Eric Heatherly

Eric Heatherly

Eric has fulfilled many of his dreams. According to his father, Earl, at age five, the Chattanooga, Tennessee native would listen to a record only once and instantly play the song back on guitar. Eric's first guitar was an old acoustic rescued by his truck-driving father from a garbage bin during one of his delivery routes. The first song he learned from his music- loving father was "Folsom Prison Blues," by Johnny Cash. Eric fondly states, "I've still got that old guitar. It was so hard to play… fingers would honestly swell up and bleed because the strings were like a fourth of an inch up off the neck! Looking back, I think it was a good thing that I learned to play on that instrument because it strengthened my fingers and primed me for playing the electric guitar."

Growing up on the Tennessee/Georgia line, Eric would mow yards to be able to buy a new guitar or amplifier. He would sit on the banks of the Chickamauga Creek, within walking distance from his home, to day-dream and write down lyrics started earlier in the day at school. Eric recollects memories of listening to trains going by at night, with the longing of a travelling gypsy, itching to be on the road with just his guitar on his back. His mother, Nola, remembers, "Even as a tiny child, Eric's self-discipline and focus on his music amazed me and everyone around him. Every day, Eric would jump off the bus after school, run straight to his bedroom and lock himself in to practice. Maybe he would join his friends to play afterwards, but often we had to make him come out of his room just to eat dinner." It was Eric's unwavering passion for the guitar that led him to a full music scholarship at Chattanooga State University. His college experience, however, lasted only a year. The road was still calling and Eric wanted to realize his dream.

The guitar slinger was a hard sell to Music Row industry veterans from the time he pulled his two-toned '55 Chevy into Music City in 1991. The timing could not have been worse for the edgy, electrified, young singer/songwriter. As Eric recalls, "Here I was in Nashville, the home of Steve Earle, Foster & Lloyd, Ricky Skaggs, Lee Roy Parnell…....guys that inspired me to make the move and take the chance.....but if you didn't wear a big twelve gallon cowboy hat and starched jeans with boots, the record execs wouldn't even think of signing you."

In the early nineties, every major label in Nashville was searching high and low for their own Garth Brooks but Eric decided to stay true to himself. Eric says: "I'll never forget.......I was in this big producer's office one day, my heart pounding with excitement wondering if this could be my shot and he put on my demo tape, listened to about half a song with his back to me in his enormous black leather chair, swung it around , looked me in the eye and said, ‘I can make you a STAR in six months if you'll put on a hat and boots!' .......I actually thought he was jokin and I responded, "I'm playing at Jack's Guitar Bar this Friday night…what you see is what you'll get!"

Eric knows a thing or two about living on the 'lower east side of life'. He would spend the next six long and grueling years waiting his turn at the major labels, playing every joint and dive that would let him plug in and play, (usually just for tips.) It was on his way to one of those clubs in Marion, Illinois that he nearly lost his life in an auto accident. His drummer fell asleep at the wheel, causing their Chevy Suburban to roll over at sixty-five miles an hour, finally landing upside down on the shoulder of the highway. His prized '87 Bahama green Fender Strat landed about a hundred yards from the wreckage. When Eric finally crawled out, he found his workhorse guitar, pulled it out of the splintered case and strummed a chord, expecting the worst. "I couldn't believe my ears," Eric says, "My hands were all bloody and I was dizzy and dazed but my Strat comforted me when I strummed that G chord and she still played in tune! I'll keep her 'til the day I die." Eric credits God for saving his and his friends' lives and believes they survived for a purpose.

For a while, Eric was somewhat of a curiosity for the clubs on lower Broadway. They didn't know what to think of this young guy with sideburns, playing all original music with a three-piece band dressed in thrift store bowling shirts or old ties and vests and two-toned winged tip shoes. For Eric, it was a style born out of necessity. "When I first moved to Nashville, money was so tight I was lucky to have enough gas to even get to Tootsie's, so I shopped at thrift stores and second-hand shops because I could dress me and the guys in cool vintage duds for twenty bucks. That was back when vintage stuff was not considered very hip…I'm sure other singers probably thought I was from a different planet or something." However, Eric's style of dress and non-conforming eclectic "rockabillity" sound eventually caused a major buzz among the hipsters and college coeds at the world famous Tootsie‘s Orchid Lounge, where Eric played every Tuesday night. It wasn't long before major label exec, Luke Lewis, President of Mercury Records witnessed the phenomenon….hundreds of loyal followers singing every word to Eric's self-penned songs - girls up on the bar dancing and Eric singing and playing his heart out like a man possessed. "I wouldn't trade those days for anything in the world." he says. "I played five or six hours a night with no breaks…...I sang so hard I couldn't hear myself over the crowd. Between BR549's fans at Robert's Western Wear and mine at Tootsie's, people were lined up for blocks and spilling out into the street…I loved It!" It was that phenomenon that prompted Mr. Lewis to take a chance and sign the renegade guitar player to Mercury records.