The smooth, warm voice of country singer Tony Jackson carries many of his fans back to a time when the likes of George Jones, Conway Twitty and Bill Anderson led the country charts.
His straightforward take on Jones’ classic “The Grand Tour” four years ago, in fact, proved such an audience pleaser and internet sensation, with more than 8 million Facebook views, that it opened the door to a country music career for the then-bank officer and former Marine. It impressed Nashville veterans Donna Dean Stevens, widow of Jimmy Dean who performed as Donna Meade, and Jim Della Croce that they signed him to a talent contract.
Jackson’s debut album, “Tony Jackson,” featured covers of such country standards like “The Grand Tour, “ “It’s Only Make Believe” and “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” with several of his own songs, such as “Old Porch Swing” and “Drink by Drink.”
That blend of old and new carries over to the live show that Jackson and his five-piece band will bring Friday night to the Waco Hippodrome. “Our brand is traditional country in songs of our own and the covers we choose,” he explained in a phone interview from his home in Richmond, Virginia.
The show will feature songs from his follow-up album “Country Road” and a hefty dose of interaction with his listeners, whether from the stage or the meet-and-greet after the concert.
It’s that human connection that Jackson found in traditional country music that hooked him years ago when, growing up a kid of Navy parents, he found himself listening to Armed Forces Radio on bases across the United States and Europe. He met country star Randy Travis when living on base in Rota, Spain, and re-encountered country music when, after high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served four years, including a stint in Iraq.
To servicemen stationed abroad, country music brought back memories of family, relationships and home, he said. “You can talk about what’s real in country music,” he said.
That emotion and realness he found in traditional country continues to shape what songs he sings or writes now. “If a message resonates with me, I have no trouble delivering it,” he said.
Jackson had been performing with a band in Richmond and working in a lucrative information technology job with Bank of America when the chance to go solo in music came and he followed his heart.
His audiences have connected back: Jackson not only won a standing ovation at his Grand Ole Opry debut in April, when he was introduced by Bill Anderson, but has been invited back twice since then.
Some of Nashville’s top session and solo musicians have joined him in the studio, players like Vince Gill, Paul Franklin, John Sebastian, Little Feat’s Bill Payne, fiddler Joe Spivey, Willie Nelson band member Mickey Raphael and more. His current cover of James Taylor’s “Country Road,” praised by Rolling Stone on a list of “10 Best Country and Americana Songs To Hear Now,” features players from the bands of Vince Gill, Bonnie Raitt and Bruce Springsteen.
Jackson finds that both gratifying and scary. “They believe in what I’m doing, but it’s intimidating playing with that kind of talent,” he said.
His Waco performance comes in a summer where he and his band will be hopscotching across America, from Connecticut to Washington state. For the son of a Navy man, travel comes with the territory and he stays in touch with fans through his social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and his website, tonyjacksonmusic.com.
It’s all about connecting, what Jackson discovered in country music when far from home. “I think that comes across in a lot of my shows,” he said.