Growing up in the rural working class community of Tillamook, Oregon, with Merle Haggard fans for parents, perhaps it was inevitable that Jerry Kilgore would hear the call of country music early on. Kilgores grandmother gave him his first guitar when he was just twelve years old, but it was an experience when he was eighteen that changed the course of his life. "Back in 1986, I went to see George Strait at a huge honky tonk called the Flower Drum," Jerry recalls. "I was underage, but my parents got me in, and I was mesmerized by him. Not long after that, I was fronting a five-piece band I had put together. We soon became the house band at the Flower Drum, where George had played."
Kilgores course was set. He spent the next several years working the club scene playing classic country, first in Oregon, then in Phoenix, where a romantic breakup first inspired him to try his hand at writing his own songs. Soon Kilgores original songs were getting more requests at his shows than his covers. Jerry then spent two more years honing his chops in North Carolina before deciding to take a shot at Nashville. The young musician dragged his possessions into the yard and put a For Sale sign out, and the next day he loaded whatever hadnt sold into his pickup truck and headed out for Music City.
Within a few short years Kilgore began to have success as a songwriter, penning "Love Lessons" for Tracy Byrd, "Leavin Comin On" for Mark Wills, "Cover You in Kisses" for John Michael Montgomery, and "If A Man Aint Thinking About His Woman" for Clay Walker. Kilgores songs caught the attention of powerhouse country producer Scott Hendricks, who had produced Alan Jackson, Faith Hill, and Brooks and Dunn among many others. Hendricks was President of Virgin Records new Nashville office at that time. "He came out to a club and saw me play," Kilgore says, "and a week later he offered me a record deal on Virgin Records as the first male artist that they were signing."
The result was 1999s Love Trip, which brought together Kilgores classic influences like Haggard, Buck Owens, Gene Watson, George Strait and Ricky Skaggs in a contemporary country album that critics and fans alike hailed as the debut of a major new traditionalist. Kilgore got to live out many of his dreams, including playing the Grand Ole Opry and going on tour with George Strait, who had inspired him in the first place. "It was kinda full circle," Kilgore recalls. "I got to go on his tour as an opening act. It was great. It was a lot of fun." Though Love Trips title song was a Top 40 hit, Virgin Nashville was struggling financially, and the label soon folded, leaving Kilgore out on tour and with records in stores, but no label support. "Things were rolling, but the label wasnt," Kilgore says. "So that was that."
Jerry Kilgore spent the next several years re-grouping, playing, writing new songs and recording, figuring out his next move. In 2007 he formed his own label and released his second album Loaded and Empty, which he also produced. "I always kept writing, and I just accumulated enough songs that I felt would be a good record," Kilgore states. "I cut it in pieces, a few songs here and a few songs there, until it led to having a finished record." Songs like "Whats It Take To Get A Drink In Here", "Down On My Luck", "Loaded and Empty" and "Both Be On Our Way" continue in the Kilgore tradition of classic-yet-contemporary country. "There was never really any thought about having to find the right single and picking the right song like I did on the Virgin project," Kilgore says. "You know, you kinda look at What can I do that radio will like? This record I didnt think about any of that; I went in and cut songs the way I thought they should sound, and the songs I liked."
Loaded and Empty is Jerry Kilgores strongest work to date, and the word of mouth has been tremendous. "Ive been selling CDs overseas, to a lot of radio guys that are still playing Love Trip over there, and Im getting really great response from this record, great reviews," Kilgore says. Hes working on distribution, shooting a video, planning a tour and writing more songs, and on the strength of Loaded and Empty its clear that Jerry Kilgore is well on his way.