Appeared In
Special Issue
Men'sWeek issue 03/24/2011

Maybe there’s something in the water in Augusta, Ga., the hometown of Josh Kelley and his kid brother Charles, who have both found fame and fortune in the music industry.

This week, Josh, the older brother, is releasing his first country album, “Georgia Clay,” pitting him against Charles, who is the lead male vocalist for Grammy-winning trio Lady Antebellum.

This story first appeared in the March 24, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

But Josh is quick to dismiss any sibling rivalry when it comes to their careers. “Music is not a competition,” he says over whiskey and boiled peanuts at the Ace Hotel in New York. “When we play golf, Ping-Pong or poker, we’re crazy competitive, but when it comes to music, we support each other.”

In fact, the brothers are co-writers, along with “Georgia Clay” album producer Clint Lagerberg, of the first single, also called “Georgia Clay,” which is currently sitting at number 20 on the Billboard top country songs chart. The song is a personal step back in time for Kelley and tells a tale of his coming-of-age in Georgia.

In fact, the entire album is largely autobiographical and includes everything from his marriage to actress Katherine Heigl (“Two Cups of Coffee”), to fatherhood (“Naleigh Moon”). He wrote the latter shortly after he and Heigl adopted their daughter, Nancy Leigh, from Korea at the end of 2009. “I think it’s the best song I’ve ever written in my whole life,” he says.

Unlike most other country music newcomers, Kelley has an established career having released six pop albums, including “For the Ride Home,” which featured the top-five pop hit “Amazing.” He’s also well-versed in walking a red carpet since he often accompanies Heigl to events. The two met when she was featured in the video for his song “Only You.” As he relates it: “I asked her to dinner that night and we’ve been together since that day.”

Although an unknown at the time, Heigl has gone on to stardom in the TV series “Grey’s Anatomy” and films. “It’s all because of me. Clearly, I’m her good luck charm,” Kelley says with tongue firmly in cheek.

Kelley, who has a quick sense of humor, is anything but cavalier when it comes to his music, however. He’s been writing songs and performing since he was a teenager, but took a break to attend the University of Mississippi to study graphic design on a golf scholarship. During his junior year, he signed with Hollywood Records, releasing his first album in 2003. After a stint at his own label, he signed with MCA Nashville, paving the way for the release of “Georgia Clay.”

“I was going to stay independent and write for other artists, but I pitched ‘Gone Like That’ to my publisher, they liked my demo so much they encouraged me to cut it,” putting him on the path to a country music career.

“I actually started writing bluegrass country. There was always something I liked about that style of picking,” he says.

And like everything else in his life, he has big dreams for his country career. Through June, Kelley will open for the red-hot Miranda Lambert and, after that, for the even-hotter Taylor Swift. But his goal is much bigger. “I want to headline stadiums in three years,” he says. “When I’m performing live shows, I want them to get bigger and bigger, have a solid fan base and create a runway for the long term.”

He clearly likes the spotlight and relates how he’s become proficient with a curling iron, helping Heigl get ready for her Hollywood close-ups. “I’ve become her official in-house stylist,” he admits. “She runs all her outfits past me.”

That doesn’t mean, though, that he likes to dress up, even if he will don a Tom Ford suit or Billy Reid casualwear when needed. For the most part, though, he prefers to drape his 6-foot, 2-inch frame in J Brand jeans and an Alternative T-shirt. The clothes fit in with his favorite pastime when he isn’t performing: spending time at his home in Utah fly-fishing.

“I have a beard, a fishing rod in one hand and a net in the other.”

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