WHO'S NEW: JEFF BATES

First Love

"I'm a big ol' mush," admits Jeff Bates. "I'll cry in a heartbeat. I wish I didn't, but it's cool."

Jeff has been crying a lot lately -- but don't worry, those are tears of joy. After all, his tender-hearted first hit, "The Love Song," is rocketing up the charts, and fans are flooding him with their own tear-filled stories of how the tune has moved them.

The song was born when Jeff and a couple of song-writer friends got together and let their sensitive sides show. "We got kinda mushy," he recalls with a chuckle. "It got so bad we had to go outside and chuck a football around so we could get our masculinity back!"

One listen to Jeff's low, low, low voice should erase any doubts about his masculinity. "I hung out with Trace Adkins the other night," he reports, "and Trace's wife couldn't tell when one of us hushed and the other one started talking!"

Jeff discovered his unique voice as a child in rural Mississippi, where he grew up 11 miles from the nearest town. His mother taught him to sing gospel songs and he never lost his love for music -- even while working up to 75 hours a week as a welder, logger and carpenter after high school and performing in clubs on weekends.

Finally, at age 28, this self-described "late bloomer" decided to take a shot at being a professional singer. He moved to Little Rock, Ark., and established himself in that city's music scene.

In 1997 he made the move to Nashville, where he married wife Conne two years ago. The couple doesn't have any children -- yet. "We want kids, but we both want to wait until we have time to spend with them," he explains. "I've got this new career of mine, and she's in college, so we've been really busy."

Life is only going to get more hectic after Jeff's 11-song debut CD is released this spring. "People can expect a country record that's honest," he says. "All I try to do is sing about what I live."

And no matter what happens next, Jeff is grateful for his accomplishments so far. "I wanted this so bad, all my life," he says. "It got to the point where I thought it had passed me by. And then it happened!"

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