Jimmie Allen held a lot of odd jobs before achieving his country music breakthrough with his debut single “Best Shot” last fall: middle school janitor, busboy, protein shake barista at a Nashville gym, season 10 “American Idol” contestant.
All of Allen’s career ups and downs helped shape the stories on his debut album for Stoney Creek Records, “Mercury Lane,” which features many co-writes from the singer as well as a stirring cover of co-manager Ash Bowers’ song “Boy Gets a Truck,” whose new Ford-sponsored music video debuted this week.
The latter song caught the attention of Ford and brand-partnerships platform Music Audience Exchange, who recently paired other country acts like Thomas Rhett with Ford F-150, Kane Brown with Dr. Pepper and U.S. Cellular with Dustin Lynch for original video campaigns that air via paid-marketing on YouTube, Facebook, Pandora and many other high-traffic sites.
“Ford is a brand about toughness, and Jimmie is a guy who’s got an awful lot of grit,” says Nathan Hanks, CEO of Music Audience Exchange, who put together Allen’s partnership and music video integration with Ford with the company’s artist relations manager Victoria Yip. “He’s had a pretty hard road, and he’s done whatever it takes to make it in music. And not ever, in all of the stuff he’s gone through, has he complained about how the industry’s not fair. The guy has taken on making it in music with such dignity, and just has a ginormous heart.”
Though Allen isn’t the first artist to cut “Truck” (Keith Urban featured it on 2016’s “Ripcord”), the song spoke to his strong family bonds and memories of driving around in his father’s own Ford truck as a kid. And, as he says in a mini-documentary for Ford’s 2019 F-150 Premium Leather + Liner Package that began airing September 1, “It’s important to work with a company that backs artists and supports music, but also ties back into family.”
In between stops on his current headlining tour, Allen spoke with Songs For Screens about the childhood connection to Ford’s new campaign, his plans for an upcoming biopic based on his life and bringing diversity to the country airwaves.
What in your personal history do you bring to this Ford partnership?
Growing up, my dad was a Ford truck driver, and a lot of the memories I had as a kid are from when my dad first introduced me to country music when I was riding around in his ‘98 Ford — this is a family I’ve been wanting to be a part of since I was a kid. Their brand, their history reminds me of my story and moving forward in life. I’m trying to be the new Toby Keith. I’m trying to be Ford tough. I want everybody to see a Ford sign and see my crazy looking face sitting there, smiling.
In the mini-documentary you filmed for Ford, you talk a lot about your long struggle to making a career out of country music. What was it like when your debut single “Best Shot” topped the Country Airplay chart last year?
Man, honestly, at first it was weird, dude. Because I’ve been having this dream since I was a kid, and for it to finally happen, I felt like I was living somebody else’s life, not my own. So many other times in life we see other people being successful, other people living out dreams. We want it to happen, but when it does it still catches you off-guard. So when it happened I was so grateful, but one other thing that did was it just motivated me to want another one.
What my mom is good at, she said to me, “Jimmie, I understand you’re excited now and you want to move on and get another one. But you have to take the time to enjoy every victory, great or small. So many other artists have had record deals and lost record deals — they haven’t had a No. 1 on their first single. And you did it being a guy from a town a lot of people have never heard of before. I want you to really take in what you’ve done.” And I said, “You know what Mom, you’re right.” So I took my five minutes, and then I said, “Let’s move on.” But it was those five minutes that shaped my entire life.
You mentioned in your Ford documentary that you’re working on a movie based on your life. What’s the status of that, and what can we expect?
You can just expect some more in-depth detail on my journey. I don’t want to give away too much. Sometimes it’s hard to talk about, there’s a lot of pain there, but I feel like with the movie, I was like “Alright, I gotta dig deep.” So Brandon Camp, the producer, he’s been really great, we’re writing together and he’s pulling stories out of me and getting me to dig a little deeper than I would normally for interviews. And then I get to pull out a little acting skills.
So you intend to star in the movie as well?
It’s gonna be a country version of “8 Mile.” [laughs] But yeah, the plan is to bring in a few A-list actors to play some roles and bring some attraction to the movie. If I put out a movie with just me, ain’t nobody gonna see it. My dream would be to have either Will Smith or Jamie Foxx play my dad. That would be intense.
You address the diversity part of your story head-on in your song “All Tractors Ain’t Green.” What does it mean to you to be one of the faces of an under-represented in country music right now?
I definitely feel like a lot of progress has been made. For me, “All Tractors Ain’t Green” was about anyone that had a dream to have a certain career. If you don’t see someone that represents you, whether it’s a doctor, a lawyer, a pastor, a reporter, a schoolteacher, just showing them you can be from anywhere, look like anyone and do anything. That was my main goal with my album and that song.
I look at it the same way as when Eminem went into the hip-hop game. Sure, you had Marky Mark and Vanilla Ice, but there was nobody who really represented the white community in hip-hop like Eminem did. And once Eminem came out the way he did, the great thing is it’s all about getting respect from your peers.
Songs for Screens is a Variety column sponsored by music experiential agency MAC Presents, based in NYC. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column highlights noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as film and TV. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @ahampp.