Pluck and independence are threads running through country music, which is why veteran singer-songwriter Jo Dee Messina has made country her career home.
In her three-decade career, the Massachusetts native has sung past her Yankee roots, a harder road to success for female country singers, feuds with record labels, a recent bout with cancer and life as a single mom of two active boys.
The latter, actually, isn’t a challenge to overcome, but life as it is and one she willingly embraces. “What’s my spring like? Just life and life’s been pretty crazy,” she said in a recent interview, conducted during a sliver of time between school, soccer, baseball and homework for her sons, 9-year-old Noah and 7-year-old Jonah. Messina and her five-piece band will perform Friday night at The Backyard.
She saves her heavy touring for summer when the boys don’t have school and homework, with many of her shows during the spring scheduled more for weekends. Being present for her kids comes first, said Messina, 48, who lives with her family outside Atlanta.
On her terms
Running her career on her terms rather than the industry’s has characterized much of Messina’s music. She moved to Nashville at 19 years old because she wanted to sing country music. Her music caught country ears with songs about personal resilience, led by her 1998 breakout album “I’m Alright,” which had country chart-topping songs in the title track plus “Bye, Bye” and “Stand Beside Me.”
Her next album, 2000’s “Burn,” continued that success, selling more than a million copies with two more No. 1 hits in “That’s the Way” and her duet with Tim McGraw, “Bring On the Rain.” Five years passed before her next studio album, the No. 1 “Delicious Surprise” with its hit single “My Give a Damn’s Busted,” but conflicts with her label plagued releases for several years before she parted ways.
Her Christian faith started entering her songs, in numbers like “Here,” “Bigger Than This” and her cover of “Reckless Love,” and increasingly after the birth of her sons and several months of cancer treatment in fall 2017 that knocked her temporarily out of performing. “Everybody needs to know God loves them,” she explained, adding that her country audiences responded when she started singing “Reckless Love.” “I was surprised how many people recognized it.”
Compounding her struggle with cancer was the dissolution of her marriage to Chris Deffenbaugh, but holding to her faith and stubborn spirit, Messina continues to plow through the personal challenges.
What Messina’s Waco audience can expect at her show are the songs that built her career and the ones that keep her going. “We’ll be doing the hits and some new stuff, too,” she said. “We’ll be sharing stories and having a good time.”