Quitting Wasn’t In Me

After years of writing songs and biding his time, James Otto makes the most of his second chance at country stardom.

It’s been a long journey from off-hours bouncer to guest of honor at his first-ever No. 1 party for “Just Got Started Loving You” in early June. Here’s some of what James Otto had to tell CW about that journey, his new music—and what lies ahead.

CW
After going through the situation at Mercury, is your success now even sweeter?
JO
Absolutely, man. That’s the thing. After 11 years in Nashville. Some of the failures of the past have happened. You think a lot about just being thankful for it now working and for it being as successful as it’s become. To get the second shot and for it to happen like it’s happening right not, it’s an amazing feeling . . . something I’ll never forget.
CW
I know you moved around a lot, starting as a kid. Would you have been less outgoing if you’d stayed in one place and not had to make friends so many times?
JO
I’ve never been naturally outgoing. I’ve always been more of a loner and a quiet person. I think the moving around being in the music business has helped me to develop social skills in being around people. Not that I didn’t have social skills, but I preferred to generally be alone.
CW
Is it true you found your first guitar in a trash can?
JO
I did. As a little kid, probably in the second grade or something, I found a guitar in a trash can in the alley way. That was my first experience with a guitar and I don’t think it lasted very long. I believe I broke it over a bed post a couple months later. ‘Cause I couldn’t figure out how to play it. I was just too young. It was one of those things. But it was the one and only guitar I’ve ever broken, I promise you that. It was a decent learner’s quality guitar.
I remember talking to the guy. ‘Cause my mom made me go back and talk to him . . . the person who put it in the trash . . . ‘cause I don’t think she believed I found it in the trash. So she made me go back there and we both talked to him. And I think the case is that he drove his dad crazy with that guitar and when he moved off to college, [his dad] threw it away!
CW
Did you take violin and sax lessons?
JO
Yeah, my first lessons of any kind were on the violin and that was in third grade, I think it was. It was the only instrument that was offered at my school. I went to a really small school in Fargo, N.D. It was really the only kind of music lessons that I had, besides music class where we’d play triangle or something, you know? And I was just always interested, because I’d be singing since I was about four years old. I was always interested in music and I thought, “Well, it’s something to learn on.” And gave it a shot and I played it for about a year and a half and was really horrible at it. Kinda gave it up early. Then saxophone came around about sixth grade.
CW
In the lyrics of your new single, you talk about forgiveness. Are you able to forgive pretty easily, or does it depend on what it is?
JO
Yeah, it depends on what it is. I’m somebody that tends to forgive, but it generally takes me time to get over the pain of the whole thing to get a clear head about it sometimes. Clarity helps forgiveness a lot for me. If you can have time to think it through and figure it out and kind of figure out where your head’s at, then your heart will follow.
CW
Are you willing to apologize when you’re not sure you’ve done something wrong?
JO
That’s the big problem. That’s the one we argue about the most. I’m like, “I’m not sure that I was wrong. I’m not sure I want to apologize. Maybe you were wrong.” I’m real bad about that actually.
CW
“When a Woman’s Not Watching” reminded me of someone describing character as how we behave when no one else is around.
JO
That’s exactly how this song came about. Kim Williams was talking about that very subject. He thought of the hook . . . “When a Woman’s Not Watching” really says a lot about you. It says who you are and what your character is. Again, it’s almost like a reminder to me. It’s a reminder to others . . . think about what your actions do. Sometimes you can do something without really thinking about it. It’s about tryin’ to keep yourself in check. That song I think is important. A lot of people think when somebody’s not watching that they can do whatever they want. And, hopefully, that song is a good reminder of that.
CW
Do women who hear the last verse about the guy three rows back…love that?
JO
A lot of women think all men are dogs. Some of us are, and there’s others who are not. They’re stand-up guys and those are the ones that we all should look up to and strive to be like.

For more on James Otto, check out the Aug. 11 issue of Country Weekly.

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