Jake Quillin never expected to move to Texas. Last February, the 26-year-old guitarist was making pizzas at his day job when his phone vibrated. It was an Instagram direct message from Dallas producer Jason Burt, one of the men behind Medicine Man Revival. Burt had a proposition for Quillin.
“I heard you singing in your last post,” the message read. “Come by the studio one night.”
Quillin and Burt had been Instagram friends for a couple of years, and Quillin was well-aware of the Modern Electric mega-producer’s collaborations with Leon Bridges and David Ramirez. Yet the two had yet to collaborate, and Quillin desperately wanted to. There was just one minor problem.
“I responded, ‘Well, I’m in Tennessee,’” Quillin says. Specifically, the distance between Modern Electric and Quillin’s home of Johnson County is almost exactly 1,000 miles. The journey couldn’t happen that week, or even that month, but Quillin was determined to make it work. So he kept working, saved up enough money and, in April, he made the trek.
As he flew into Dallas right before Fortress Fest in Fort Worth, Quillin’s mind raced. He was about to meet one of his role models, a man he looked up to. Burt, in turn, would introduce him to a slew of talented musicians who could help shape his career. “Charlie,” the song they recorded that April, would then become much more than a blues-soaked rock record; it would become the story of Quillin’s life.
Quillin grew up in Johnson County, dreaming of life as a rock icon a la Jimi Hendrix. To this day, his most prized possession is Room Full of Mirrors, a Hendrix biography by rock biographer Charles R. Cross. While high school classmates wrote book reports on the typical literary fare, Quillin waxed poetic about Electric Ladyland, the final album from The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The two men — one an aspiring rocker from Tennessee, the other an icon who honed his craft in that same state — shared a penchant for the blues.
“The blues is the root of Hendrix’s music,” Quillin says, rhapsodizing about the man who still holds great sway over his creativity. “He helped me realize how universal blues music is, and he showed me it’s OK to not know your place in the world. Seeing how he put his struggles and frustrations into music was huge for me.”
Quillin played in multiple bands in Tennessee, including a three-piece act called The Comet Conductors, and one seven-piece band that included a horns section. These bands merged blues, funk and soul, which made Quillin a natural fit for the genre-bending music that is Burt’s specialty. Quillin released an album under his name in 2018 but still yearned for a change.
“I left Tennessee a few times, but always somehow got dragged back to it,” he says. “It’s my home, and I love it, but I knew I had to leave to do what I want to do: be in a band and make records.”
The DM from Burt came at the perfect time.
“All I remember thinking was, ‘How much money can I save up as quickly as possible to make this happen?’”
Two months after Burt reached out, the two men met at Modern Electric. They had already decided what song they would record. Both artists liked “Charlie,” the story of a boy with big dreams of escaping his rural roots, yet always finding himself held back. With Burt producing and playing keys, and artists Aaron Haynes on drums and Taylor Nicks on backing vocals, the song is vintage Burt: a soul-shredding blues banger that sounds like the bastard son of a rock star and a vagabond blues busker.
“Charlie” was recorded during a marathon session that didn’t end until 7 a.m. Along the way, Quillin got help from an unexpected friend.
“It’s 2 in the morning, and David Ramirez comes through,” Quillin says, still in awe of the magical session that birthed “Charlie.” “David had booked that weekend, so Jason was working around that. I had never met the guy in my life, but he listens to my solo, and just says, ‘You’re doing too many notes there; make ’em wait for it.’”
Impromptu advice from well-regarded songwriters like Ramirez is part of the dream scenario Quillin envisioned when he thought about moving to Texas. Throughout the weekend he shared with Burt and company, the producer kept encouraging him to make the leap and move to Dallas.
“He kept saying, ‘Make the jump; I got you,’” Quillin recalls. But when the weekend ended, he was on a plane back to Tennessee.
“I immediately felt guilty,” he says. “I thought, ‘All of these people you look up to are there. Why are you leaving?’”
Then, another thought, similar to something he felt as he read Burt’s first DM: “How long will it take me to save up the money and move to Dallas?”
As it turns out, it would be less than a year. After a lot of day job hours and a few more gigs in Tennessee, Quillin made the jump and moved to Dallas (for good, he says) in November 2019.
Burt was ecstatic.
“This guy comes down to make a track, and then he moves here,” he says with the zeal of a kid in a candy store. “He actually fucking moved here.”
Now, Quillin is working on more new music, which will of course involve Burt. Thus far, he seems overjoyed with the move. Like Charlie in the eponymous track, he is undaunted by the work that lies ahead and doing everything he can to block out any voices of doubt.
There is one voice he will let in, though: the voice of a tattoo-stamped producer who shares Quillin’s love of blues and rock.
“I got you,” Burt’s voice says. “I got you.”
Listen to "Charlie" below:
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