A musician who left his life in Milford to make his name in Nashville, Tennessee, will release his new album next week, ahead of a Derby tour date later this year.
Josh Okeefe was 19 years old when he packed up his guitar and boarded a plane to the legendary home of country music.
He grew up all over south-east Derbyshire, but the memory of his last stop sounds like the bluegrass myths which surround his idols such as Johnny Cash and Hank Williams.
Now 25, Josh said: “I lived on the river in Milford for a while it was peaceful, you could hear the trains blaring through the tunnel at night just over the river.
“Some people hate living by a rail road but I thought it was pretty neat.”
Besides Cash and Williams, his sound recalls Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Bob Dylan.
Josh said: “I love all those cats, I don’t think I will ever stop loving them either.
“I wanted to see where they lived and died, so I just decided to book a flight and I’ve been here ever since.”
Following the heritage trail is a rite of passage in country lore, and Josh is quick to pay tribute to all the old masters.
He said: “My record collection is forever growing and I’m constantly digging around looking for music that I’ve never heard before.”
He added: “In this present moment all I care about is music from the past. I don’t think I listen to anything that was recorded after the 70s.
“It’s not that I only want to listen to old music and that’s all I care about, I just have no interest in most of today’s music.”
Despite that, his sound is not out of step with the best of the contemporary scene.
Since living in Nashville, Josh has shared the stage with Grammy Award-winning artists including Alison Krauss, Jamey Johnson, Brothers Osbourne, Randy Houser and many more.
He has more than held his own amid such celebrated Nashville company, but his career highlight came on a visit to Alabama.
He said: “I went down to Muscle Shoals last year to perform on a show that Jerry Phillips put together. His dad Sam was the pioneer producer of Sun Records—he started rock and roll.”
Josh’s self-titled debut album was recorded in the less showbiz surroundings of his 350 square-foot log cabin.
He said: “I’ve recorded a lot of songs, over 300 since I have been in Nashville, but never really thought of making an album.
“I recorded most of this record in one evening in January. I read somewhere that Joan Baez made her first record in one night in a bingo room in a hotel in New York. That was pretty inspiring.”
He added: “I have been in the United States Of America for long enough, I have seen a bunch of stuff and I feel my songs are finally truthful to that.”
As well as recording his own material, Josh’s songs have been covered by artists such as Grammy-nominated Ashley Monroe, and acclaimed Canadian duo High Valley.
He has received an IFPI Gold Record for a song he wrote for TooManyLeftHands called Too Young To Die and has had his songs on albums which have topped Billboard and i-Tunes charts.
His nationality is no obstacle in Nashville: “I don’t know where my love of country music comes from, another life growing up and living in some place different than England.
“But I think the Americans drew on English traditional songs at the beginning, you can hear it in Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger—I love English roots music, I play a lot of it.”
Josh’s album will be available from Friday, June 16, and he will be headlining the Derby Guildhall on Wednesday, September 13.
n For more information, visit www.joshokeefe.com.