There's a good reason Erick Baker's new album is called "Goodbye June."
"I feel like I'm entering the July of my life," says Baker over lunch at Bistro at the Bijou. "I'm a husband and a father. All this stuff I'm doing now will carry me into the September of my life. When I hear people say, 'Man, I'd give anything to go back to when I was in college,' I say, 'Not me. Not if it meant losing what I have now.'"
Baker has a strong connection to relationships. His long and happy marriage with his wife, Mandy, his relationship with the Bijou, where he has performed six times (Saturday will very probably mark his sixth sell-out) and his relationship with his audiences. He's been working hard to duplicate the sort of relationship he has with local audiences on a national scale.
"If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere. ... You watch it go from 10 to 25 people to 100. To get to 100 takes a really long time. But in Knoxville, once we got 100 it started taking off."
Originally from the West Tennessee town of Halls, Baker didn't really begin playing his music until after he had graduated from college with a marketing degree. After graduating, he landed a gig at O'Charley's playing cover songs with a friend.
"I remember playing on Cumberland Avenue and watching people sing along to other people's songs. I was wishing that they could be singing along with my songs."
The cover act evolved into the band Down From Up, a group that still performs, but Baker opted out for a solo career.
In the time since then Baker released four albums (including "Goodbye June") and opened shows for a variety of acts.
In Cuba, Greece, Italy, Sicily and Spain, Baker was opening for Edwin McCain on a tour performing for United States military personnel. In fact, he spent early August playing military bases in Asia.
He spent New Year's 2012 on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"It was unbelievable playing for the troops," says Baker. "It was 78 degrees, iguanas were walking down the beach. It was the preface to an amazing year. There were a bunch of moments where I just had to pinch myself."
McCain is a career role-model. While he made his mark on a major label, for the past several years he's been successful as an independent artist.
"Watching him has been a tremendous learning tool," says Baker. "He's a hard worker. People will say they've seen him 28 or 30 times."
Baker has also been opening shows for Heart.
"Everyone has been kind and generous. When you see Nancy Wilson on the side of the stage watching your set ... and when you leave the tour and she says, 'I'm gonna miss you and your soulful voice ...'"
When he opened for Chris Isaak at the Tennessee Theatre, Isaak knocked on Baker's dressing room door and introduced himself and thanked Baker for being there.
It's those kinds of artists that Baker hopes to emulate in his career.
Baker says his best moment in music so far was probably the first time he performed at the Bijou and sang "Two Left Feet," probably his most popular song.
"It was acoustic and the crowd was louder than I was singing the words. ... And then to be called back for an encore? I was just hoping people would show up. I'll carry that with me, always. That's one of the moments I'll go back to on a bad night."
While the success part of Baker's music has gotten easier, there are aspects that have gotten harder.
"It's tougher because I'm gone so much of the time. When I get home the last thing I want to hold is a guitar. I want to hold my family. My daughter will be 3 in September and when she's saying, 'Daddy, don't leave me' ... I'll be pulling away in tears when I'm going on tour."
But, he says, it's his family that he keeps in mind when he plays.
"I'm working to support my pretty girls at home. That's my motivation. People sometimes ask, 'How can you stand singing the same song 100 times?' Well, I'm singing from the heart, but I'm also singing to support my family. I don't need any more motivation than that. I don't have it all figured out, but I know what's important."
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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