A Mercer University School of Law alumnus is making a name for himself in the music business, recently garnering a co-writing credit on country music star Travis Tritt’s latest single, “Ghost Town Nation.”
“I did these writers rounds when I first got to Nashville, and one of the people that I met early on doing that was a guy named Aaron Raitiere, a really well-known writer in town,” said singer-songwriter JB Strauss, who’s originally from Macon.
The two set up a meeting at Raitiere’s office at RCA Studio A and started writing.
“It was right after the tornado in Nashville that devasted East Nashville and Germantown and right before COVID really hit, so the streets were empty,” Strauss recalled. “And he had a song that mentioned something ‘nation,’ and I said, well let’s call it ‘Ghost Town Nation.’”
They wrote the song and recorded it on Raiteire’s phone. Raiteire gave the recording to producer Dave Cobb, who played it for Tritt.
“And Travis loved it. He said it reminded him of ‘A Country Boy Can Survive,’” Strauss said, referencing the Hank Williams Jr. tune.
“Ghost Town Nation” was released in fall 2020 as the first single off Tritt’s upcoming album, which will be the country star’s first original release in over a decade.
“It’s been a crazy ride,” Strauss said. “Nobody knew who I was, and to get your name on something of that magnitude is pretty cool.”
A leap of faith
Now, Strauss is working on a studio album of his own. Back in November, he visited Mercer Music at Capricorn to check out the recently reopened and renovated Capricorn Sound Studios.
“We recorded three songs, got familiar with the equipment and just the feel of it, and it was a lot of fun. It was really incredible,” he said. “The folks there at Capricorn were really accommodating and hospitable, and it was great.”
He plans to return to make a full-length album.
“I’ve been in Nashville for a few years now, and Macon is where I grew up, so it’d be really cool to have both those places involved with this record,” he said.
Growing up, Strauss said he always sort of gravitated toward songwriting. He honed those skills as a history major at Birmingham-Southern College and then as a law student, following in his grandfathers’ footsteps.
After graduating from Mercer Law in 2017, he decided the family business wasn’t for him.
“I really enjoyed my time there and learned a lot, and I’m glad I did it, but music just sort of grabbed me while I was there,” he said. “I couldn’t stop writing. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and just kind of jumped off on a leap of faith and moved up here” to Nashville.
The first year was tough, he said.
“I didn’t know anybody, and I was playing little dingy bars, trying to get by and play these writers rounds where your objective is to meet people and not make money, but that worked out for me,” he said. “I met some of my best friends and people that took me under their wing and showed me the ropes.”
He continued working on his music and playing gigs. He released his debut EP, “Man Possessed.” He wrote “Ghost Town Nation” with Raiteire.
Then, COVID-19 showed up in the U.S.
Focusing on songwriting
The coronavirus pandemic took a toll on the music industry, essentially shutting down live shows. One year later, live music is only now starting to come back.
At the beginning, Strauss performed live-streamed concerts and even compiled the best songs into a live album called “Shut in Sessions.” But mostly, he used the time to focus on his songwriting.
Suddenly, he had the time to pen some songs that he’d been meaning to write for a while.
“If you didn’t take advantage of the time that was given to you to make that happen, then you’re probably behind the eight ball as a songwriter,” he said.
“Storytelling music is its own thing, and those kinds of writers are the ones that you aspire to write like,” he said.
Strauss said he also draws inspiration from musicians he grew up listening to, like the Allman Brothers Band, Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Of his contemporaries, singer-songwriter Brent Cobb also is a big inspiration, he said.
All but CCR have Macon or Capricorn connections. Strauss now is working with Mint Talent Group, which includes the Allman Brothers Band and recent Capricorn alumni Blackberry Smoke on its talent roster.
During his visit to Capricorn last year, Strauss said he was impressed with the people he met, including Chief Engineer Rob Evans, and their commitment to making great music.
“What they are looking to do with that place and their outlook and their plan for it, they’ve made it a haven for people who want to make great music,” he said.