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Jason Eskridge: From Golden Eagle to Golden Voice

Eskridge to present holiday concert Thursday in Nashville
Visit JasonEskridge.com for details

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Jason Eskridge opened lots of windows to opportunities during his years as a Tennessee Tech student. He earned a degree in mechanical engineering, allowing him to begin a potential career with NASA. He played football for the Golden Eagles, one of his tackles stopping a player who would go on to a headline-making NFL career.

Who could have imagined the one small, relatively insignificant event that would eventually point toward his path in life came on the night he sang the national anthem in Eblen Center before the start of a volleyball match.

Deep down, Jason knew football and engineering would take a back seat to his music.

He’s now a recording artist with three CDs, sang the voice-over on a motion picture, was a backup singer for Lyle Lovett and his Large Band, has toured with Jonny Lang, and has performed at both Carnegie Hall and the Ryman Auditorium.

And, he’s only just beginning.

“When I was growing up, my grandfather (J.C. Eskridge) sang in a gospel group called the Five Stars, based out of Rockwood,” Jason recalls. “They traveled throughout the Southeast, and they had a Sunday morning radio show. I would travel with them, riding in the car, listening to music. I think that’s where my love for music initially burst. I always loved listening to music."

“Eventually, I started singing in the church choir. I sang in the high school choir, and then in college. I’ve always had a little bit of music going on,” he says.

At Christmastime, he returned to a small music venue in Nashville for a one-night performance to a standing-room-only crowd of friends, families and others who wanted to hear his songs.
At the close of the show, he delivered a message of encouragement for everyone.

“I’m a believer in Jesus Christ, and I feel he’s the answer to a lot of folks. I don’t get the opportunity at all shows to do that, but whenever possible, I try to encourage people that there’s something bigger than themselves. They can find joy and peace through Jesus Christ. That’s a part of who I am. A lot of music comes from that passion,” he says.

Yet, he doesn’t really consider himself a Christian artist with a singular message.
“I don’t know that there’s any one message. My basic desire as a musician is to create music that causes the listener to love God, love themselves, love their fellow man, think harder, think deeper, think broader, laugh until they cry, laugh when they want to cry, try something new, remember something old, and ultimately live life to the fullest,” he says.

Despite his blossoming music career, it’s difficult to be passionate about music every day.
“Honestly, I’m not passionate about it every single day. Just like any other job, there are days when it’s frustrating or monotonous. It’s not often, but it does happen from time to time."

“That being said, one of the things that keeps me passionate about music is the powerful affect that it can have on the life of the listener,” he says. “You can be having a horrible day, but let your favorite song come on the radio and it just makes things a little better. Another thing that I love about music is the process of creating it. It’s awesome to start a song from scratch and then walk through the process of bringing it to a finished product.

Jason admits to numerous influences on his music.

“I’m a fan of many different types of music. I definitely gravitate toward old-school soul music, like Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder. I’m also a fan of some of the great singer/songwriters out there, namely James Taylor and Tommy Sims. I really like the storytelling side of country music. I love the amazingly tight harmonies and melodies of bluegrass.”

And, there are the songs his grandfather used to sing.

“I think my earliest musical influence would be the gospel music that I grew up listening to with my late grandfather. He opened me up to groups like the Jackson Southernaires, The Gospel Keynotes, and The Mighty Clouds of Joy.”

Now that we’ve returned to his grandfather’s influence, let’s go back, and fill in a few blanks.
Jason Eskridge grew up in nearby Rockwood, Tenn., playing linebacker and runningback at Rockwood High School well enough to earn the District Player of the Year award as a senior. He also earned honorable mention McDonald’s All-America recognition.

For that gridiron prowess, Golden Eagle coach Jim Ragland offered Eskridge a scholarship. In 1992, he spent a redshirt season, then played four years, working directly under linebackers coach Mike Hennigan.

“I chose Tech for two reasons,” Eskridge recalled. “I was offered a football scholarship, and that was a big part of it. Also, anyone will tell you that Tech is one of the best engineering schools in the country. To be that close to home and get to attend a school of that quality. It was all positive.”

Of all the games in his memory, a trip to play at Marshall University in 1995 stands out.
“Chad Penington (now the quarterback with the Miami Dolphins) was the quarterback, and I tackled him,” Eskridge recalls.

Closing his football career, Eskridge embarked upon a career with NASA, putting his mechanical engineering B.S. degree to work.

“That’s pretty much where my head was, career-wise,” Eskridge said. “As a kid, I was always intrigued with how things worked, what made things go and not go, so all throughout my years growing up, I had kind of ‘nerdy’ curiosity for how things worked.”

While at NASA working as a contract engineer, Eskridge made numerous visits to Nashville and was in the midst of the music scene.

“I spent lot of time in Nashville, hanging out with friends and looking at other ventures in life,” he says. “I started meeting people, I sang in a couple of weddings, and there were other random occurrences that put me in contact with some music folks. I started forging relationships with people who encouraged me to try music. I've always wrote songs, and I fooled around with the guitar, and I thought I’d give it a chance.”

He stayed in Huntsville less than two years.

“I pretty much centered my move to Nashville around music,” he says.

In the next two years, Jason met Elizabeth Piedmonte. A native of upstate New York, she was attending college in Nashville, and in 2001 they were married. The couple has a daughter and a son.

Today, Jason manages his own career, but admits he has a couple of folks who look out for him, serving as sounding boards for things he want to do.

Primary among them are the producing duo of Shannon Sanders and Drew Ramsey.

“They hired me to sing on Jonny’s record, which led to my traveling with him. They were instrumental with that, and they’ve helped me with my own projects.

He has also assembled his own band.

“In the years I’ve been here in Nashville, whether it be through sessions or other interaction, I’ve become friends with tons of musicians,” he explains. “I’ve forged relationships with the folks I work with. They are some of the best in the world to work with. They play my music with passion and love, and they’re also good people to be around.”

Jason has released three CDs, all independent releases which he recorded himself. He sells them at his shows, and they are all available on his website or on ITunes.

In 2002, he released a live recording of music that he played at a camp in Missouri. In 2006, he released a six-song Christmas CD. Last year, he released a six-song extended play CD.

“I think the biggest challenge for me has been having to regularly recreate myself and stay new and fresh while at the same staying true to the things I desire to be as an artist,” he says.
For more information, check out his website at jasoneskridge.com.

Written by Rob Schabert
This story was first published in VISIONS magazine

Note: Jason will present a holiday concert Thursday night at the Douglas Corner Cafe in Nashville, beginning at 8 p.m.