Rob Blackledge could have just as easily been a major league baseball player instead of modern music's next big star.
Born and raised just outside of Jackson, Miss., Blackledge began playing baseball "as soon as I could walk," he says. But music was also present. "I was raised in the Baptist church, and like a lot of kids from the South, that was my first experience with music."
In tenth grade he and a band performed for a group of students at a school ministry program. "It was the beginning of an era," he says with a laugh. By his senior year his transformation from ball player to musician was complete. "The desire to play baseball completely vanished," he says.
Despite attention from colleges and major league scouts, Blackledge made his way to Nashville's Belmont University, a school well known for its music business program. "I wanted to leave Mississippi and try something different," he says.
Three months into his freshman year, Blackledge entered a school talent competition. The resulting win - and the applause he received from those in attendance - helped him realize he'd made the right decision.
I walked out on stage, sat down on a stool, played a song, and people went crazy," he says. "That was the first real affirmation that I'd ever really gotten."
Soon after, Dave Barnes, an accomplished independent artist who had built a successful touring business, invited Blackledge to join him on the road. "I had no earthly idea what I was getting into," Blackledge says now.
Success came quickly. "I did 100 shows in 2006," Blackledge says. "Most of it was driving around the country in my Pathfinder with a keyboard and a guitar and a bag. It was grassroots."
In the summer of 2008, Blackledge met Dean Miller and Iris Thompson and quickly became signed with their One Revolution Entertainment. Blackledge wrote or co-wrote every song on his debut album, which was produced by Jeff Coplan (The Moffats, Love And Theft). "It's always been and always will be my goal to write the best music that I can possibly write," Blackledge says in terms that would make James Taylor proud.
His music fits the mold of intelligently crafted pop songs along the lines of Taylor and Guster, but he breaks out of the box with his driving melodies, charismatic vocals, and refreshingly jazz-influenced tunes.
Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Anthony Hamilton, Ben Folds and Stevie Wonder are among Blackledge's diverse influences. Hip-hop, R&B and blues also season the music of the man that grew up under the influence of the Mississippi Delta.