About Devon Heath
Devon Heath has been making music in one form or another since he was a kid growing up in west Texas. Now based in Nashville, Tennessee, the Devon Heath sound has evolved from the acoustic folk soul of 2015's “The St. Clair Revival” EP to something more like classic soul with a twist (or two). In 2018 he is releasing his new EP, “Can’t Give Up”.
With inspiration from a long list of legends like The Staple Singers and Van Morrison, combined with old-school Southern Gospel and “Pet Sounds” era Beach Boys, all topped off with modern melodies and arrangements, Devon Heath hits that sweet spot between familiar and new. It's like meeting an old friend for the first time. Heath's powerful and emotive voice goes with a soul leaning record like a kick drum goes with a bass line, but it took a while to get the two together. As Heath puts it, “I'm from West Texas. My family went to the Church of Christ where they didn't allow musical instruments, not even a piano. Nobody clapped, nobody stomped their feet, nobody 'testified' through music. I grew up on Willie and Waylon. When I was a kid, I thought Ray Charles was just the guy who sang “Seven Spanish Angels” with Willie Nelson. I feel like an asshole saying that now, but it's true. I had no idea how small my world was.”
Naturally, when Heath started playing guitar and writing songs, they were of the country variety. “I was 14. I wrote a song called “House on the Hill”. Then I wrote a bunch of songs about my girlfriend. I hadn't found my voice yet, as a singer or a writer. That took another 20 or so years.” Heath spent 10 of those years in Austin, where he recorded three full-length albums and played around the state with his band. “The music I made during that time was what we called Texas Music, which, for me, was an umbrella that covered just about anything. I might have a straight-up country song, then a rock song with a big electric guitar solo, then some bluesy thing. It was a frustrating time for me because I was chasing something I couldn't catch. I was going after a sound, but I had no idea what that sound was supposed to be. I was just throwing darts. I'm glad I did all that, though. It's what you have to do sometimes; wade through the mud for a while until you find something solid to stand on.”
While in Austin, Heath had supported his music and his family with a small construction business. When The Great Recession hit, the work dried up, seemingly overnight. “The recession wiped out my business, but it also gave us the opportunity to make some big changes. I had wanted to move to Nashville for a while and with nothing to lose, it was an easy decision. I would not recommend doing it that way, though. We had three young daughters and it was rough. It was the beginning of the hardest 3 or 4 years of my life.”
Just a couple of months after the move, Heath’s 4-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a rare type of leukemia. She had a bone marrow transplant and eventually made a full recovery. The experience was not only life changing, it also spawned a new period of discovery and creativity in Heath.
“I started listening to people like Bernice Johnson Reagon. Old spirituals, mountain music. Southern Gospel. I had been through three major life events in a very short period of time, and when I read the news it felt like the whole world was falling apart. Soul music from the 60s and 70s started to make a lot of sense to me. I started to hear music differently and I started to write differently, but I still wasn’t sure what kind of sound I was going to end up with.”
To figure that out, Heath turned to producer Walker Swain. “Walker has such a deep and broad understanding of music and I knew he would be great at shaping a sound with both roots and a freshness to it. When I walked into his studio in East Nashville, he put “Presenting Dionne Warwick” from 1963 on the turntable. I was like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to make a great record’.”
For the “Can’t Give Up” EP, Heath and Swain put together a mega-talented group of musicians, including Jay Nelson on bass and guitar, John Doing on drums, and Nashville soul singer Natasia Greycloud and Ethan Moon on backing vocals. In addition to his vocal responsibilities, Heath plays electric and acoustic guitars, and Swain himself helps out with backing vocals and Rhodes. With Swain producing, Billy Bennet mixing, and Andrija Tokic at The Bomb Shelter mastering, Heath is glad to have the East Nashville stamp on this record. “It was an environment where everyone was super creative, collaborative, and respectful of the others’ talents and skills. When you have that, you have a chance to do something you are proud of, and I am very proud of this record.”
Ultimately, the record Heath made coming out of the toughest period of his life sounds a lot like what you would expect to hear from a man who grew up on country music, lived through some struggles, became obsessed with some of the best music of the 60s and 70s, and filtered it all through the lens of a survivor.