Whitley in November, 2016.
"The couch surfing days", Whitley recalls.
Take an old soul and give him a guitar. Now let that soul possess a 29-year-old man's body so he can sing and tell you about the things he's seen, the places he's been and the people he's known and you have Josiah Whitley. He is a unique blend of primal blues, traditional country and storytelling folk. Combining these genres with influences from the likes of Tom Waits, John Prine, Bob Dylan, Guy Clark and Keith Richards, as well as sticking to his motto of "One guy, one guitar, a few good stories and a few good songs," Whitley has plowed out a plot of his own on his own.
Born and raised along the river in Southern Ohio Whitley grew up seeped in the bluegrass and country music of his cousin, the late country singer Keith Whitley. His passion for music and love of the guitar grew exponentially in his college years. Being a versatile musician landed him a gig as a session guitarist in Nashville recording studios at the age of 22. The excitement of quick success was dulled as he began to feel the restrictions, bad business and politics of the established music industry. Disillusioned, he headed back home where he put away his music and went back to his old job as a custodian.
After over a year of feeling as if he was suppressing a major part of himself, on January 1st of 2015 Whitley made a New Year's resolution to give music one more try. This time he would be taking on the role as a solo artist. "Boy was that tough," he laments. "I didn't trust anybody after Nashville when it came to music. I knew I couldn't get a band together to do what I wanted. Nobody around had the same tastes or the desire that I had. I was telling people I wanted to play 150 dates a year and everyone thought I'd gone off the deep end, friends and family. I found it wasn't a good topic on dates. I heard a lot of rumors about myself in town. No encouraging words. At times I'd be pumping gas and people I barely knew would come up and give me their two cents. Everyone was telling me to hang up the music and I DO NOT like being told what to do. So the negativity gave me the drive to push for my goals even more."
He went straight to work on a project of original material, setting the deadline for a release by Christmas of 2015. Four months later, Sounds Before The Slumber EP hit digital outlets including Pandora and Spotify. Within a year of the EP's release Whitley recorded his first full-length album "In The Dark" and performed occasional shows while working his day job as a custodian and maintenance man.
However by the Fall of 2016 Whitley was in trouble. While on the road for a two week period due to a lay off from his job he developed laryngitis and fought with promoters over payment for his hoarse performances. Returning home he found that his place of residence was compromised. "It was one of those things where I said, 'you can't throw me out because I'm already leaving!'"
According to the definition by the U.S. Government, he was now considered homeless. Devastated and with nowhere to go Whitley started staying at friend's houses, guest bedrooms and couches, even resorting to sleeping in his car and using his trademark denim jacket as a blanket. "I always said I'd go cold and hungry for my music. But I didn't know I'd really have to do it. The loneliest and most terrifying period of my life," he adds.
With no time to lose Whitley aggressively began booking shows to fill up his calendar. "I was flat broke. I realized I either had to make music pay the bills or find a better job and throw in the towel. I did whatever I had to do. If it meant sleeping in my car and skipping dinner to save money then so be it."
His period of homelessness lasted four months. With relentless calls and emails to venues during that time period the bookings started filling the calendar. During this period he recorded three projects: "Lay Me Down In Roses", "Live On The Blue Plate Special EP" and "One More For The Road", a full-length album, a Live EP from a show in Knoxville, TN and a single respectively that hit all digital media outlets June 15th. "I've always used places besides recording studios to do my albums. I had keys to a movie theater in town I worked at on the side. When everybody was gone I slipped on in and recorded Lay Me Down In Roses. That album and those songs saved my career."
Much has happened since his turn for the worst. Since then Whitley has had music played on college and international radio, played on TV shows, at breweries, wineries, festivals, living rooms and public universities around the Ohio tri-state and Eastern United States. Now Whitley plays music full-time, having left his position as a custodian and his homelessness behind him. With attention mounting on Whitley's live shows and music he is becoming a force to be reckoned with and with no end in sight.