Get to know Jesse Priest Music

Left to right are Jesse Priest, C.J. McAnnally and Aaron Chandler (Photo courtesy of Whitney McAnnally)

CULLMAN, Ala. – “Like any good, Southern musician, I started out singing and playing in church,” local favorite Jesse Priest said of the origins of his musical journey.

The Holly Pond graduate went on to meet drummer C.J. McAnnally, of Fairview, at the Cullman Area Technology Academy. The two worked on cars, but bonded over their love of music. Eventually Priest met Aaron Chandler at a car show in Fairview and today, the three are simply known as Jesse Priest Music.

Priest has been playing music since he was 12.

Remembering his family’s initial uncertainty, he shared, “I wanted a guitar one year and they thought it would be a passing thing. I took to it and took off with it. Eventually I did take some lessons and some singing lessons. I tried in the sixth grade, when they let you do the band. I got my little snare. I tried, but I could never read the music, but I could play it.”

McAnnally started playing when he was around 11 or 12.

“In eighth grade, I was in the Fairview band,” he said. “It kind of forced me to read the music and learn it. My dad played. He was in jazz bands when I was growing up. I saw him for the first time, and I picked it up and ran with it. I joined the band to get more familiarized with it.”

Chandler, also a Fairview graduate, was a member of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) String Band during his junior and senior years.

He shared, “We made it to State my junior year and placed third. I played the guitar and that was the only musical thing I did.”

Jesse Priest Music pulls its musical inspiration and influence from many different bands/musicians.

Priest laughed, “My mom and them were rockers. She’s like a little hippie mom. So, I listened to a lot of Def Leppard, AC/DC, Elton John and things like that growing up. Then, my grandpa loved the old country, the Outlaws. He also loved old rock-and-roll, like Elvis and Yakkity Yak and stuff like that. Every day, I was surrounded by music.”

McAnnally added, “Ninety percent of the time, we play country and some rock, but 99% of the time, I listen to rock. I listen to Five Finger Death Punch and Nirvana and all that. I love rock music. I love Christian and I love country. Daddy grew up playing rock and jazz, but I got attached to the rock side of it more so when I got out of the Marine Corps.”

Chandler is the pure country guy in the group.

“My grandma did listen to the 50s rock-and-roll like Jesse was talking about, and we would pull out those records when I stayed with her. I mostly listen to country, though.”

Priest tried many times over the years to get a solid band together. His first band (called Taken) was formed while he was in high school. It was a hard rock band, but Priest began leaning toward Southern rock. He then formed a band called Southern Stitches, and after multiple attempts, the band fell apart.

This time, Priest said, “C.J. moved back and I had met Aaron and I told Aaron, I know a guy. He just came back. I’m going to catfish him. I’m going to post on Facebook that I need a drummer and does anyone know anybody. If he bites, I’ll tell him to come on and he did. It was great to reconnect.”

During the time Priest was struggling to keep a band together, he left music for a while.

He explained, “I started doing work in Birmingham for the Local 91. It’s a union for plumbers and pipefitters. I worked doing that for four years and some change, and I just had an eye-opener one day that I didn’t want to be there anymore. It was a great job and everybody there was like, ‘You’re crazy,’ but I quit. I wanted to do music. I’d rather look back 50 years from now and think, I tried. I’d rather take the chance and see where I go.”

Songwriting is a full-time process for the guys. Priest laughed about having notebooks everywhere just in case a lyric or idea pops into his head. The guys have a song called “Truck I Can’t Afford” that came to Priest and Chandler while watching a Luke Combs video.

Priest said, “Reading the comments, this guy said, ‘This song makes me want to drive around in a truck I can’t afford.’ Aaron’s like, ‘Do you think you can write something with that??’

“I have insomnia and that’s most of the time when I do my writing, late at night,” said Priest.

One song that came out of his late-night notebook entries is “Beers, Bonfires, and Backroads.”

Priest said he hopes to have an opportunity to actually record some of the band’s songs. He has one song available called “Buzzin” that he recorded with a label in Nashville, Badfoot Records.

He said of the song, “They released that song of (me). It’s grown on me, but it’s just one of those that they pushed me to write because they wanted something upbeat and catchy. That was the child that came out of that. If I ever found a label that would let me just be me, that would work because us three, you aren’t swaying our opinion on things. We are hard-headed; we got redneck daddies that are mean as rattlesnakes. That’s just how we were brought up. You don’t back down. It’s just hard if we gotta work with someone like that. That’s why Nashville has pretty much classified me as “outlaw country.” It’s not like I’m trying to make any of it up. I’m just doing what Jesse wants to do. C.J. is going to do what C.J. wants to do. We write songs, like actual songs where you can relate and connect.”

One thing that the band would like to see return to Cullman is The Battle of the Bands.

Said Priest, “Cullman’s getting better about supporting local musicians. A few years ago, when Rock the South first started, they would do The Battle of the Bands, and the winner could play at Rock the South and that was awesome. They’ve kind of pushed away any local musicians.”

Like most bands, Jesse Priest Music has seen its share of ups and downs as it has worked to build its fanbase. The guys described their fanbase as “amazing and supportive,” and they hope to book shows in more areas this year. They are looking at places in Florence and Huntsville, as well as local venues.

Chandler said, “I would love to see us branch out into other states, even. Don’t get me wrong, we love playing in Cullman, but I would like to see us travel to Georgia, Mississippi and maybe the Gulf Shores area.”

The band has kept busy over the past year playing around Cullman, Hanceville and central Alabama, performing a mixture of cover songs along with originals. Priest will be playing alone this Saturday at Valley Tavern and Grille, and the band will play Aug. 10 at the Jack Aces/Branham Accessories fifth annual Bike & Car Show. The band will headline the Rocket City Showcase Friday, Aug. 26 at Maggie Meyers in Huntsville.

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Christy Perry