BY JOE B. COATES
His name, perhaps, destined him to be what he is today. His talents, his likability and his drive to fulfill his dreams have facilitated that destiny.
Hazlehurst native and country music artist Pat Roper, whose hit single “Now We’re Getting Somewhere” is getting big-time radio play throughout the country, took a winding road to recent success in Nashville. It included signing a deal with Lofton Creek Records and rubbing elbows with some of country’s greatest artists, including fellow Mississippi native Faith Hill and husband Tim McGraw, as well as Mark Chesnutt, Leann Rhymes and Sugarland.
Along the way he has had to adjust his goals to not only deal with his success, but also to make sure it continues.
“Years ago I set out firstly to sign a record deal, then secondly to hear my songs on the radio. Now that I’ve accomplished those, I’m working on a whole new set,” Roper said while he was in Nashville recently.
Roper grew up in Hazlehurst, this town that has been in the spotlight of the community of music artists for years. Hazlehurst is the birthplace Robert Johnson, whom many consider to be the Father of the Blues, and who has influenced generations of great musicians. That fact is not lost in Roper.
“I have had conversations with people I meet about Robert Johnson. They find it interesting that he and I share the same hometown,” Roper explained.
Roper pointed out that artists from Mississippi are numerous in all types of music, but the country genre just comes naturally to many.
“Look at Faith Hill, Billy Dean, Conway Twitty, Marty Stuart–the list goes on and on. We Mississippians get picked on a lot, but truth is we pack a good punch for a small state,” Roper said.
Roper’s musical leanings began at the age of five while listening to ‘old’ Kenny Rogers’ albums, he said. As time went by, Roper became a big fan of several of country music’s flagship musicians, including George Strait, The Bellamy Brothers, Garth Brooks and Keith Whitley. “ I still can’t get enough of those guys,’ Roper said.
While in school at Copiah Academy, Roper joined the Show Choir and got his feet wet entertaining local audiences. Later on he picked up a guitar and taught himself how to play, albeit not in classical fashion. “I purchased a chord book that had pictures in it,” he quipped.
After graduating from CA in 1993, Roper took off to Mississippi State University in pursuit of a degree in business, but feeling the tug of the life of a country music star in his heart. He hooked up with classmate Dave Moore, who performed in the area around the university, and began honing his talent. Roper initially played in several venues around Starkville and other parts of north Mississippi.
“We didn’t really have a formal band. Mostly, we’d get together and play where anybody would listen,” Roper said.
From MSU, Roper found work with Irby Construction Company in Baton Rouge, LA. The company moved Roper to Carthage, MO, then to Roanoke, VA in later years. In each city, Roper played in clubs and began creating a fan base.
In Roanoake, Roper was in high demand, playing up to four nights a week in local clubs. After the constant urging of his friends and fans he decided to move to Nashville to pursue his dreams and take his talents to the next level. The decision has proven to be a pivotal one.
Roper has made the right connections on several occasions. He and Ben Hayslip, a stalwart songwriter, forged a relationship that resulted in Roper recording his first single. “Somethin’ ‘bout That”, written by Hayslip, is a song “that is really about Hazlehurst,” Roper said.
The song is about growing up in a small town. “Naturally, that’s part of why I recorded the song. I grew up a country boy and had no hope of being anything else,” Roper explained.
Hayslip has also co-written songs for country music stars Jeff Bates (“Long, Slow Kisses) and Brooks and Dunn (“Put A Girl In It”.)
Roper’s first song was coproduced by Jeff Jones. Roper’s second single, “Now We’re Getting Somewhere” was cowritten by Hayslip, Jason Matthews and Dusty Drake. Matthews also wrote “Must Be Doing Something Right” that was recorded by Billy Currington. Drake has written songs for Joe Diffey, Mark Chesnutt and a host of other country music talents.
Those relationships eventually resulted in Roper signing with Lofton Creek Records. Mike Borchetta, president of Lofton Creek and one who has developed many country artists over the years, was highly impressed with Roper at first sight and at first listen.
“He’s good looking, his voice is fresh, and his personality is genuine. He has all the ingredients to succeed in today’s country music marketplace,” Borchetta says in a story on Roper’s web site, www.patroper.com.
What has been Roper’s secret to success? “Persistence, networking and believing in myself,” Roper says. His five year plan, for instance, turned into a ten year plan that had a back up plan, just in case. “I have met the right people at the right time and have been presented opportunities at the right time. There is a certain amount of luck to it, too.”
In the early part of the decade, Roper was a regular in Copiah County, playing for the Relay for Life a few times and at Sidetracks in Hazlehurst.
Currently, Roper is touring various radio stations throughout the country. Both singles have found regular air time through MISS 103 out of Jackson. Roper is also a frequent topic of discussion on the station’s morning show.
His two singles are even finding air time in Europe and in Japan.
He has played recently at Tootsie’s in Nashville, perhaps the most famous venue for budding young country artists. He has a strong presence on the internet with his own page at www.patroper.com. He also has a page on myspace.com and another on facebook.com. His music is also available on iTunes.
He is working on his schedule for spring and summer, including a trip to FanFare in Nashville in June, and shows at Riverbend in Chattanooga, TN and Nagshead, NC. He has recently worked with MISS 103 on the station’s St. Jude Children Research Hospital fundraiser in Jackson, as well.
Roper’s next trip to Mississippi will be in mid-summer and will be close to Hazlehurst. He is scheduled to play the 9:00 p.m. show at the New Hebron Rodeo on Friday, July 3. The event offers the best opportunity for his current and future fans to get another taste of his talents.
Roper is finding the time to get back to Hazlehurst more difficult since his career has taken off. But, he knows where he comes from and is proud to be from Copiah County.
It may be happening very soon, though. The Hazlehurst Chamber of Commerce is planning to bring Roper to Hazlehurst for a show in early fall. A committee of Chamber board members and others in the community have been meeting in recent days to lock down a date. More details on that event will be revealed in the next few weeks.
Roper said that one of his goals in life was to see all 50 states. He’s finding that fairly easy right now.
“I have truly enjoyed travelling throughout the country and meeting new people. I’m humbled by the great response from country music from other country artists. The fans, especially, have been wonderful,”
Not bad for an ol’ country boy from Hazlehurst, MS.