Jason DeShaw was the most visible, active and popular part of the 2nd Annual Montana Festival of the Wind. He and The Country Way Band played a Friday night concert at the Holloway Arena as well as a dance at the Moose Lodge on Saturday night. Jason also emceed the Windbag Contest at the Harlo Theater on Saturday afternoon and told stories to rival the regular participants. He made the audience laugh with his anecdotes about purrfect cat milk and PCS in young bulls (post castration syndrome).
DeShaw opened his concert with Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash. His charged and upbeat, but smooth delivery was complimented by his friendly conversational style. The crowd of around 200 ate up the entertainment under a beautiful Montana solstice night. They yelled and clapped and whistled and stomped. Jason was at home and he knew it. He finished his set but for an encore with another Cash tune, Ring of Fire. As clear as Cash, but a whole lot livelier. His Harlowton fans loved it.
Jason had recently return from over a year’s stay in Nashville, Tennessee. “I’m sure I will be back there. It’s a great place and taught me a lot. I had my first band down there. We played Tootsie’s World Famous Orchid Lounge.”
Tootsie’s is a honky tonk which has music running from 10 am to 3 am on the Broadway strip. There’s always a steady flow of business to listen to music and drink beer. Bands play in 4-hour stretches. Generally, Jason and his band got evening gigs, but sometimes the morning shift. The band made $150 a set plus tips which was often more than their wages.
Music producers came out to listen at places like Tootsie’s. Jason received some interest from them during the CMA Fest 2007 as he played through that event. DeShaw came back to the west last summer for the fair season as he did this year.
“I would like to be based out west for regional shows, but still do some things in Nashville. It’s a place where you really learn to NOT make money singing. I can make a living out West.”
DeShaw, as he has remarked several times during his stop, says, “Harlowton is my favorite place to play. I would like to be able to spend more time in this area and around the Crazies.”
Jason returned to Montana early this spring to get a band together. The former players in his group were obligated to perform with another lead singer when she got a big performing contract.
DeShaw is from Plentywood. “All my family came from a farm-ranch background. My father has been doing insurance for 15 years. He used to own an oil field roustabout company.”
Jason graduated from Carroll College in 2003 and moved back to Plentywood to work with his father as a crop agent, spending half the year doing insurance and the other half on the road performing. He also would take spells doing ranch jobs as a bovine deposit dispersal engineer. DeShaw has three years experience as a BDDE.
On the serious side, what about a new CD? “I need to do some more recording. We were in the studio a few months ago, but need to get back to finish a CD.”
Jason relates that doing a record in Nashville is no more expensive than in Helena, Montana, because there is so much competition in Country Music City, USA. “In Nashville you can bang out a record quick, in a few days.”
Favorite music: “I love all types of music: rock, reggae, folk, country. The stuff I’ve written lately has been a little folky. I have been writing a lot of ballads. I love the old stuff, classic country. I started with Johnny Cash. He’s my musical hero.”
DeShaw is a fan of Bob Dylan, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson. But especially Johnny Cash. “I loved his music. It was real and so was he. He was on the same level as the people he played.” Jason says that he would like to play before a prison crowd some day, like Cash used to.
Jason never sang a lick until his senior year in high school when he joined the school choir. But, he had been playing piano for a long time. He wrote his first song that year on a John Deere tractor.
Jason comes from a good Catholic family and has four brothers. Older brother Brandon is an nuclear engineer with the US Navy, Kurtis is a civil engineer in Billings, and Blake and Austin are still in high school in Plentywood.
All the brothers took piano lessons, Jason for at least 10 years. His siblings do sing but mostly with karaoke.
Although Jason makes it a point to tell his audiences that he got his BS degree in BS, it was really in Business with a Communications minor. That was at Carroll in Helena where he began his music writing and singing career during his senior year. His first gig was at the Lewis and Clark Brewery Pub Tasting Room. A little place, he said. But the first night, “It was plum full. That was the first moment when I realized a fella could do this for a living.”
“We played there once a month.” DeShaw uses “we” alot, because he has had lots of help and support especially from the Helena community.
How does a song get written? “It’s tough to force a song to come. Sometimes, it comes real quick and others real slow. It may take 15 minutes or 15 months. A random thought or a melody comes through. Sometimes, it all comes together. Like it’s coming from above. I always give thanks to the Fella upstairs for helping.”
The best thing about performing is “the people you run into and cross paths with. And, it’s great to be able to sing a few songs to help out at benefit events.” Jason has been a big support for the Savemobile organization in Helena which promotes biodiesel. He first came to Harlowton with that group and sang at the high school and Stockman Bar on a visit two years ago. This summer, he is also working with Dennis Ketterman and Biofest to get the word out about alternative energy. His first BioFest engagement was in early June at the Governor’s Cup Race in Helena.
The hardest part of performing is the fluctuation in business. “Either you’re really busy or your waiting. I’d like to be busy all the time. The travel costs are getting more expensive these days, too.” DeShaw gets a lot of booking help from Jandy Jorgensen, his agent in Plentywood. Jason also works the phones quite a bit to promote his career and get engagements.
Since he began his professional career in 2003, DeShaw has played 30 states, Canada, Ireland, England, and France. He will be making the rounds in Montana this summer and doing a rodeo show in Fort Assiniboine, Canada, in August. “Canada has been really good to me.”
The Country Way Band currently includes Rod Bailey on lead guitar, CJ Bailey on drums, and Myrt Antonit on bass. In recent times, Jason has taken up the harmonica and adds it to his singing and rhythm guitar skills.
What about a Johnny Cash album or show, some day. “Well, I might do a tribute show. Everybody loves Johnny Cash.”
Well, one of these days, everybody is going to love Jason DeShaw. Not just because he sounds like Johnny Cash. But, because he’s “Better ‘n Cash.”