“It’s pretty amazing what goes on in the middle of nowhere, isn’t it?”
The words with which country music artist Jeremy Pinnell ended the evening have stuck with me since that night in October of 2018.
Hours earlier I had walked up to the entrance of Bishop Hill Creative Commons, a unique live music and cultural venue that books word class talent from all over the world. I traveled 30 miles to Bishop Hill, Illinois to see Pinnell perform his distinctive style of country music.
Bishop Hill is a small village in rural Henry County, Illinois, 125 souls. A town that looks like a Grandma Moses painting, a perfect setting for the style of music Pinnell has mastered. As I stepped toward the door, Pinnell stepped out.
“Hey, I’m Jeremy,” he said, sticking out a paw.
The first thing that will clue you to Pinnell’s working-class roots isn’t the tattooed knuckles, it’s that his hands are sturdy and rough, like two Purington Pavers. Bricks.
I was a fan of Pinnell. The first time I heard his song “The Way Country Sounds” it hit me in the heart like hook from Vasiliy Lomachenko.
Grab a hammer
Drive your nail
Spend your weekend
In the county jail
See your friends
Laying in the ground
You live the life I lived
You would know
The way country sounds
Man, I don’t know much, but I knew those words. They were intimately familiar. Jeremy captured in a song part of my life — a past life. It also struck me: “This guy is the real deal. No one who hadn’t been there could write those words.” If I came in a fan, I left a devotee.
The second time I met Pinnell was late May of 2019. The air was warm and friendly in Davenport, Iowa.
Pinnell was playing with his whole band. He was again standing out in front of the venue — the since shuttered Raccoon Hotel – when I arrived. He asked me how I’d been. Two weeks prior I had been in Las Vegas for the Canelo Alvarez-Danny Jacobs fight; it was still fresh in my mind, so I mentioned it.
“I don’t like Canelo,” Pinnell said, almost to himself.
My immediate reaction wasn’t to debate.
“Wait, you follow boxing?’
“I grew up near Cincinnati, we had Aaron Pryor,” Pinnell replied.
I yelled, “Hawk TIME!’
We both laughed. I recounted how just blocks away, at John O’Donnell Stadium, a minor league ballpark, James Toney knocked out the hometown hero Michael Nunn in the 11th round, a fight that still hangs in the air of the river town.
I mentioned Terence Crawford, Lomachenko.
“I love Lomachenko, but not sure I know Crawford,” Pinnell said.
“Check him out,” I said. “You’ll love him.”
Before walking away, I said to Pinnell, “Would you want to do an interview sometime? For a boxing magazine?”
He nodded. “Yeah man, I could try.”
I try to be a man of my word, so with a little encouragement from Michael Woods and my wife, I finally reached out to JP for the interview.
A year had passed since we’d talked. I’m not a trained journalist, so I had to ask some real journalists the best way to do an interview via telephone or video call and then transcribe it and create a story.
“Use Zoom and record it,” Woods told me, and what I envisioned as my biggest hurdle was quickly solved.
Within the first minute JP and I had an easy and friendly rapport. He is economical with his words, perhaps from the years he has spent honing and tightening his song writing craft. He says a lot with few words.
Pinnell is a recording artist with SofaBurn Records out of Dayton, Kentucky. Being a full-time musician for the past three to four years, Pinnell played 132 shows in 2019.
Like boxers, musicians have been sidelined by the spread of coronavirus. The following interview is from Thursday, June 4, 2020.
George Jolly: So first off, what’s up with your new single?
Jeremy Pinnell: It keeps getting pushed back, but this couldn’t come at a more perfect time, there’s so much down time right now. The single is called “Wanna Do Something,” from SofaBurn Records.
GJ: What has life as a touring artist been like under coronavirus?
JP: We aren’t going anywhere, who knows, maybe for a couple of years. By that time, I will be an old man. We’ve got stuff booked for September but who knows, right? We don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re trying to get a game plan together and figure out how to work and put a new record out. And try not to rely on touring. Because touring is where we make all our money. We’re just trying to navigate and be responsible.
GJ: You have tight band; did it take you a while to get all the pieces together?
JP: Chris Alley, the drummer, the pretty guy, me and him been buds for about 9 years. Then Junior Tutwiler, the guitar player, he’s incredible. I ended up working with Terry Rickards down in Nashville, and he introduced us. I told Junior he had to run some songs with me, and we got together, and he just nailed it. We played our first show together in Pittsburgh, at some rough club. Those northern people, they’re rough, take out all the southern hospitality, there’s none of that. It was a great show, he’s been with us ever since. Then Adam, our bass player, big guy with the beard. He’s an incredible musician. He writes orchestra parts for other musicians, he’s educated, but he’s a total scumbag too, so we get along great.
GJ: So, you grew up near Cincinnati, right?
JP: I did.
GJ: I know you said your boxing knowledge is limited, but what’s your first memory of boxing?
JP: Obviously the “Rocky” movies, right? I think that as a child, you know. How many times did you watch that movie and then go outside and imitate Rocky in the yard? (Below: JP, on the left, Balboa, with rock-hard physique, right)
That’s where it all started. Watching Hollywood. You get older, you get more interested. We got Aaron Pryor here, you know?
GJ: So, did you ever box yourself, growing up?
JP: I had flirted around going to the gym a few times. Learning how to stand and move my feet. They get you working in the mirror on your footwork first, they don’t let you use your hands too much. Then you hit the speed bag, learn your basic combinations, then you’re tied to a jump rope. That was about it, my time in the boxing gym was limited. I just recently got a heavy bag and a speed bag. I end every workout with 10-15 minutes on one or the other. Just to try and learn. I’m 42 years old, I should know how to hit a speed bag.
GJ: I don’t want to assume you remember, but we had talked outside of a show in Davenport, Iowa…
JP: And you told me to check out Terence Crawford. So, I started following him on Instagram, and watching all his fights, and yeah, he’s incredible dude. He’s legit. I watched how he trains, and he was talking about having Thanksgiving dinner and he’d make everybody go out and run as soon as they were done eating. I like that dude. He’s old school. You can just see it, he’s a tough dude.
GJ: So, it came out today that Terence Crawford is supposedly in pretty serious talks to fight Manny Pacquiao…
JP: See, I don’t know how I feel about that. Manny’s an old dude. He’s still a killer, but I don’t want to see that fight. When I saw Bernard Hopkins fight Joe Smith Jr, he got knocked out of the ring. I was like, ‘He’s an old man.” Me, personally, I don’t want to see that shit. Black Flag went on tour three years ago, and I said, ‘I’m not going to go watch that, I’m not going to watch a bunch of old men sing some of my favorite punk rock songs, I don’t want to see it.’ And then the English dude fought Klitschko, Anthony Joshua. At one-point Wlad almost murdered him, but Vlad had to be close to 50, I don’t know man…
GJ: So, as an artist, or as a human being, what is it that captures your attention about boxing?
JP: Well, my friends growing up that went to the boxing gym, we were all cut from the same cloth, all lower class, working class families. It’s always the poor kids that are fighting, that’s why I get really upset when people say boxing is this violent sport, they don’t understand. This is a poor kid’s shot at getting something. That’s how life is, you got to work for it, fight for it. I think music and boxing, they are in harmony in a way, just people trying to make a little money, so they can maybe buy their mom something, or take care of their family.
GJ: I follow you on Instagram, so I think I know your stance on the current protests and unrest, what do you think about the world we are living in right now?
JP: It’s overwhelming, I’ve been waking up sick to my stomach, as soon as my eyes open. People, it’s a tough time. The past few days I’ve stepped away from social media, it’s just too much. It’s heavy times. I don’t know what to make of it, I’m hesitant to comment…
GJ: You don’t have to go political.
JP: No, that’s fine. I’m always going to take the side of the people, I just am. I don’t care who you are. I heard this comedian say “tend to the garden you can touch.” I feel like I’m trying to be nicer, be an example of how to treat another human being. I don’t know how good I would do on the front lines of a protest. I try to do what I can. It’s not my place to comment on how other people (protesters) behave, and people that feel the need to, I wish they’d shut their fucking mouths.
GJ: I know you said you are not a fan of Canelo.
JP: I’m not, I was just watching his fight with GGG. I like GGG but I just don't like Canelo. But how can you not like Lomachenko, GGG, Terence Crawford?
Just looking at their physiques and how they fight, you can tell they’re doing what they need to be doing. Discipline and dedication, something I know nothing about. I’m trying not to just die.
GJ: So, are you still hitting the gym?
JP: Yeah, I try to stay consistent as possible. I need the relief, I do it now to get my brain right. I’m not going to be Arnold or some Olympic lifter, I’m going to enjoy myself. It’s my hobby, if I get time to work out without any distractions, it’s the best place for me to be.
GJ: Who would you consider your favorite boxer?
JP: Who do you think it is?
GJ: Muhammad Ali?
JP: Nah man, come on, I was born in ’77.
GJ: Oh, so, Mike Tyson?
JP: Yeah, Kid Dynamite. He was so dynamic. When I was a kid and saw him, it was like seeing something you can’t understand. Something so amazing. To this day he’s still one of my favorite people to listen to, and I still go back and watch his old videos, knockouts, his training videos.
GJ: Who is your current favorite?
JP: I don’t know man, I really want to like Deontay Wilder, but he’s a loose cannon. He fights with his arms wide open; you can tell he’s ben fighting for such a short time. I was let down that he didn’t knock Fury out in their first fight. I really like the Gypsy King too, but also seems a little out of control. I’m not a Joshua fan man, the way he carries it, arrogant, but I want to like him too.
GJ: Have you been to any pro bouts?
JP: No, there’s a local gym, Shamrock Boxing Club, they put on shows, amateurs, I’ll go to them when I can.
GJ: Is boxing still popular by you?
JP: Not really, you must go look for it. Amateur boxing, it’s still highly entertaining.
GJ: So that wraps it up on my end, I appreciate your time.
JP: Good, I hope you have enough, I feel like we could talk forever, you’re really easy to talk to!
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