Folks in Southington might not recognize Jackson Delaney as a native son staring out from the cover of the debut CD, and not just because of a full beard that would make the "Duck Dynasty" guys a little jealous.
Back when he was a star pitcher for Chalker High School in the late '90s, he was known as Michael Jackson. A shoulder injury derailed his professional baseball dreams, and in the music business, the name Michael Jackson already is taken.
Now he's working to make the name Jackson Delaney well known with outlaw country fans. His six-song debut album was released last month on Junebug Records.
During a telephone interview from Nashville, Delaney said he started playing guitar at age 16, but he never took it seriously because his focus was on baseball. And the only singing he did was in the shower until he was on vacation in Naples, Fla., with a girlfriend and he decided to get up and sing at karaoke night.
"When I finished singing, people thought I was like a country superstar on vacation," he said.
After playing in some country bands locally, he moved to Nashville in 2008. He landed a regular Saturday gig playing at the Second Fiddle in Nashville, but his biggest break came when he became friends with songwriter Gary Hannan, who penned such hits as "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off" for Joe Nichols and "Back When I Knew It All" for Montgomery Gentry.
"He agreed to produced the CD and help me find songs," Delaney said. "This guy is a well-respected songwriter. When he goes to publishing companies and fellow songwriters, it's different than some no-name artist asking for songs."
Half of the songs on the debut release came from Hannan, courtesy of the breakup between Montgomery Gentry and its record label. "Ugly, Lucky & Me," "Freedom" and Delaney's first single "Shotgun Wedding" were picked by Montgomery Gentry for its next album. But when it split with Sony, the contract prohibited the duo from recording those songs with another label for five years.
Delaney gravitates toward story songs and sings with a rich baritone that has earned comparisons to Johnny Cash. The raucous "Shotgun Wedding" is a bit of an anomaly on the record.
"I wasn't sure I wanted to put it out first," he said. "It's more rock 'n' roll sounding than the rest of the songs, which are more laid back and melody driven ... I wasn't sure I wanted to put that out first as my introduction to country music fans and not have anything else like it. But this is an early summer release. People want to move, have a good time. It was the best one to release at this point in time."
Early response to the single has been positive, and Delaney said he hopes more country stations will continue to add "Shotgun Wedding" and that its success will make it easier to book a tour in support of the record. He wants to come back to northeast Ohio for a CD release show, but he doesn't know yet when or where that will happen.
When it does, Delaney will be sporting that full beard and should-length hair. When the heat index hits triple figures in Tennessee, he thinks about shaving it off. But now it's part of his musical identity.
"Everything is so image-driven anymore, that would be a huge shock," he said. "Maybe 20 years from now."