Introducing Joey + Rory: “Like Two Names Carved in an Oak Tree”

Jim Malec | October 28th, 2008

Joey plus Rory

Donning stage attire that typically consists of boots, a collared shirt and overalls, 43-year-old songwriter Rory Lee Feek, who has penned hits including Clay Walker’s “Chain of Love” and Blake Shelton’s “Some Beach,” stands far apart from the quasi-rock styled twenty somethings that dominate CMT. In fact, Feek may be one of the least likely individuals to ever be vaulted into the national spotlight via a reality TV talent competition–let alone one aired by the aforementioned, MTV-owned network.

That, however, is exactly what has happened to the husband-and-wife duo Joey + Rory, which consists of Feek and his wife Joey Martin. Together, Feek and Martin navigated all the way to the final episode of CMT’s Can You Duet before being outdueled for the crown by the years-younger Caitlin and Will.

But with a feisty debut single already clawing its way into country radio playlists across the nation, and an album, The Life of a Song, in stores months before the planned release from the show’s victors, this duo–which hadn’t even been conceived prior to Can You Duet–seems like a winner, what with their time on the show being rewarded in the form of a record deal, national media attention, and an unexpected second chance for Martin, who was once signed to, and subsequently released from, Sony.

Perhaps the greatest reward of all for their time on Can You Duet, however, is the fact that the couple now gets to experience the fruits of their labor together, as partners in art. They are, after all, already partners in essentially every other aspect of their lives, their deeply transcendent adoration of each other clearly evident. And so, despite the fact that Feek and Martin had never performed together as Joey + Rory before the show, their musical partnership doesn’t really seem all that unlikely.

Without a doubt, Joey + Rory stands out in a country music crowd dominated by youth and the pop-leaning music that is often produced by those younger artists. The couple is older than most new artists–their ages would even make them ineligible to compete on that other reality show, the one that has launched the careers of Carrie Underwood and Kellie Pickler–and their music, often upbeat but at times heartbreakingly sad or less than politically correct, is, as Rory describes it, the “country kind” of country music often passed over when it comes to radio airplay and mainstream attention.

Despite all of that, however, the one thing that makes Joey + Rory stand out most of all is their relationship with each other, a love so strong and glowing that it can’t help but seep into their music, their vocal harmony carrying that indescribable quality that only emanates from two people singing together who share a bond that stretches far beyond the singer/singer dynamic. These are two people, yes, who share an intense and intimate passion for singing, for storytelling, and for country music, but their passion for each other is what binds all of this together and renders the product of their talents in each of those areas uniquely their own.

And if you don’t believe in love at first sight, or if you don’t believe that there are certain people in this world who are meant–by nature, by God, by some mysterious and unknown force of the universe–to be together, then you haven’t met Joey Martin and Rory Lee Feek, who remind us just how special and powerful love can be when two people get it right.

Joey plus RoryJIM MALEC: We’ve all heard quite a bit of the story surrounding how the two of you met, but I’d like you to take me back a bit further–where did you grow up, what kinds of things were you involved with as a kid, and how did you first fall in love with country music?

RORY LEE FEEK: I’m from Atchison, Kansas, a little railroad town right on the river. My father was a country singer–that was his passion. He used to play at clubs and such when I was real, real young. I don’t really remember that too much. But he mostly played in the bedroom and sang for us. And he was very, very, very good. I just remember his passion and how much he loved country music–he worked on the railroad, but singing is what he always wanted to be doing. He had always wanted to move to Nashville, but never did. And even though my parents divorced when I was real little, the times when I did see him…I think I even put him up on a higher pedestal, because I didn’t see him that much.

I always loved country music and I think his dream got passed to me early on. And other than a few sidetracks, where I thought I wanted to be a trucker and a couple of other things, I always just wanted to be a country singer.

By ninth grade I was writing songs–as soon as I learned how to play guitar. Oddly enough, Dad didn’t teach me how to play–I ended up buying a Don Williams and a Jim Croce songbook. And from those two songbooks, I taught myself how to play. I would put my tape recorder on in my bedroom and just record hours of music [from the radio], and I’d learn every song I recorded. When I was writing out those lyrics and chords, as I was learning them, it just caused me to think about how they worked, and to pay attention to the words. So I started writing songs. And I was always writing songs and singing all through those next, I don’t know, fifteen years or something.

At about age 30, I moved to Nashville. By then I’d been married and divorced, and I’d been in the Marine Corps for eight years. On my first trip here [to Nashville] I think I realized that you could make a living being a songwriter. And that’s immediately what I wanted to do. I could tell that it was kind of a beauty contest for singers, and that wasn’t a fight I thought I was going to compete well in. But in songwriting, the best song can win, and I felt like I could do that. And so that’s what I’ve been doing for the last, oh, thirteen years or so. I think I moved here in ’95.

Joey plus RoryJM: And congratulations to you on the success that you’ve found so far. What was your favorite Don Williams song from that songbook?

RORY: Probably a song called “She Never Knew Me.” I don’t even know if it was a big hit for him, but it’s funny, when you’re growing up, the songs that are around you. My dad sang that one. He sang a few other Williams songs, but that one he sang a lot. I love that song–I always did–and so it’s still probably my favorite Don Williams song.

JM: Joey, you’re up. Tell me your story.

JOEY MARTIN: I’m from a farming community in Alexandria, Indiana, and I’m the middle of five kids. My dad was a GM worker and my mom was a housewife. My mom and dad actually met singin’ in a band together in high school, and the singing was passed down to me. At a young age I got a taste of what it was to perform, and I just really, really felt like I had something to offer to people.

The very first song I ever learned was Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors,” at the age of five. It was a long song, and I remember thinking that it had a lot of words…and I couldn’t read. So they sat me down and Dad played and Mom sang while they recorded it on this little tape recorder. Then they sent me to my room and said, “When you learn this, you come down and you sing it for us.” So up I went, and about three hours later I came back down and knew the song word for word.

Growin’ up I knew that I wanted to go to Nashville when I graduated high school. When I was 22 I think I moved to Nashville; I loaded up a cattle stock trailer with all my belongings and Mom helped me move. And I just worked. Instead of working as a waitress or anything like that, the only thing I knew how to do was be around horses, ‘cause I’d always been around horses. I had worked in a vet clinic for quite a few years back in Indiana, and that was kinda my trade, cleanin’ stalls and bein’ a vet’s helper. So when I moved to Nashville, I continued to do that and worked my way, eventually, over to Lebanon, Tennessee, where I worked on a farm for LeAnn Rimes’ dad Wilbur. I managed his cattle operation and his horses.

Then I started networking a little bit, and the very first songwriters night I went to, Rory was playing. I didn’t know anything about him, I didn’t know who he was. But I knew I fell in love the moment I heard him and watched him play. Ironically, it wasn’t ‘till a few years later that we actually met.

Joey plus RoryJM: Your label was very adamant with me about the fact that your name is “Joey plus Rory,” not “Joey and Rory.” What’s the story with the plus sign?

RORY: There are a lot of “ands” out there. And we’ve been very adamant about the plus sign, too, actually. Mostly because it’s hard to separate yourself from the pack, and I think if you get to watch us or see us you’ll see that we are a little different. But if you just read “Joey and Rory,” well, it might as well be “Brooks and Dunn,” or whoever.

And really, the plus says a number of different things to us. I mean, it was already Joey. She was already a great singer. And this is just adding me onto what she was already doing. The other part of it is that we’re together, like two names carved in an oak tree. And we want to be together for a long time. So I think that’s really kinda where it came from, and why we’re trying to make it stick. It’s just tough ‘cause most people just ignore it and still do the Joey and Rory, and we’re glad that anybody writes or says anything about us, so we don’t complain.

JM: Let’s talk about Can You Duet. What was it like taking part in a nationally televised talent competition? Were you prepared for everything that your participation in the show would entail?

JOEY: I don’t think we had any idea what we were getting in to. It wasn’t something we were going to do at all–we didn’t even hear about it until somebody told us about it. That somebody said, “Y’all should go out for it,” and we literally looked at the guy and said, “Y’all who?”

“You and Rory,” he said. “As a husband and wife. As a duo.”

First off, we don’t even watch reality TV, let alone could we imagine participating in such a thing. But we made this little home video that we turned in to audition with, and there was something about it, evidently, that the people at CMT loved. They loved our backstory, and the fact that I own a restaurant [Marcy Jo’s Mealhouse in Pottsville, TN] and the fact that Rory’s a songwriter, and that we just collaborate as a duo in life.

We auditioned for the show, and we ended up making the top 25 and moved into the Opryland Hotel. Then we made it from the top 25 to the top 12, then it went down to eight, and then the big show started on the main stage. I really think it was nerve wracking for us, but the beauty of it was that we had each other for support; we faced our fears and the challenges together and head-on. And there wasn’t really anything stopping us once we got started, as far as our momentum. We just held on to each other and enjoyed the ride, and couldn’t believe we were a part of it.

(To read the rest of The 9513′s exclusive interview with Joey + Rory, click on the link below.)

5 Pings

  1. [...] Can You Duet? contestants Joey & Rory, didn’t win the show but did get a record deal and now have a hit song on country radio “Cheater, Cheater.” Now they have a new CD out called JOEY+RORY. Check out their great story HERE. [...]
  2. [...] The 9513 has a story on Joey + Rory. [...]
  3. [...] Introducing Joey + Rory — “Like Names Carved in an Oak Tree”: “Donning stage attire that typically consists of boots, a collared shirt and overalls, 43-year-old songwriter Rory Lee Feek, who has penned hits including Clay Walker’s “Chain of Love” and Blake Shelton’s “Some Beach,” stands far apart from the quasi-rock styled twenty somethings that dominate CMT. In fact, Feek may be one of the least likely individuals to ever be vaulted into the national spotlight via a reality TV talent competition–let alone one aired by the aforementioned, MTV-owned network.” — Jim Malec “They seem like really cool people and I’m definitely enjoying the album so far, but “Joey plus Rory” is a stupid name. Sorry. Just have to be blunt and say it.” — Dan Milliken “Joey + Rory sound like great people and I really dig their album. They’re success so far has been pleasantly surprising, I only wish more people like them were given a chance in the industry.” — Brady Vercher [...]
  4. [...] I asked Rory in my interview with the duo if The Life of a Song was the album he wanted to make, he responded by saying: “We got to [...]
  5. [...] Read the the interview with Joey + Rory. [...]
  1. Kim
    October 28, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Wow, thanks for such a great in depth article. I don’t know what it is but I can’t for the life of me remember which is Joey and which is Rory. I keep getting confused I guess since Joey is usually a boy’s name and I think of Rory from Gilmore Girls. Ugh, I wish I could keep it straight in my head. I guess I will think opposite!

  2. Drew
    October 28, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    Awesome work Jim, how do you get all these exclusives?!

  3. Chris D.
    October 28, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    Very good article! I picked up their album today, and it has some of the most gorgeous ballads I have ever heard! I also love their version of “Free Bird”, it gives the song way more meaning than it had to me before.

  4. CMW
    October 28, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    Fantastic interview, Jim.

    I really hope they’re able to do well and stay around for a long time.

  5. Matt B.
    October 28, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    Nice job, Jim. Glad our interviews didn’t overlap too much.

  6. Rick
    October 28, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    Great interview Jim. It expands on many of the issues Matt B. discussed with them over at Roughstock. I think “The Life Of a Song” is a fine album and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it. I just wish it would have included another uptempo song or two in the mix, but that’s my only quibble. Joey and Rory just come across as incredibly likeable people which is a big plus in my book. I hope the viewers of “Can You Duet” actually go out and buy this album as I can’t imagine the Will and Caitlin album even coming close…..

  7. Matt B.
    October 28, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    Rick,

    Remember, it’s Joey PLUS Rory!

  8. Nicolas
    October 28, 2008 at 9:09 pm

    No, Matt B., it’s actually Joey & Rory on everything but their album cover

    The radios and stuff put the and symbol instead of the plus — either way will work IMO

    ie: on Wikipedia, it got changed to Joey & Rory from Joey + Rory recently for same reasons

  9. Rick
    October 28, 2008 at 9:18 pm

    Matt, I’d be much happier if it was “Joey + Rick”! (lol)

  10. Maria
    October 28, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    Rick, you make my “toes” itch. Why you wanna go and compare Joey and Rory Feek to Caitlin and Will? Hum, come to think of it, you are still thinking about Caitlin and Will…..one wonders what wonders they have to offer up. It has been a while. But, it is not acceptable that you compare. Let Joey and Rory entertain us with their personal charm and let us wait and see what Caitlin and Will serve up. Jeesh!

  11. Matt B.
    October 29, 2008 at 12:09 am

    Nicholas,

    You obviously didn’t get my joke :) I know it’s Joey and Rory.

  12. Chris N.
    October 29, 2008 at 9:35 am

    They should open for Alison Krauss + Union Station.

  13. Becca
    October 29, 2008 at 9:55 am

    Beautiful article, beautiful couple, beautiful music! Thanks!

  14. leeann Ward
    October 29, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Yeah, but they want to be called Joey+Rory, as Jim’s article clearly shows. I suppose it’s just too subversive for some people.:)

  15. Matt B.
    October 29, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Lee Ann,

    I know that but the plus is meant to mean them both so while some could say Joey PLUS Rory, most will call them Joey and Rory. ;) Whatever people think the couple is named, they’ll certainly remember ‘em with how good the record is.

  16. Drew
    October 29, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Finally got a chance to listen to the CD and it didn’t disappoint. Although I must say, from a purely musical standpoint rather than their deep connection and Rory writing much of the material… it seems like he just isn’t really needed on the album. Joey does it all, her vocals are fantastic, and the harmonies don’t really add much to the songs in my opinion. I know you could say the same about a lot of duos/groups (looking at you Kix), and I’m not trying to diminish Rory’s skills or anything, but just what I gathered from listening to it.

  17. Drew
    October 29, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    On the topic of their music though… could anybody else recommend some similar artists out there right now? I like that soft, acoustic, emotional sound, kind of similar to Lee Ann Womack.

  18. Rick
    October 29, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    Well Drew, I’d say Becky Schlegel and Ashley Monroe fit the bill. I wonder if Ashley’s “Satisfied” album is still available for download anywhere as it was never released on CD (apart from a few advance copies)? Some of the songs by The Wrights definitely qualify and especially the songs Shannon sings lead on (just avoid the “In The Summertime” album as its lackluster in my opinion). I love “It’s Her Turn” by Kimber Sparks but its an Aussie import (even though Kimber is from Louisiana) and expensive to acquire, which is a shame….

    Maria, Joey + Rory came in third and Will & Caitlin won CMT’s “Can You Duet”, so I don’t think its unfair to compare them. With Joey having been signed previously to a major Nashville label as a solo artist and Rory being a fine songwriter, I just don’t see how Will and Caitlin could come up with an album comparable to this. Also the fact Will & Caitlin were signed to a major Nashville label means their project will target mainstream country radio and suffer for it. If they sing typical “songwriter committee” sourced songs its doomed. PS – Does the fact I can’t stomach Obama have anything to do with me making your toes itch? Hmmm….(lol)

  19. Chris D.
    October 29, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    Drew, I would recommend Jennifer Hanson- Her song ” ’73 ” is acoustic, and stunning, a great portrait of a divorce’s impact. I think the rest of her album, Thankful, (A digital only release) is very similar, but she is great. I’ve been meaning to buy the entire album, but I don;t buy digital stuff a lot.

  20. Drew
    October 29, 2008 at 10:12 pm

    Yep, big Jennifer Hanson fan… her new digital album is great.

  21. Baron Lane
    October 30, 2008 at 9:26 am

    Nice one Jim. I’m really digging this release.

  22. Brady Vercher
    October 30, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Great interview, Jim. When can we expect the rest of the book?

    Joey + Rory sound like great people and I really dig their album. They’re success so far has been pleasantly surprising, I only wish more people like them were given a chance in the industry.

  23. Dan Milliken
    October 30, 2008 at 10:50 am

    They seem like really cool people and I’m definitely enjoying the album so far, but “Joey plus Rory” is a stupid name. Sorry. Just have to be blunt and say it.

  24. Matt B.
    October 30, 2008 at 11:02 am

    Well, listening to this album, you can see where the Joey+Rory name came from.

    Drew, You can buy Joey’s independent CD they made before “Can You Duet” at http://web.mac.com/rlfeek/Joey+Rory_site/Home.html. It’s also available digitally on eMusic.com and http://www.speakerheart.com

  25. TAYERS
    October 30, 2008 at 11:10 am

    Ooh, Rick, thanks for the jackpot of new artists to check out.

  26. Nick
    November 1, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Jim, once again great interview. I cant agree more with Brady about more people like them getting a chance in the industry. They seem like people with substance as aposed to many of the new acts of today. From what I’ve gathered about them they dont have to “act country” because they are country.

  27. Trailer
    November 2, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    They’re a fetching couple, seem very cool and sound great together on what I’ve heard thus far. I’ll be checking out their album.

  28. Caitlin Lynn
    November 3, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    No, we dont do country like J+R Rick, but I can assure you we are not catering to mainstream…nor are we “singing typical “songwriter committee” sourced songs”

    Humor me for a minute would ya? Reserve your judgement until our album comes out…Yes, its completely different from J+R’s but would you want another carbon copy? Let us do it our way…and let our friends do it their way :) You wont be disappointed…promise.

    PS…I love Joey+Rory’s CD…I’m their biggest fan :)

    DREW…check out Mindy Smith…she will make your bones ache (but in a good way) and it wouldnt hurt you to try out Lori Mckenna also. And if your in the unconventional dirt under your nails attitude country mood try Lucinda WIlliams…AMAZING and REAL.

    xoxo Caitlin Lynn

  29. Drew
    November 3, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    Thanks Caitlin… I really like Lori McKenna, and I’ll be sure to give those others you mentioned a listen.

  30. Dan Milliken
    November 3, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    Caitlin, let me be the first to commend you for being so classy in both of the comments I’ve seen you post on blogs before (this one and a post on Country California). It’s so refreshing. And on another note, I’m very excited to hear what you and Will have got up your sleeves!

  31. CMW
    November 4, 2008 at 12:36 am

    Since Dan was the first, I’ll settle for being the second. What he said. I liked you two on the show and have been impressed with how you’ve handled yourself since then. Looking forward to hearing the music.

  32. Kyle
    November 4, 2008 at 7:21 am

    Catlin, I too am impressed with the way you have handled yourself both during the show and after. You are definitely a class act and a credit to the music industry.

  33. Sam G.
    November 4, 2008 at 10:01 am

    I never watched the Duets show, but a country singer who’s familiar with Mindy Smith and Lucinda Williams is already on my good side. Caitlin, I hope your eventual CD comes out the way you want it.

  34. Kelly
    November 4, 2008 at 10:38 am

    I’ll say it now, just like I did when the show was on. The 3 judges were hard to listen to most weeks, but not the performers. I think the talent of the final 3 duets were far above most, if not all of the talent on certain other country talent shows. With the right material, there is a place for Caitilin/Will, Joey + Rory and those other guys (Brownell and Richie, I think?) in todays scene, no question…

  35. Matt B.
    November 4, 2008 at 11:39 am

    Sam,

    Caitlin, if left to her own devices, would probably come up with a record similar to theirs as a solo artist. So, I’d suspect their album will be a little more ‘edgy’

  36. #1
    November 5, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    i want the song from the overstock.com commercial

  37. PaulaW
    November 8, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    I got this album today. Best money I ever spent.

  38. Caitlin Lynn
    November 8, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    Matt B…do you know me personally? You exactly right, however I am not interested in doing a solo album :)

    Thank you Dan, CMW and Kyle!!! You guys are very sweet with your compliments!

    Sam, anyone who knows those women is already in MY good graces!!!! If you saw my itunes I think you would be even more shocked. I am such a consumer of all types of music its ridiculous! But the women singer songwriters are my favorite!!

    Kelly, I agree there is a place for EVERYONE! Thats what makes this country (pardon the pun) so fabulous!!!!!!

    Also we had our last tracking session Thursday and I am absolutely thrilled about whats to come! I hope you guys are too!!!!

    Thanks again ya’ll!…ok now go back to talking about Joey + Rory!!!!! I feel guilty!

    xoxo Cait

  39. brown
    November 9, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    does anyone know the name of the song that joey and rory sing on the overstock.com commercial where they are singing in front of the crowd? It starts off (at least in the commercial) “if not for you…” its driving me crazy because its probably one of their best songs and there is no mention of it

  40. CMW
    November 9, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    It’s a song called “If Not For You” from Joey’s 2004 solo album. That album, Strong Enough to Cry, is now available digitally from their website or as a hard copy from Overstock.com (the exclusive retailer).

  41. TAYERS
    November 19, 2008 at 10:56 am

    Okay, so I just got an email notification from Sugar Hill/Vanguard/Nine North introducing “Cheater Cheater (The Sleighbell Mix).” The cover art actually says “Ho ho ho…Merry Christmas…from Joey + Rory.” Now THAT’S funny.

  42. Caitlin Lynn
    December 19, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    For those of you who were wondering what happened to us…WE FINALLY HAVE NEW MUSIC UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Its all up on our myspace page! Come check out what we’ve been working on for the past eight months!!!!!!

    xoxo Caitlin

    PS…I saw J+R were 18 on CMT’s Top Country Countdown!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GO GUYS!!!!!!

  43. bernadette przybyl
    January 21, 2009 at 8:55 am

    good musiic good going , an make great couple, and make great music together

  44. Rita
    February 13, 2009 at 10:16 am

    I am so excited for Joey + Rory. Joey did some administrative work for me through the Alexandria High School Co-op program and we attended the same church. She was 17 or so at the time and I remember her telling me that she was going to move to Nashville after highschool and become a country music singer. I know to some it may have sounded like a pipedream, but having heard her sing in church, I knew she was very serious and I also new it was very possible. Wow..how exciting for all of us back here in Alexandria, IN. God Bless You Joey.. YOU MADE IT! Now come home and sing to us again.

  45. Dawn
    December 19, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    I got the CD of them for Christmas early and love the songs. My kind of style also and looking forward to learning most of them since I love the storytelling in the songs & it will be a joy to learn and share their songs since I play guitar and sing at festivals and the folks like the songs I do since they tell stories that people can relate to and that is why I love Joey+Rory’s CD. Can’t wait for a 2nd one to come out! God Bless you both and so glad the world is getting to hear ya’ll!

  46. Maryelle
    July 22, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Who was the song: When I’m Gone written for? It seems so personal, with tears rolling down the faces of them both.

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