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Rockie Lynne leaves Nashville behind

Country artist still aims for country gold from suburban Minneapolis
/ Source: The Associated Press

Rockie Lynne is aiming for country music’s brass ring, and he’s doing it from an unlikely place — the northern suburbs of Minneapolis.

Lynne did his time in Nashville, playing for people with record deals. But with his marriage ending, Lynne left the country music capital and ended up in Coon Rapids.

“I thought, if I don’t give this a run now, to do my own songs and my own music, for the rest of my life I’ll go, ‘Wonder what’d happen if I’d tried that?’ ” Lynne recalled at his modest split-level home, with his old van parked in the driveway.

“So from the moment I left Nashville, I wasn’t doing covers. I never did ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’ ”

With his chiseled good looks, homey drawl and aw-shucks attitude, the North Carolina native is making his bid with his self-titled major label debut on Universal South. “Rockie Lynne” bowed to positive reviews but is off to a slow start in sales, moving only about 16,000 copies since its May release, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

That disappoints Kevin Law, executive vice president of Universal Records, but the company remains committed.

“It just hasn’t clicked at radio yet,” Law said. “We know that every time this guy plays a different town ... he’s got a new fan.”

Bold moves
Lynne moved to Minneapolis around 2000. He saw how a local band could pack a Twin Cities club — charging a $10 cover — and had a “revelation,” one that didn’t go over well with his Nashville-based band.

“Nobody from a dirt road in North Carolina goes, ‘I’m movin’ to Minneapolis.’ They all go to Nashville, Bakersfield, Austin. And so I decided right then, on the spot, I’m comin’ here. That’s what I did. I went back, told my band, I said, ‘Movin’ to Minnesota.’ They all quit.”

Adopted by a childless couple — Lynne doesn’t know his exact birthday but says he’s 41 — Lynne grew up in a Baptist household in the tiny town of Cool Springs in the foothills of central North Carolina.

It was at a church yard sale that the young Lynne asked his mother if he could have 75 cents to buy a used phonograph bundled with two albums. When he unwrapped the albums, Lynne discovered he had bought “Kiss Alive!” and a Jimi Hendrix disc.

“And I just knew from lookin’ at the covers that this wasn’t gonna go over real good,” Lynne recalls. He would listen to the albums in his bedroom with the speaker turned low, “and it rocked my world.”

After mowing lawns all summer, Lynne bought a guitar from J.C. Penney for $99, then bought an amplifier the next summer. At 13, he joined a band and would sneak away from home to play biker bars, redneck bars — “the worst of the worst,” Lynne recalls.

In 1983, Lynne (he dropped his last name of Rash, so people wouldn’t joke about “itch”) joined the Army to find a way out, “cuz we were crazy poor.” He ended up at Fort Bragg, N.C., and became mail clerk, which left him plenty of time to practice guitar. After three years in the Army, he spent nearly three years in guitar school in Hollywood, then eventually headed to Nashville.

“I lived this song”He played for other acts before going solo and recording his own CDs. But living separate lives put a strain on his marriage, and Lynne got divorced eight years ago. (His ex-wife now lives in North Carolina with their 17- and 12-year-old daughters; Lynne lives with his girlfriend and their 3-year-old girl.)

Lynne recounts a conversation he had with his then-wife in his single, “Do We Still”:

“How long can we keep holding on/To something that’s already gone/Girl, life’s too short to love like this/Too tired to try, too scared to quit/We took to heart the vows we made/But somehow lost the will/We said ‘I do’/But do we still?”

“When I wrote that song I thought, ‘Nobody on Earth is gonna get this.’ ’Cuz I lived this song,” Lynne said. “And what’s odd about it is that every day we finish and people come up to me and they say, ‘Man, that’s my life.’ “

Lynne’s debut features 12 songs he wrote or co-wrote. In “Lipstick,” he offers to rekindle his love for a woman by hitting the road with her, and “you can put your lipstick on while I drive.” Another song, “Holding Back the Ocean,” has a breezy, Jimmy Buffett feel.

These days, Lynne is on the road constantly. But he misses the times he spent in his basement, where for $12,000 he built a studio to record demos and has a stash of some 300 songs.

And he remembers going into used music stores and dreaming about equipment.

“Now I’ve got everything I need,” he said.