Ashley Cooke

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This episode is sponsored by:

Country artist Ashley Cooke is quickly becoming a favorite and is on her way to becoming a household name. She’s already gotten to collaborate with Jimmie Allen and tour with Cole Swindell! In this episode, we talk about her journey to being a Country star and what her audience means to her, and so much more. You’re going to appreciate and enjoy how open and authentic she is.

In this episode:

  • Getting to work with Jimmie Allen
  • Why poetry speaks to her
  • What could possibly cause Taylor Swift to return to Country Music
  • What makes a song Country
  • Why she had to move around so much
  • Why Florida is home
  • Why she went to school for Marketing & Communications rather than something in music
  • Being the first non-music major to win the Belmont Showcase
  • Going on tour with Cole Swindell
  • Her songwriting process
  • Her future as an actress
  • Is she or isn’t she dating the guy from Back in the Saddle
  • Dating in 2022
  • Connecting with her audience


“There was just something in the depth of poetry and how so little could say so much.” ~Ashley Cooke

“The bar for what is good [music] is just so high right now.” ~Ashley Cooke

“I think the beautiful part is that Country has, over the last couple of years, whether you hate it or you love it, it’s kind of extended its boundaries for what is and isn’t Country.” ~Ashley Cooke

“Country music is universal in so many ways.” ~Ashley Cooke

“I just kind of fell into performing and writing songs and kind of just being around it. And it just became my absolute passion, and I found a knack for it.” ~Ashley Cooke

“I lived in California the longest, but Florida was just kind of where I feel like I became a human.” ~Ashley Cooke

“I think when you’re 18, giving yourself the ability to question what you want to do and the doors that you want to open and the person you wanna be is really important instead of just being like, ‘Well, I have to do this thing because obviously, this is what I’ve always done.’” ~Ashley Cooke

“As much as being on stage and looking out at the audience makes you envision your future, it’s the one-on-one connections with people that care about what you’re doing and wanna get to know you and wanna learn and wanna buy your merch and wanna come to your next show.  That’s your future.” ~Ashley Cooke

Guest’s Bio:

Raised between the coasts of California and Florida, Ashley Cooke is an up-and-coming country artist who brings authentic and honest storytelling to her music. The singer/songwriter developed her love of country music as Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean, and Florida Georgia Line quickly became the soundtrack of high school. Cooke followed her passion for music to Belmont University, where she won the Country Showcase, placing her in an elite class of winners that includes Brad Paisley, Chris Young, Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line, and more. 

In Aug. 2021, Cooke released her debut project, Already Drank That Beer, featuring 8 tracks written by Cooke alongside many of Nashville’s hottest songwriters. Produced by award-winner Jimmy Robbins, the debut project garnered critical acclaim from Rolling Stone, People, Taste of Country, Sounds Like Nashville, Country Now, and more. In April, Cooke enlisted Country megastar Brett Young to feature on standout track “Never Til Now,” which Billboard tapped as a “superb vocal blend,” proving her “bright future ahead within the country music genre” (CMT). Resonating with fans far and wide, the romantic love song prompted Cooke to make her national television debut on ABC’s “The Bachelorette.”

Last year, Cooke hit the road on tour with fellow rising acts BRELAND and Spencer Crandall and spent the first half of 2022 touring alongside Cole Swindell, Brett Young, and Jordan Davis. Cooke will continue to appear at some of the summer’s hottest fairs, and festivals as she gears up to release more new music via Big Loud Records / Back Blocks Music before heading out on Swindell’s Back Down To The Bar Tour in fall 2022.

Guest’s Contact Info:

Kylie Morgan

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Country artist Kylie Morgan is simply a delight. She was kind enough to share about her personal life, her career, and what’s next.

In this episode:

  • What inspired her style of music
  • Why she was bullied
  • Writing with Walker
  • Her pride and joy
  • Getting to work with her dream team
  • Why she was scared of marriage
  • Her view on marriage
  • How quickly she moved in with her fiance
  • Keeping up with two musical careers


“She’s [Shania Twain] an actual superhero and the Exhibit A of how to run an empire.” ~Kylie Morgan

“You can become an actual human that these people feel like they know through social media. And so when I meet fans at shows, the first thing that they say is like, ‘Oh my God, I feel like I know you.'” ~Kylie Morgan

“You can filter everything, sugar coat everything that you wanna tell your best friend, or you can bluntly be like, ‘Get over it. Get up and move on. You’re better than that.’ And that’s kind of the tough love I want to give my fans in a way that’s the best you would talk to them.” ~Kylie Morgan

“I always felt in past relationships that I did have to choose between either being a girlfriend or being in a relationship or my career.” ~Kylie Morgan

“Throw a party in Nashville. Make sure there is free beer and wine and a cheeseboard, and they will come.” ~Kylie Morgan

Guest’s Bio:

Exuberant and ethereal, Kylie Morgan is turning heads with her new EP P.S., out everywhere now. Pairing articulate, coming-of-age revelations with fun up-tempo anthems, P.S. features seven tracks, each co-written by Kylie, including her debut single to country radio, “If He Wanted To He Would.” P.S. is the anticipated follow-up to her breakout EP, Love, Kylie – a bold introduction that scored the Oklahoma native a place as one of CMT’s Next Women of Country, VEVO’s 2021 DSCVR Artists to Watch, and to CMA’s coveted KixStart program. Already surpassing 100 MILLION global streams, Kylie has been praised for her “powerful voice” (CMT) with “infectious arrangements, irresistibly clever lyrics, and a vibrant, empowering energy” (American Songwriter). On the road this summer, she recently wrapped the GOOD TIME TOUR with Niko Moon after previously opening for artists including Dan + Shay, Little Big Town, Maren Morris, Kip Moore, Jason Derulo, Gavin DeGraw, Brett Eldredge, and Billy Currington. For more information, visit, and keep up with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.

Guest’s Contact Info:

William Lee Golden

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This episode is sponsored by:

Gary had the distinct honor of having William Lee Golden of the Oak Ridge Boys join him for an open conversation, and William was very frank.

In this episode:

  • What he did during the pandemic
  • Who taught him to play the guitar
  • Why he had to leave the Oakridge Boys
  • His book Behind the Beard
  • Growing up on a cotton and peanut farm
  • Why they didn’t sing any new songs during the pandemic
  • What he thinks about his kids being in the music industry
  • Which song gives him chills
  • Taking a stand and being who you are
  • The insane number of situps he still does at 83


“You know, we were all shut outta church. And so we’ve come together here at our old home and. Got started singing old songs.” ~William Lee Golden

“You can’t go dragging your differences around. You gotta get past all that.” ~William Lee Golden

“I’m into music more than anything.” ~William Lee Golden

“Their [his kids] mothers are the unsung heroes in their lives.” ~William Lee Golden

“I don’t wanna hate nobody. I wanna love everybody.” ~William Lee Golden

“I didn’t come to town and try to join the Oakridge Boys to try and become the star of the show.” ~William Lee Golden

“You can’t pretend to be someone you’re not your entire life.” ~William Lee Golden

“I sing from my heart.” ~William Lee Golden

“I’m who I am, and it didn’t matter.” ~William Lee Golden

Guest’s Bio:

He is one of the most recognized personalities in Country and Gospel music, having garnered the highest accolades as a member of the legendary group The Oak Ridge Boys. Now, the renowned “Mountain Man” is climbing to new heights in the world of fine art.

Doo-wop, Pop, Country

For the first time in a long time, William Lee Golden has a spring in his step. Coming out of a tumultuous period in his life, the iconic baritone vocalist has found the love of his life in his new bride, Simone. He’s also comfortable with his place in the world as part of the Oak Ridge Boys, who are celebrating their 42nd Anniversary together in 2015, while Golden’s celebrating his 50th anniversary since joining the iconic group.

A farmer’s son, Golden spent the early years of his life in rural south Alabama surrounded by music. As he grew up, he started singing at the age of seven and began performing regularly on his grandfather’s weekly radio show along with his sister, Lanette. It was there that his love of harmony came alive, and by his teenage years, Golden grew to appreciate the Country, Gospel, Doo-Wop, and Pop quartets, and sure enough, it wasn’t long before he was joining up with The Oak Ridge Boys.

Nobody back home in Brewton, Alabama, could’ve imagined back then all that Golden would accomplish with The Oak Ridge Boys since joining the band in 1965. While on a break from the quarter, Golden released several solo recordings to considerable success.

But for as much success he has had as a recording artist, Golden’s no one-dimensional act. He’s found considerable success with his paintings, and he’s finding even more success with a new visual medium, photography, where he often focuses on landscape portraits and scenes. Many of his favorite shots can be found on Golden’s official Facebook page.

Family has long held a special meaning to Golden. In addition to his newly found love with his wife, Simone, Golden has four sons in Rusty, Chris, Craig, and Solomon. Golden also has six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Along with his marriage to Simone, he also welcomes his step-daughter Megan, her husband Newton, along with the addition of another grandchild to the fold.

Lifetime Achievements

With over forty million records sold, The Oaks have had more than a dozen Number One singles and over thirty Top Ten hits. Their numerous Gold and Platinum recordings include “Thank God For Kids,” “Ozark Mountain Jubilee,” and the crowd favorite “Elvira.” The Oaks have received five Grammy Awards, one American Music Award, four Country Music Awards (CMA), four Academy of Country Music Awards (ACM), the 2008 ACM Pioneer Award, ten Dove Awards, the 2010 President’s Honor, induction into The Grand Ole Opry in 2011 as well as the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. In 2015 they were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The legendary group has received an abundant amount of other national and international acknowledgments.

American Vagabond

During his forties, Golden went through profound changes emotionally, spiritually, and physically. “With all the success came a very fast-paced agenda. The mountain man and Indian way of life appealed to me because they brought me back to my childhood, where the simple things in life meant the most. I wanted to stop and see myself as God made me.” William reflects. The once-trend setter let his hair and beard grow to their natural lengths.

Golden had a desire to grow musically as well. In 1985, Golden recorded his first solo album called “American Vagabond” for MCA Records. The critically acclaimed album was produced by the great Booker T. Jones and showcased Golden’s individual talent. The ultimate promoter himself, Golden hired New York Publicist Pam Lewis. Pam was known for helping launch MTV and later became known for launching superstar Garth Brooks as his co-manager. 

Notes of Interest

William Lee Golden has earned recognition for his individual achievements in both music and art. Over the years, the iconic features of the Singing Painter have been the subject of many sketches, paintings, and sculptures by other world-renowned artists. Golden has received the “Entertainer Of The Year” Award from the Cherokee Indian Association, which is comprised of 21 tribes from across America, as well as the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

Guest’s Contact Info:

Hailey Whitters

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In this week’s episode, Country Music artist Hailey Whitters joined Gary Scott Thomas and shared stories about songwriting sessions, Nashville, and more. You’ll be amazed at the courageous thing she did when she first arrived in Nashville! If you like getting to know more about the artists you love, give this episode a listen.

In this episode:

  • Her first impressions of Nashville
  • Who gave her her first big break
  • Writing with Lori McKenna
  • Which song of hers is her favorite
  • Being the oldest of 6 children
  • The catalyst for being able to write happy songs
  • How she felt about growing up in a small town
  • What people said about her being from Iowa


“It’s a good thing you have your dreams when you’re young. You’re just dumb enough to chase them.” ~Hailey Whitters

“I had no connections to the music business. I had no friends down here. I had no family down here. I would just walk up, introduce yourself and ask for a gig.” ~Hailey Whitters

“I love writing. I’ve always loved writing. If I wasn’t a singer, I’d find a way to write. I’d find a way to write a book or a poem or something like that. That’s always been my strong suit. And I just love putting words together. I think that’s why I’ve always loved country music because they’re so heavy on the lyrics.” ~Hailey Whitters

“I try and look at the positive. It’s not all butterflies and rainbows, but if I can have a few songs in my pocket that make me feel good and make me think of the good things in life, I like to have that. And I like to sing about that and remind other people that there are bad days, but there are some really good ones too.” ~Hailey Whitters

“I love a good happy cry.” ~Hailey Whitters

Guest’s Bio:

The idea of “home” courses throughout country music. But few songwriters can place you in the center of the town square, on a stool at the corner bar, or in a chair at the kitchen table quite like Hailey Whitters. 

On her 2020 breakthrough album The Dream, Hailey wrote about escaping her hometown of Shueyville, Iowa, to pursue stardom in Nashville. It was a fantasy record at first, full of far-off plans, hopes, and dreams. But it soon became Hailey’s reality — she signed a label deal with Big Loud/Songs & Daughters, went on tour with Luke Combs and Midland, and made her first of many appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. 

The Dream and its deluxe reissue Living the Dream earned her critical acclaim from media outlets as varied as The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Garden & Gun, and Stereogum, which ranked it the best country album of the year. Hailey racked up 75 million global artist streams, was named the inaugural Opry NextStage Artist of 2021, and was nominated for Breakthrough Video of the Year at the CMT Music Awards. Remarkably, she also became a Grammy-nominated songwriter for “A Beautiful Noise,” her collaboration with artists like Brandi Carlile, Alicia Keys, and Brandy Clark.

In the midst of that whirlwind, Hailey found herself reconnecting with her Midwestern roots. Shueyville was always in the back of her mind, and the memories she made there — getting her first kiss from a boy who tasted like wintergreen tobacco, racing her friends through the cornfields, eating Sunday supper with her big family — started to shape her writing. Over the past two years, she channeled those memories into her highly anticipated new album, Raised

Released via Songs & Daughters and Hailey’s own Pigasus Records, Raised is the sound of Hailey Whitters going home.

“It’s been 14 years since I’ve lived in Iowa, but more and more, I’ve been going back there mentally and being pulled to the people and the places that raised me,” she says. “With The Dream, I was starting to turn that corner back home, but this record went straight there. If The Dream were my wings, then Raised is my roots.”

For The Dream, Hailey turned to Jake Gear to produce. For Raised, she joins Gear — her creative partner and fiancé — behind the console as co-producer. Once again, Logan Matheny mixed and engineered. The result is an LP that is rich in folksy turns of phrase, sharp yet inventive in its musicianship, and teeming with unvarnished honesty. 

“If you’re listening to The Dream, I think you hear a girl hanging on. She’s had her heart broken, but she’s finding a way to persevere and to keep going,” Hailey says. “And when you listen to Raised, you hear what gave her that strength. This is the place, the people, the work ethic, the values — this is what she was raised on.”

Made up of 17 tracks, Raised is full of expertly crafted country songs — the title track, “Boys Back Home,” “Beer Tastes Better,” and “Middle of America,” featuring American Aquarium — and quirky sonic excursions. The orchestral piece “Ad Astra Per Alas Porci” (Latin for “To the stars on the wings of a pig,” Hailey’s motto) bookends the album. There’s also a gorgeous piano “Interlude” at the record’s midsection and a comedic skit titled “The Grassman” that introduces one of the album’s high points: “Our Grass Is Legal,” a salute to a straight-and-narrow family business that was accustomed to shady phone calls.

“My grandpa had a sod business named Whitters Turf Farm back in the Sixties and Seventies, and he called himself ‘The Grassman.’ Everyone would call him looking to buy pot,” Hailey laughs. “My dad and my uncles all grew up working out in the fields, raising grass with him, and he had the business motto ‘Our Grass Is Legal.’ I thought it was a perfect title for a song.”

Family is a recurring theme throughout Raised. That’s Hailey’s real-life Aunt Cindy who answers the phone in “The Grassman” skit, and it’s her parents’ Iowa cornfield that inspired the track “In a Field Somewhere.” 

“That’s my holy place,” Hailey says. “That’s where I go to quiet my head. You can see for miles, and it’s just golden and serene. Back in high school, the cornfield was where I used to go streaking with boys and a case of beer. My dad taught me how to drive in a field. And Jake proposed to me in that same cornfield behind my parents’ house.” 

In “Big Family,” she sings about volatile holidays, boisterous road trips, and “bunk beds, matchin’ sheets and sharin’ the bathroom sink.” Fleshed out by wistful fiddle and a twangy Telecaster solo, the song grows into a family chorus sing-along. 

“I come from a big Irish-Catholic family. We had more cousins than friends growing up,” Hailey says. “I remember all of us would head over to my grandpa’s after church for Sunday supper, and he’d be sitting on a stool with a shot of whiskey and a Schlitz beer, and everyone would be catching up on the weekly family gossip. That definitely shaped me.”

On the surface, she sings about drinking in “Beer Tastes Better,” co-written with Lori McKenna. But it reveals itself to be an emotional commentary about outgrowing home and trying in vain to recreate that sense of community.  

“It’s that moment of walking back into your hometown bar, and you are instantly walking back into the past and the present. It’s a bittersweet feeling to experience: It’s like everything’s changed, but nothing really has,” she says.

Along with standouts like “Ten Year Town” and “Heartland,” The Dream gave Hailey a viral hit with the character study “Janice at the Hotel Bar.” She taps into that sense of personal storytelling on Raised with “Pretty Boy,” co-written with Scooter Carusoe and Tom Douglas. While the guys in “Boys Back Home” taught Hailey how to drink, fight, kiss, and cry, the title character of “Pretty Boy” is a lesson in going against the grain. He’s not the quarterback or the good ol’ boy; just an introspective kid finding his way. 

“‘Pretty Boy’ unveils some of the darker sides and shadows of masculinity,” she says. “Where I’ve grown up, boys are supposed to be tough, aren’t supposed to cry. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that a man’s ability to show emotion, grief, and sadness is a strength. ‘Pretty Boy’ may not be written the same way as ‘Janice at the Hotel Bar,’ but it has that same rich storytelling lyricism.”

At the end of the day, Hailey remains very much that girl next door, ready to jump in the back of a pickup truck in her worn-in blue jeans and head out into the fields. “I’ve never been much of the Hollywood style,” she laughs.

Like Hailey herself, Raised is steeped in the culture of the Midwest. Musically, there are hints of early Alan Jackson, the Chicks, and the king of heartland rock, John Mellencamp. But you needn’t have spent your formative years on a farm for Raised to speak to you. 
Raised is a celebration of the Midwest, but I think it’s a common story no matter where you’re from,” Hailey says. “My experience growing up in the middle of the country is very relatable to a lot of people. We’ve all lived in a similar way — the only thing that’s different is the scenery.”