a second deal went down the tubes, she developed a drug problem. She got busted for robbing her dealer and took a plea deal for eight months in jail, a felony strike, six months of treatment and three years felony probation. “I stayed out of trouble most the time in jail, by singing songs for people and making them laugh,” says Wyatt. After she served her term, Wyatt, became enthralled with the music of Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash – who had similar struggles with the law and substance abuse. She studied country music and toured in folk and country bands up and down the West Coast.
“I met the hit songwriter John Durrill, who recommended I cover “Misery and Gin,” a song he wrote for Merle Haggard in 1979,” says Wyatt. A dear friend and supporter gifted her with a session at East West Studios in Hollywood, CA, to record with producer, Mike Clink (Guns N’ Roses), and this track closes Felony Blues.
The musicians on the record include top notch Americana and country pickers John Schreffler Jr and Ted Russell Kamp from Shooter Jennings band; Gabe Witcher of the Punch Brothers on fiddle; fellow Angelino country songwriter Sam Outlaw (who features on the duet “Your Loving Saves Me”); and long time friend and drummer Freddy Bokkenheuser, now the touring drummer for Ryan Adams.
Most songs on Felony Blues are inspired by reckless life choices. “From Outer Space,” originally written for her last EP that was produced by Mark Howard (Lucinda Williams, Tom Waits). “After playing the song on tour, a couple different band members helped to give it a 2-step feel and worked up a lot of harmonies,” explains Wyatt. “It is about feeling alienated and cast aside by society. And about feeling unable to have a normal romantic relationship, as a touring musician.”
“Stone Hotel” is the story of how Wyatt was convicted for strong-armed robbery. She sings about how the LAX courthouse made an example of her, acknowledging that it was a drug house bust, in the lyrics, “Judge said young lady, you never felt the blues, no not yet. And that DA called for restitution for a hustler out on bond.”
“When I was researching how to expunge my felony, I got a chance to read the minute orders on my case from seven years prior,” says Wyatt. “This felony has always been a source of shame and embarrassment. I hit the streets after jail looking for jobs and no one would hire me because of my criminal record. I eventually got a job at a bicycle shop but couldn’t receive a promotion for the same reason. On the bright side, it has prompted me to tour consistently and work hard to make money on the road.”
The other prison song on the album is “Wasco,” which was inspired by one of Wyatt’s cellmates in LA County Jail, who was writing a guy up at Wasco State Prison, near Bakersfield. “The cellmate had never met the guy” says Wyatt, “but they were planning their wedding via love letters back and forth between correctional facilities.”
“I’m hoping that the theme of the record will raise awareness about the judicial system in America, since I’ve been branded with a felony, I know first hand how the system will keep you down. Like the words of Merle Haggard: ‘I paid the debts I owed ‘em, but they’re still not satisfied.’ Wyatt identifies as a – “branded woman.”
Felony Blues Track List
1. “Wishing Well”
2. “Your Loving Saves Me” (featuring Sam Outlaw)
3. “From Outer Space”
5. “Giving Back The Best Of Me”
6. “Stone Hotel”
7. “Misery and Gin”