"As long as I can possibly remember I have been obsessed with music," James Otto says. "Listening to it on the radio, getting into my mom's record collection-my tastes have changed, but music has been there my whole life."
Born into a military family, Otto was raised all over the country, from Washington State, to his grandparents' farm in North Dakota, and in rural Alabama. Otto didn't just listen to music, he made it. "I got a record player with a mic on it when I was three or four, and I've been singing ever since," he recalls.
Truly, music was in his blood. Otto's grandfather was a self-taught country musician who played in local clubs, and his father also had natural talent and played in local rock and blues bands. "Hearing Van Halen's 1984, and seeing Prince-I knew I wanted to be a guitar player. A guitar found in the neighbor's trash was an early tool. My father taught me three chords: C, G, and D, and from there I was addicted to learning how to play everything I heard on the radio. Led Zeppelin, Bob Seger, ZZ Top, John Mellencamp, just about anything I heard became a new challenge." He adds, "At the time, country was something my grandparents listened to-old timey, gospel sounding stuff."
Junior high was a turning point. "I moved to Alabama with my mom, a place called Sand Mountain," he explains. "It was really backwoods country, and all the kids were listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Hank Jr., Alabama and Charlie Daniels. That stuff hit me really hard-it changed my life and my whole perception of music. It took me out of a pop-rock world and moved me into absorbing everything from Johnny Cash and Buck Owens to Dwight Yoakum and Randy Travis, and Willie Nelson to John Anderson."
Music remained his focus, even through a post-high school stint in the military. With an Army Ranger Drill Sergeant for a father, Otto joined the U.S. Navy and was based in Guam for two years while serving on the U.S.S. Hailiakala and the U.S.S. White Plains. This experience gave him the chance to really see the world, docking in over 20 countries. "Really, I signed up to pay off debts so I could move to Nashville," Otto says. "I've been moving around most of my life, just living to make music."
Nashville offered up a songwriting contract and, eventually, a recording deal. His name was on the lips of everyone in Music City with the release of his 2008 monster smash "Just Got Started Loving You" and as one of three songwriters on the 2009 ACM and CMA Song of the Year, the Jamey Johnson hit "In Color."
Shake What God Gave Ya