Jameson Rodgers has packed his two EPs with breakup songs — including hot single "Some Girls" — and not a single love song is among them. So, dude, where's the romance?
"You know, it's funny," the 32-year-old Mississippian tells PEOPLE. "As of right now, I don't even know if I have a legit love song. It's weird. I was writing this morning, and I was like, man, love songs are the hardest songs for me to write. I don't know if it's because they're easy to make cheesy, or I don't know ..."
He pauses to think on it some more. "Maybe I just want to be, like, a tough dude," he says, breaking into a hearty laugh.
Kurt Ozan Jameson Rodgers and Sarah Allison Turner
Don't believe it. Love songs may not be his forte (yet), but that doesn't mean he's a dud at the actual art of love, as his fiancée, fellow singer-songwriter Sarah Allison Turner, can attest. Earlier this month, Rodgers rented out Nashville's iconic Bluebird Cafe, their first-meeting place, decorated it with rose petals and candles and surprised Turner with his proposal.
"To be honest," he says with a grin, "I feel like I crushed it."
He's crushing it on the country charts now, as well, with "Some Girls" in the top 5 and climbing. Here are five more things to know about this up-and-comer:
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He didn't pick up a guitar until he was 20.
Rodgers grew up in tiny Batesville, Mississippi, listening to '90s country, but his main interest was baseball. The infielder snagged a junior college sports scholarship, but he finished out his school days at the University of Southern Mississippi without a plan. "I was just kind of riding the wind," he says.
Though Rodgers loved music, it seemed too big of a dream — until he listened to Eric Church's debut album. "It made me think I could write songs like that," he says. "He kind of pushed me over the edge."
As luck would have it, Rodgers began learning the guitar around the time he roomed with two guys, one, an experienced guitarist, and the other, an accomplished poetry performer. Together, the three began writing songs. "Pretty soon, we're at a party, a campfire, and people are saying, 'Man, play that song, play this song,'" he recalls. "And I was like, oh God, this is awesome! I feel like I'm hooked. I'm addicted to this."
Next stop: Nashville.
Matthew Berinato Jameson Rodgers
He's taken the full 10 years in the notorious "10-year town."
Rodgers arrived in Music City in 2010 with singer-songwriter ambitions, no connections and just enough money to last a few months. "It was terrifying, to be quite honest," he says. "I don't know if I could do something that crazy now."
He managed to scrape by with odd jobs (working at FedEx is "probably why my back still hurts") while showing up at every open-mic night and making connections with other Nashville music newbies. His first big break arrived in 2014 when he landed a publishing deal: "That's when stuff kind of started rolling for me a bit."
The publisher, he says, instituted a songwriting "boot camp," sending Rodgers off to "write five days a week, sometimes twice a day, and I did that for about a year and a half." From those songs, four were plucked out for his first EP, which drew the attention of a booking agent. Soon, Rodgers was in a new "boot camp," this time on stage. "They would send me out to play 10 or 12 tough gigs," he recalls. "I mean, sometimes, you're just playing to the bartenders."
Matthew Berinato Jameson Rodgers
But every now and then, he says, he'd draw a seductive opening slot for a big name. "I got to play for 47,000 people one time in front of Sam Hunt at a festival," Rodgers says. "Each time you get to play for a big crowd, you're like, I've got to get to that level. I've got to keep working so I can get to that point."
It's taken Rodgers a decade to reach radio play, and he says, it's been worth the wait. "I feel like I've kind of paid my dues, which is nice," he says. "I'm glad it didn't happen overnight, so I'm trying to soak it up while I can."
Luke Combs supercharged his career.
The two met back in 2016 when Combs was just an Internet phenom. "It was two or three months after I put out my EP," Rodgers says, "and I got a DM from Luke and he's like, 'Hey man, I love this song called "Midnight Daydream." Let's write sometime.'" Rodgers admits he had no idea who Combs was, but "luckily I had a couple buddies that knew he had this underground following happening and some serious momentum going."
The subsequent songwriting session didn't amount to much, but the two stayed buddies as Combs began his meteoric rise. Rodgers' second EP, in 2018, earned a big thumbs-up from Combs, who called Rodgers with an offer: "He asked me, 'Do you want to go out on tour with me? I'm going to play 60 arenas. You want to come play 30 minutes and kick some ass and open the show?'"
Rodgers didn't think twice. "When you have nothing going on and you get offered a 60-arena tour, the answer's pretty easy," he says with a laugh.
With the upcoming tour in his pocket, Rodgers signed with a label within weeks. Since then, he's also enlisted Combs to be featured on his "Cold Beer Calling My Name," recently released as a single. "I just texted him, and he was like, 'Dude, I'm in,'" Rodgers says. "So yeah, the dude has been unbelievable to me. He's done more favors for me than, gosh, I'll probably ever be able to repay him for."
He's written hits — but not "Some Girls."
Rodgers has solid proof he has the songwriting chops. He's already notched a No. 1 co-write with Chris Lane's "I Don't Know About You" and a Top 10 with Florida Georgia Line's "Talk You Out of It." He also has co-writing credit on Luke Bryan's album title track "Born Here Live Here Die Here" and a track, "Camouflage Hat," on Jason Aldean's latest album.
But he doesn't mind that his first big single isn't one of his own. (That credit belongs to Hardy, Jake Mitchell and C.J. Solar.)
"If Kenny Chesney can cut a song he didn't write, I think I'll be okay doing that, as well," Rodgers says with a laugh. "I've had success as a songwriter with artists that didn't write the song, and so it all comes out in the wash, as Miranda Lambert would say!"
Matthew Berinato Jameson Rodgers
He has authentic country-boy credentials.
Besides coming from a 7,500-resident hometown, complete with a quaint town square, Rodgers has other claims that prove country courses through his veins. His grandfather was a high harmony singer in an old-time country band, and he named Rodgers' dad after his musical hero, Hall of Fame member Ernest Tubb.
Rodgers can also tick the boxes on lots of country prerequisites: a Ford F-150 pickup in his driveway; favorite foods that ooze comfort ("you know, sweet potato casserole, creamed corn, some black-eyed peas, a little cornbread"); and an always-current deer-hunting license.
Country themes, naturally, make frequent appearances in his lyrics. "I think it's probably the easiest thing for me to write about," he says. "There's probably not a song that I write that I don't draw some kind of image from my growing up."
He also confesses to a country boy's shyness, which perhaps contributed to the slow burn of his and Turner's relationship. The couple met nine years ago at a songwriting workshop held at the Bluebird, the legendary Nashville venue that showcases songwriters. "I thought she was cool," Rodgers says, "but it took four years for the stars to align."
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In those four years, the two shared several songwriting sessions and songwriter rounds, and "I feel like we were just crushing on each other forever," he admits — and he also shyly admits he can't remember which one decided to act first on their flirtations.
The shyness has been a challenge on stage, says Rodgers: "I'm still shy to this day to a certain degree, but I've kind of come out of my shell, at least when I step on stage. I'm not scared to get on stage anymore, which is good."
He says he's been known to take a fortifying tequila shot before he performs, but mostly, his butterflies pass "once you get out there and the crowd's into it, and you get to sing, and there's nothing to be nervous about after that. You just go out there and have fun."