Billy Currington

Billy Currington excitedly stood onstage at a club show last year with his camera phone, sending crowd shots to his manager with the message: “It’s blowing up out here, it really is!”

These days, Currington is spending a lot of time on the other side of the camera, with photo spreads in not only the top music magazines, but notices in such disparate publications as Vanity Fair and Playgirl.

But make no mistake, Currington is much more than country’s latest pretty face. His sophomore effort on Mercury Nashville, Doin’ Somethin’ Right, is doing just that by kicking off 2006 with a gold cert and a chart-topping title song.

But before the glossies caught on, Currington caught the eye of no less a tastemaker than Shania Twain. The country superstar personally called to invite him to join her on the duet “Party For Two.” The next thing Currington knew, he was on a flight to Europe to record and shoot a video with Twain and her husband, producer Robert “Mutt” Lange.

“That phone call changed my life,” Currington told Pollstar during a recent break from a hectic touring schedule.

A native of tiny Rincon, Ga., Currington spent almost 10 years in Nashville writing songs, recording demos and knocking on a lot of record company doors before getting that call. And afterwards critics openly wondered if the star turn signaled a lean toward pop for Currington.

“I heard that,” Currington acknowledged. “It’s so funny, because I never thought about it that way, but other people did. It never crossed my mind. I don’t say that I’m just one thing

I make my music and it just sounds the way it sounds.

“If you listen to my album, there’s two or three songs on there that I don’t know if you would even pick out as being country. I just make music, and if it sounds country then it’s country. If it sounds soulful and bluesy, then it’s in the soulful and bluesy department.”

With influences that range from Willie Nelson and Kenny Rogers to Luther Vandross and Michael McDonald, Currington’s sound does cover a lot of territory. But his roots remain firmly planted in country music.

“There’s good music playing out there, and if it’s good somebody will hear it. I don’t know if they’re calling it anything right now. I’m just proud to be part of it and making music.”

Currington has already established himself as a Nashville songwriter – earning a publishing deal that helped lead him to his contract.

“I was working half the day and writing half the day. I met Gary Voorhies, who worked for Garth Brooks’ publishing company. He just asked me one day to come sing for him. I did, and a few weeks later they offered me a publishing deal.

“They started getting me some demo work and that led to more demo work for two or three years,” Currington said.

Billy Currington

In the meantime, one of his own demos wound up in the hands of Vector Management’s John Dennis.

“We had a relationship with Billy’s attorney, and he sent us a cover letter telling us Billy was going to be meeting with some managers. We basically sat down with the demo, listened to it, and loved it,” Dennis told Pollstar. “There wasn’t a PR photo in there, nothing except for a burned CD. It was fantastic music.

“We moved immediately to meet with Billy and I guess you could say that at that point, the courtship began. Thankfully, he chose us.”

That was three years ago. Currington’s self-titled debut was completed a year before Mercury Nashville released it. “There’s your overnight sensation for you,” Dennis said, laughing. But timing was on Currington’s side.

“We had two Top 10 singles. The first one, ‘Walk a Little Straighter,’ went Top 10. The second single went Top 5 for five weeks. But the deal with Shania was fantastic for Billy. It gave him an amazing amount of exposure we couldn’t have gotten without Shania.”

And speaking of exposure, the national media took notice as well – landing Currington, shirtless, on the cover of Playgirl. Neither Dennis nor Currington worry the attention could distract from the music.

“The reason I was comfortable with it is because he is so credible. He is a songwriter. He is an entertainer. He was not just, ‘Hey, I’m ham and beefcake, let me exploit myself.'” Dennis said.

“I think if your music was horrible and all you had was being able to take your shirt off, I think that’s what they’d see you as,” Currington added. “It always goes back to the songs. That other stuff doesn’t last the length of your career. I don’t have any worries about that at all.”

What all the attention did was give Currington the perfect launching pad for his current album, and set the stage for a national club tour that only strengthened a rapidly growing fan base.

“All along, one of our goals was to build Billy’s base on the road. We made a concerted effort,” Dennis explained. “We met with the record label. We targeted major markets where he’s getting a lot of airplay. We targeted Dallas and played there multiple times as well as Kansas City and Chicago to really develop those markets.”

The work paid off, with Currington earning a slot on the current Brad Paisley / Sara Evans tour, where he’ll be in front of arena audiences through March.

In addition to the arena tour, plans are to take Currington to the summer fairs and festivals as well as the college circuit.