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In 1981, at age 26, Jimmy Fortune was finally living up to his name. A struggling solo singer, barely scraping out a living at Virginia clubs and resorts, he suddenly landed an audition for The Statler Brothers as a temporary fill-in for ailing member Lew DeWitt.
Jimmy passed the audition and got the gig. When Lew realized that his health would not allow him to continue, Jimmy replaced him full-time in 1983.
Twenty years later, the fates have taken yet another twist. Statlers' founding members, Harold and Don Reid, announced in 2002 that they would be retiring and breaking up the act - presenting Jimmy with a hard decision.
"I thought about maybe retiring myself, or just taking some extended time off to be with my family," Jimmy reveals. "But then I realized that there are songs that I want to write, and music I still want to make. So I am taking on a solo career - it's a dream I've always had."
The dream is off to a quick start with Jimmy's debut album, When One Door Closes. The record features his versions of "Elizabeth" and "My Only Love," No. 1s he wrote for The Statlers, along with other original tunes.
"The title is very appropriate, I think," he says with a grin. "In my life, and everyone else's, doors always close. Nothing lasts forever. But then another door opens up and you have to make the most of it."
On that note, he speaks from experience. During Jimmy's tenure, The Statlers reclaimed the CMA Vocal Group award in 1984 - after a fouryear absence - then starred in a smash TV variety series that ran on TNN from 1991 to 1998.
"We were the right combination of guys who were willing to commit to each other," says Jimmy fondly. "That's why I didn't want to start my own group, because I felt like I could never find people like that again."
At the same time, he understands that launching a new career at age 48 is risky business. "I know that I can't compete with a Tim McGraw or a Kenny Chesney for the spotlight," Jimmy admits. "I'm a realist about that.
"But I am getting a great reception wherever I go," he adds, breaking into a wide smile. "People say that they like what they're hearing, so that's always a good sign."
Above all, Jimmy believes that he has a positive message to deliver. "Whatever happens in your life, you don't have to quit," he says.
"Keep trying and it will all fall into place."
-- Bob Paxman