There’s a certain chemistry that happens when a great vocalist collides with a hit song. Magic just explodes from the speakers and the impact is undeniable. It’s a phenomenon James Otto knows well. His breakthrough hit, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You,” topped the country chart and was the Most Played Country Single of the Year in 2008, according to Billboard magazine. Otto’s bluesy, muscular voice and dynamic stage presence earned him the respect of industry gatekeepers and the adoration of legions of country music fans.
Before moving to Nashville, Otto served in the Navy for two years. The son of an Army drill sergeant, he was stationed in Guam while serving on the U.S.S. White Plains and the U.S.S. Haleakala, and traveled the world seeing over 20 countries. “I come from a military family. My Dad served in the Army for 23 years, my grandfather on my mom’s side is a Korean War vet, and by serving in the Navy, I was able to see the world by the time I was 20 years old. It gave me discipline and made me a man, and let me tell you, experiencing places all over the world made me really grateful to live in this country. Life may not be perfect here, but man, it could really be a lot worse. Ultimately, I think I gained the fortitude to move to Nashville and really pursue music.”
Otto moved to Nashville and signed a deal with Mercury Records that introduced him to country radio and a national audience. However, it was when he signed with Warner Bros. and released the album “Sunset Man” that his career shifted into high gear. Otto became a part of the renegade outfit The Muzik Mafia, and developed a reputation as a riveting live performer. “Just Got Started Lovin’ You” became the biggest hit of 2008, and his vocal performance of the song was nominated for a Grammy. Otto’s star was on the rise. “Sunset Man” peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and Otto began earning a reputation as one of Nashville’s most compelling young songwriters. He co-wrote the Jamey Johnson hit “In Color,” which was nominated for a second Grammy and won both the Country Music Academy’s “Song of the Year” and the Academy of Country Music’s “Song of the Year” awards in 2008. Otto has also penned songs for John Anderson, Trace Adkins, Randy Owen and many others including the Zac Brown Band hit “No Hurry.”
“I was so grateful and overwhelmed by the success of ‘Just Got Started Lovin’ You” and “In Color” so much so that it kind of put me in a creative corner,” he candidly admits. “Everybody wanted me to write and repeat those songs. I just felt like I had a lot more to say.” Otto started expanding his writing circle and working with a new group of talented songwriters. “They weren’t looking at me as just an artist. They were interested in me as a writer and that’s a freeing situation. It’s a different place to write from and I really enjoyed that. They helped me move ahead and get out of that box. I wanted something that was a new take on who I am musically. The sound that we’ve come up with really does that for me.”