Next time you drive down the interstate, take a closer look at the long-haired biker driving next to you - he just might be Jason Michael Carroll, the country crooner responsible for recent hits like "I Can Sleep When I'm Dead."
"If it's a pretty day, I'll have my bus driver pull over and we'll pull the motorcycle out of the trailer and I'll ride behind the bus, just to get that sense of freedom that you get on a Harley," said Carroll, who will perform Wednesday at the Georgia Mountain Fair in Hiawassee.
Carroll's voice is a surprise coming out of the 28-year-old. He looks more like a rocker than a man who sings straight-up, deep-down country.
But once you hear him talk, in a conversation sprinkled with words like "darlin'" and "ma'am," you think he might be a country boy. After he sings, there's no doubt.
With a Southern accent and a baritone deep enough to sink to the valleys of his native North Carolina, Carroll hooks country fans like hungry trout.
Carroll said "the fact that I grew up on an 82-acre tobacco farm" makes it natural for him to sing country music.
"I don't think I could sing anything else," he said. "Honestly, I think it tells a better story. I listen to everything. I listen to rock, rap, country - and I could relate more to the country music because of where I was from and the things I had been through."
Classic country themes like love, family and God permeate hits like "Living Our Love Song," written for his girlfriend, high school sweetheart Wendy Phillips, and the tear-jerking "Alyssa Lies," which Carroll won a Broadcast Music Inc. Country award for writing.
Still living in Wake Forest, N.C., Carroll said he tries to take time off as often as possible to go home and spend time with his four children, Gavin Michael, 8, Savanna Nicole, 6, Stori Paige, 5, and J.W., 2.
"I'm one short of a basketball team," Carroll said. "Right now, Wendy is having to play center."
With an entertainer for a dad, the kids are already hamming it up on stage.
"They'll all act at my shows like they're singing. My youngest one, J.W., will actually entertain people. He's been on stage with me before with a bunch of folks," Carroll said. "We had probably six or seven thousand people in Fayettville, N.C. and I pulled him up on stage with a little Fisher Price guitar and a guitar strap that I had just made back stage before we came out. He'll imitate my guitar players on stage, no matter how many people are out there."
Carroll, raised in a Christian household that didn't allow anything but gospel music, said he admired the musicians he met at church.
"We'd have evangelistic families coming by our house or by the church," he said. "They'd set up either band equipment or they'd set up a track machine. They'd play their songs for about an hour and then they'd pack up and go to the next town and do it again, and I thought, ‘How cool is that?'"
After joining his first country band at the age of 18, Carroll performed for years before he signed with Arista Records in 2006, and released his debut album, "Waitin' in the Country," in February of 2007.
For the CD, Carroll collaborated with folk-turned-country singer Jewel and songwriter Shaye Smith.
Carroll joined Jewel and her beau, bull rider Ty Murray, at Ty's ranch in Stephenville, Texas, for a song writing session.
"It was very cool," Carroll said. "In between our songs, Jewel and I were playing acoustic guitars around the campfire and Ty is telling stories about the rodeo. You know, it doesn't get better than that. I'll never forget that night."
With all three singles released from the album snatching spots on the Billboard Hot Country chart, and the album reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, Carroll is positioned for continued success. So what's it like to "make it"?
"When I was coming up, I had this dream of getting up and all I wanted to do was play my music. And there is that aspect of it, but there's a lot more to it than that," Carroll said.
"It's a nonstop job, and I don't think a lot of people realize how much work is actually involved in it once you ‘make it.' By some people's standards, they might think I've already made it, but I'm nowhere near done. I've got a long way to go for where I want to be," he said.
Along the way Carroll will release his sophomore album, which he plans to complete this year.
Carroll will perform two concerts at the Georgia Mountain Fair, at 3 and 9 p.m. at Anderson Music Hall at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds in Hiawassee.