Brookville graduate makes it as a country musician and songwriter

The following was published in The Brookville Democrat newspaper in May 2011.

By Melanie Padgett Powers, Special Contributor

Nashville musician and songwriter Eddie Heinzelman once considered becoming a doctor. He was a strong student and enjoyed chemistry class in high school. Then, for his first college chemistry class—with about 500 other students—at the University of Cincinnati (U.C.), he showed up wearing a Black Sabbath T-shirt. “Everybody else was yuppied up,” he said. He laughed, remembering, “Hmm, there’s something different here.”

Heinzelman asked himself: Do you want to go to college to pursue a job or do something you love? “I ended up, more or less, following my heart. I’m a musician.”

Luckily, his parents were always supportive of his music career. Others, though, would sometimes say, “You better have something to fall back on.” But to Heinzelman, that seemed like a safe route. If he was going to follow music, he was all in. That’s the same advice he would give other budding artists: Don’t say you’re not good enough or you’re not quite ready. “You just have to go out and do it,” he said. “I adopted this motto several years ago—my thing is everybody says they want to be a star or they want to be a musician, but my whole thing is do it.”

Heinzelman, a 1988 Brookville High School (B.H.S.) graduate, grew up in the Mt. Carmel area. His parents are Ed and Sherry Heinzelman. He now lives in Spring Hill, Tenn., outside Nashville, with his wife, Jeanne (Lovins) Heinzelman, and their two daughters.

Heinzelman is the guitarist and band leader for Billy Yates. He has also been playing guitar and singing background vocals for Julie Roberts for two years. He also performs with his own band, under his name, and his own jazz trio, 9 Volt Romeo, which plays a few times a month at a winery co-owned by Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn. “That’s my core, and then I pick up other stuff,” Heinzelman said. “I’m a player, and I play for a lot of people. But I’m really focused on writing.” You can follow Heinzelman’s page on Facebook by searching for his name or visit his website at eddieheinzelman.com.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in jazz and studio music with an emphasis on guitar from the U.C. College-Conservatory of Music (C.C.M.), Heinzelman and his older brother, John Eversole, formed the country band Durango, which soon developed a large following in the Cincinnati area. The band released an EP, “Closer To Home.”

In 1996, Heinzelman and his wife moved to Nashville, after they honeymooned there and fell in love with the city. They moved back to Cincinnati after about four years, but moved back to Nashville in 2005.

While he’s been playing country music and writing country songs for many years, Heinzelman didn’t like country music as a teen—although, when he was a little boy, he did like the look. “Honestly, how it all started, I was a fan of the singing cowboys, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, so my grandmother bought me a guitar when I was 8 from Sears,” he said. “So I pretended to be Gene Autry.”

When he was 10, he asked his mom if he could take guitar lessons. He began taking classical guitar lessons with a C.C.M. student. But when he was about 13, his brother brought home a Led Zeppelin album. “I discovered rock ‘n’ roll,” Heinzelman said. “The day he brought that home, we sat there and listened to that front to back, front to back. That kind of guitar playing was more what I wanted to do because you improvise.”

He switched teachers and continued to take guitar lessons until he was 16. Funny enough, everyone at B.H.S. knew him as a drummer because he played the drums in the high school band. But he was drawn more to the guitar, which was easier to write songs for and sing along to. “I started writing songs when I was 15,” he said.

He was still into rock ‘n’ roll and formed a rock band with other teenagers called Witchcraft. His brother, John, had formed a country band—Heinzelman thinks it was called Stagecoach—and asked him to fill in until they found a permanent guitar player. The band quickly booked gigs, and Heinzelman remained the guitarist. Although he still wasn’t a country fan, he was sold after the band played its first gig and he was paid at the end of the night. “The country band booked a lot more; the rock band rehearsed a lot more,” he said, laughing.

One of the great parts about studying music in college was that suddenly music could be his entire focus. In high school, he practiced about one to two hours a day. In college, he practiced six to eight hours a day. “It was just a huge leap. In college all I had to do was focus on music.”

After college, he said, “Writing my own music was where my head was at. I wanted to write and be creative. I felt at that point the best avenue to do that was go back and write country music. That was the music that told stories.”

Besides being a talented guitarist and songwriter, Heinzelman is funny and has a charisma on stage and off. His songs tend to have a country-rock blend. His influences include Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Steve Earle, Jackson Browne, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Clarence White and Vince Gill. Last year, he was thrilled to have the chance to play with Gill, at a telethon to raise money for Nashville flood relief.

While Heinzelman could strive to play with a band full time and hit the road, he would rather be in Nashville. “Since I’m trying to write, you need to be in Nashville with other writers and having meetings,” he said. Plus, he would rather be home with his family every day.

The goal in writing is to get your song recorded by a major artist and get on his or her CD. “It’s a process and progress,” Heinzelman said. “You get a few cuts (songs recorded) this year, and next year you get a few more, and it just keeps building.”

Heinzelman’s cuts include “Crawl” (Nick Nicholson), “Friendship on Fire” (available on Chuck Allen Floyd’s “Good on the Inside” album) and “She’s Water” (available on both James Lann’s “Honky Tonk Kung Fu” album as well as Jason Clutter’s “Raisn’ Cain” album).

Heinzelman knows the music industry is shrinking, with fans listening to music free online or buying individual songs on iTunes. He encourages fans to buy the CDs and go to the concerts. Without that support, big-name artists may still get paid, but songwriters like Heinzelman, and others behind the scenes, won’t make much money.

In past years, artists might release a new CD every year. Now, it’s about every two to four years, Heinzelman said. It’s a tough business, but he remains optimistic. “The industry always tends to work its way around these kinds of dips,” he said.

He advises young musicians to learn as much about the music business as they can—“And you have to treat it that way; it is a business”—and to try to develop contacts whenever they can. “It’s all about the relationships you make. When you move here cold, not knowing anyone, you’ve got to start from zero.

“The crazy thing about the music business is there’s no set path,” he continued. “How it happened for me may not be the same for you. The people who are successful are the people who have the drive.”

So, while you won’t hear, “Paging Dr. Heinzelman, paging Dr. Heinzelman” any time soon, you may one day be singing along to his songs on your car radio.

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