Country music singer to release first album on 88th birthday

Country music singer to release first album on 88th birthday »Play Video
Jim Payne

COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. - Jim Payne is 87 years old, a resident of Middlefield Oaks Senior Living Center -- and the newest recording star at Soundsmith Records.

He just released his first album, a collection of 10 cowboy tunes he recorded from an orthopedic chair in his room at the retirement center.

On Sunday, he's celebrating his 88th birthday with a CD release party at Middlefield.

"I just started singin' and it went from there," said Payne, who's been singing since he was a boy on a farm in Alabama but never been recorded.

It all began as an effort to record his life story.

Payne was feeling lonely in the home, so he bought a tape recorder and a microphone and started telling stories.

He talked about growing up in the south.

"In Alabama, there's only three things you need -- a good horse, a good dog and a good rifle."

His service in World War II.

"We were the first allied convoy in the Mediterranean."

His career in the telephone business.

"I spent 30 years with Ma Bell, but this modern communication stuff is beyond me."

But something happened along the way: Payne started singing.

He sang songs he'd grown up with, like "Cool Water." Songs he'd fallen in love to, and songs that reminded him of family.
Before long, he was singing in the hallways at Middlefield, and in the lunchroom.

"He just starts breaking into singing wherever he is," said Pauline Payne, his wife and musical partner of 68 years.

The tapes didn't become an album, though, until Jim's son Ed, a musician, got involved.

Ed Payne took the recordings to his friend, Clay Smith, a music producer in Bend, with a far-flung idea: what if we record these tunes with a band and release it as an album?

Over the next few months, that's just what they did.

The result is a full-length album with top-notch sound quality and liner notes.

"I just happened to be connected with a fellow that had the studio genius and talent to wrap an eight-piece band around it and put on background vocals," Ed Payne said.

Production of the album only required minor tweaks of Payne's voice to keep it in key.

Payne grew up surrounded by music on a farm in Sandy Ridge, Ala. Country legend Hank Williams was living in the area at the time, and Payne remembers hearing his music.

"He had a little old $10 guitar, so we'd say, 'Play us a tune, Hank.' And he'd wheel it out and play us a tune," he recalled. "Hank was kind of a hellraiser, you know. Say something he didn't like, he'd break a guitar over your head."

Williams' songs later became a fixture during Payne family hoedowns.

At age 18, Payne joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and came out to Oregon to build roads.

"I landed in Junction City and didn't see the sun for nine months," he said. "I thought, 'what the hell am I doing?'"

Payne spent three years in the military during World War II.

Upon his return, Pauline bought him a Martin guitar, which he keeps with him at the retirement home and still plays.

"I paid $39.99 cents for it," Pauline Payne said. Asked if she got her money's worth, she said, "Indeed, we have."

Payne said he loves the attention his music is drawing, and his son has considered pitching the story to Oprah Winfrey.

The only downside is there might not be enough room at Middlefield for his CD release party on Sunday.

"You know, this place only holds about 120 people with fire codes and all that. So I told the guy, we might have to have it outside. I know it's going to be more than this place can hold."