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Strictly Country copyright Get To Know 'Em title

Jessie Keith Whitley carries on the family tradition.


By: Gina Kay Singerhouse



   When you break the essence of country music down, you will find the truth behind it.  True country music has and always will depict the life style of country folk.  Country folk will always carry on the traditions that were set by their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers.  Traditions that date back centuries are still being taught today.

   On June 28, 1925, George Morgan was born.  At a young age he was introduced to The Grand Ole Opry and country music.  George went on to become an incredible country music artist who kept the tradition alive.

   On June 27, 1959, Lorrie Morgan was born.  Daughter of Grand Ole Opry member George Morgan.  Lorrie grew up around the Opry, embracing it's members and traditions.  Lorrie went on to become one of the most celebrated female vocalists and a member of the Opry.

   On July 1, 1955, Keith Whitley was born.  He was born in the heart of Kentucky, where music and moonshine were part of daily lives.  At an early age, Keith learned to sing and play guitar.  He went on to become one of the most notable singer / songwriters in country music.

   In 1986, Keith Whitley married Lorrie Morgan.  It was a marriage made in heaven.  Lorrie had finally found true love in Keith. Keith proudly adopted Lorrie's daughter from a previous marriage.

   In 1987, Lorrie Morgan bore Keith a son.  Together they welcomed Jesse Keith Whitley.  However, the blessing would not last.  On May 9, 1989, Keith Whitley passed away from an alcohol poisoning.

   According to Talk Rehab, Alcohol Help & Support website, Alcohol poisoning is what happens when someone consumes a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. The amount of alcohol it takes for a person to be at risk for alcohol poisoning depends largely on their age, height, and weight, since alcohol poisoning is the direct result of their blood alcohol levels. Males tend to be able to drink slightly more than females, however that is not always the case. Typically for most people, only 1-2 servings of alcohol can cause them to be over the “legal limit” of alcohol, meaning they would be arrested for a DUI, even if they do not feel or appear to be drunk. Tolerance is another issue to consider. While tolerance may reduce a person’s feeling of being drunk, it does not make any difference in the concentration of alcohol in their bloodstream.

   Alcohol poisoning is also dangerous when alcohol is combined with other drugs or medications. This can also be fatal and lead to overdosing, since the combination of alcohol and drugs can further reduce a person’s heartbeat and breathing to a dangerous point.

   It is estimated that over 50,000 cases of alcohol poisoning are reported each year. According to alcoholism poisoning statistics, over 1 in 1000 cases of alcohol poisoning result in death. However, this statistic is not current, so it is not known for sure how many deaths and cases of alcohol poisoning take place. The lack of up to date and accurate alcohol poisoning statistics is very alarming, since if people were aware of how many deaths and alcohol poisoning cases there were each year, as well as the effects of alcohol poisoning, it could help in alcohol abuse prevention plans.

   The media had a field day with making assumptions about the death of Keith Whitley.  In the aftermath of this tragic event, rose a child destined to carry on the family tradition.

   "I was fourteen - fifteen years old and I was trying to decide what I wanted to do." tells Jesse Keith Whitley.  "I was with my mom when she was married to  Sammy (Kershaw).  Sammy said 'Boy do what you want.  You don't have to do music if you don't want to.'  I'm like 'Alright, well okay.  Hell ya, that's what I'm going to do then.'

   I wanted to be in the Coast Guard.  I've got about fifteen to twenty buddies that are in the Marines, Navy Seals, Army and Air Force." replies Jesse.  "I'm a firm believer in that.  That's one thing that never bothered me or scared me at all. I'm not scared of any of those guys that are in there and I'm always down to fight for my country.  I wasn't scared of water either.  A lot of people get freaked out over the water.  I just didn't. I just decided that I was going to be in the Coast Guard."

   However, things changed in a matter of a minute.

   "One day I heard a song and I said the hell with that shit! I'm doing music!" laughs Jesse.  "I picked up my guitar when I was about seventeen years old and started playing and started writing and here I am!"

   On May 9th, on the twenty-second anniversary of his Dad's death, Jesse Keith Whitley released his debut album, Kentucky Thunder.

   The album opens with the title cut.  This hard core country rock song tells the story of Kentucky moonshiners.  The song almost sounds like it was written about the Whitley family.

  "It's no secret the Whitley family, you know, we do drink!" laughs Jesse. "My family they used to run moonshine. Hell, I'm a huge fan of moonshine. Just about every show I do, I will have a red Solo cup sitting on stage about half full of some good moonshine. It's not only to catch a buzz but it helps my throat.

   When I heard the song, I immediately thought of my Dad's family. You know how everybody up there is, it's just a small town. All them old timers, eighty - ninety years old, talkin' about 'Boy back in my days hell we had to drink moonshine.'  When I heard that song it made me really think a lot about my family's heritage."

   There is a line in the song that states "music that comes out of me, turns to thunder naturally."

   "Every time I sing that line live, I get a really good crowd response." states Jesse.

   Perhaps it is due to the fact that Jesse tends to carry on his father's legacy within his music.  His father was and still is a well known influence in country music. Even twenty-two years later, fans embrace anything that has to do with Keith Whitley.

   The album continues with "Don't Close Your Eyes." The song was originally recorded by Keith Whitley.  In Jesse's version, it almost sounds like he dubbed it with his father.  However, it is Jesse singing with his mother Lorrie Morgan singing harmony.  The best way to describe the song is to say that the spirit of Keith Whitley is captured within the song.

   "I might be stepping on my own toes If I say this, but there ain't nobody in this world who can do a Keith Whitley song like Chris Young." states Jesse. "I'm a huge fan of Chris Young. I love him to death."

   The third cut on this incredible debut album is "I Can't Drive You From My Mind." Written by Jon Randall, this song is Jesse's favorite.

   "'I Can't Drive You From My Mind' is definitely my favorite song on the album." states Jesse. "It was written by Jon Randall who is just a phenomenal writer and a great friend of mine. I have always been a fan of Jon's writing, his music and everything. I picked that song and said 'this is going to be a hit. I'm telling you right now.  If that song does not go to Number 1, I don't know what the hell's going too!'"

   The album continues with "Saving Amy."  This song is one of the most beautiful, sad and powerful ballads that I have heard in a long time.  The song speaks about a woman who lost her lover and how her lover continues to watch over her from heaven. 

   The album continues with "Where Would I Be." This is another hard country rock ballad.  A song that truly showcases Jesse's vast vocal talents.

  The album closes with another great song in "Why The Hell Not."  This song speaks more toward Jesse's beliefs.  It's a song that is sure to get a great response from the audiences.

  "I want them to get me." states Jesse when asked what he wants the fans to get from his album. "What they hear is what they get. That album is me and any body who don't like it I guess they can kiss my ass and I'll give them something better next time."

  The best way to describe Jesse Keith Whitley is that he is a righteous man.  He knows what is right, he is willing to believe in that and stand up for his beliefs.  He is a man's man who is willing to fight for what is right.  On the outside there is a hard core shell.  But, on the inside there is a gentle man who cares.  He draws his strength from family values that date back generations.

   Jesse draws his musical style from his Grandfather and his parents while maintaining his own persona.  But, most of all, Jesse Keith Whitley is a breath of fresh air in a stuffy country music industry. 

 (© Strictly Country Magazine - July / August 2011.)

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