Newbie to Watch: Mo Pitney, a Kid Who Grew up on Johnny Cash

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Mo Pitney
Mo Pitney has positioned himself to be something big in country music (photo from Smoky Mountains Songwriters Festival)

Young gun Mo Pitney has a stage presence that makes you think he’s been doing this a while.

Nope. He signed with Curb Records just last 2014. 

Nonetheless, he’s got a bright future. He recently previewed his debut album, “Behind This Guitar,” playing for a packed Station Inn in Nashville. His band included his siblings, Blake and Holly on guitar and backup vocals respectively.

He talked in between songs, which is something you should do only if you’re very good at it. One topic he covered in between songs included his love for his pregnant wife, Emily. He also gave a shoutout to his co-songwriters, including Dean Dillon who helped write “Take A Chance.”

“This is the song that I cheered [Dillon] on while he wrote,” Pitney said to the crowd, laughing.

In the middle of the set, Pitney cleared his band off the stage to leave him with his guitar. He played his song “Love Her Like I Lost Her” and Don Williams’ song “If Hollywood Don’t Need You.”

He also opened up a bit about his religious background and beliefs. This led into his gospel song, “Give Me Jesus.”

“You probably know I’m a Christian, mostly because I haven’t learned how to shut up about it,” Pitney said. “You experience a lot of wonderful things in this life, the majority of the record is about those things. I would trade everything, everything I can see with my eyes, for the one I can’t. And I know Him. He changed my life, I was in the pits of hell, this is a song about my King.”

The album’s title track, “Behind This Guitar,” pretty much summarizes Pitney as an artist. When he played it, the audience had the chance to see this fruition.

“Behind this guitar, there’s just a boy who had a dream in his heart,” he sings in the chorus. “Behind this guitar is just a guy that can’t believe he got this far.”

Who is Mo Pitney?

Mo Pitney
Mo Pitney (photo from Billboard)

Pitney comes from the town of Cherry Valley, Illinois. Like most country boys, he loved the outdoors.

“Right out my back door was a lake about a mile away,” he says on his website. “I’d ride my bike there with a fishing pole on each handlebar, like two tridents sticking out in front of me.”

At just the age of six, he started playing drums. At 12, he picked up the guitar. 

“I learned how to play with a cast on my arm by laying a rag over my dad’s guitar so it wouldn’t get scratched,” he says. “Johnny Cash At San Quentin was my introduction to playing music. I learned the whole album.”

Only time will tell us how his debut album will do in terms of sales, charts, and awards. But Pitney has a different frame of mind.

“People who have done this for a long time think there’s a place for my music, and I hope that’s the case,” he says. “My eyes are set on being successful, but success is not number one for me. If I can make a comfortable living and have a career making music and keep my head on straight, that’s my goal. And I think that I have a great opportunity to do that if I don’t get ahead of myself.”

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