Joey’s love for Rory may have cost Joey her solo career. Her debut record still sits on a shelf in Nashville, unreleased. But she gained so much more.
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All Joey Martin Feek ever wanted to do was to be a country singer. Well, a country singer, or to work with horses. When she was growing up, Feek would travel to local venues in and around her hometown of Alexandria, Indiana to perform with her mother and father, though it was never in any sort of professional capacity. When she graduated high school, she she spent the next three years as an assistant to a horse veterinarian, and performing either solo or in a band when she could, juggling her passions of country music and the equestrian life. Then on August 15th 1998, full of ambition and dreams, Joey left Indiana to pursue a country music career in Nashville, TN. Her mother helped her load up all of her possessions in a cattle trailer, and she was off. But like so many who move to Nashville, fulfilling those country music dreams would prove to be quite difficult.
Joey Feek didn’t land in Nashville proper to begin, but in Lewisburg, TN, where once again she took up helping in the veterinary trade while living in a rustic cabin roughly an hour south of Music City. Through her equestrian work, Joey soon met Wilbur Rimes—the father of LeAnn Rimes—-and Barbara Brooks, who is the wife of Kix Brooks. In the meantime she was doing what she could to get involved in the music business, including attending songwriter nights and other showcases. Eventually she found her way, and in 2001 Joey was singed to Sony, and was paired up with producer Paul Worley (known for working with The Dixie Chicks and Martina McBride), and songwriter and performer Billy Crain to record her debut album.
Joey Feek admits she was naive about the business, and didn’t know what she was getting into. But like so many young artists, she was excited about starting her career, and willing to do whatever she could to land a major label deal and keep it. She put herself in the hands of the Sony staff, and hoped for the best. “I really never found all the great songs [for the album] I was hoping to,” Joey said in 2008. “Looking back, it’s nothing I would record today. But at the time, I was really proud of it.”
But something happened when Joey was roughly halfway through recording the album. She met a songwriter named Rory Lee Feek, and four months later they were married. Rory had done eight years in the Marines before deciding to become a songwriter, and broke into the business with the help of Harland Howard. Rory had written songs for Waylon Jennings, George Strait, Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Charley Pride, Mark Chesnutt, Clay Walker, and went on to write Blake Shelton’s #1 hit “Some Beach” in 2004. At the time, Rory was strictly a songwriter, and Joey was strictly a performer. But they fell in love, and way before either had visions of becoming a singing duo.
However at Sony, the news wasn’t exactly well-received. “I was actually scared to death of that part of the industry, very scared to be married to a woman who was a singer because of the terrible stories,” Rory Feek says. “I was very nervous about it, so I asked Joey questions. Then Joey would go in [to Sony] and ask questions, just commonsense questions to make sure our marriage could stay intact while she was busy doing radio tours and setting up the album. They did NOT respond well to these questions at all.”
After Joey met Rory, her priorities began to change, and so did Sony’s. But she still wanted to be a singer, and still was excited about her debut album. The record was completed in 2002, but no singles were ever released from it. In fact, the album was never released at all. As will happen with labels, right as Joey’s album was getting ready to be released, Sony was going through a regime change. Along with the label reshuffling, and potentially because of the Joey’s change in marital status, her debut album was completely shelved. To this day, Joey’s Sony record has yet to be heard by the public.
The story of Joey Feek’s solo career is all too common, though it uncommonly found a happy ending. Rory Feek started his own independent label called Giantslayer Records in 2004, and went on to release a debut album from Joey called Strong Enough To Cry. The couple then formed Joey + Rory, and were eventually signed to Sugar Hill Records. As a duo, they won an ACM Award for Vocal Duo of the Year, were nominated for CMA and Grammy Awards, and recorded Top 40 hits.
It all eventually worked out for Joey Feek, and she was able to accrue a proud, successful career in the music industry. But for many other talented artists, especially women, the expectations are insurmountable, especially when restrictions are put on their personal lives. In Joey Feek’s case, it was love that may have brought her solo career asunder. But it was that same love that resulted in her eventual success, and on her own terms.