For three guys from three small towns in the West, success has come in the city at the heart of country music. Due West is a country music trio that has earned its stripes and paid its dues to earn the honor of performing at the Grand Ole Opry.
This Friday night, September 7, the three Mormon boys- lead singer Tim Gates, low harmony vocalist and guitarist Matt Lopez, and high harmony vocalist and guitarist Brad Hull will step onto the revered stage for their Grand Ole Opry debut. It is an honor that humbles them.
“It’s definitely a lifelong dream! I remember when I was 13 wanting to stand on the stage of the Opry. [When we got the call inviting us to perform] tears filled up my eyes, I couldn’t speak. I still get butterflies just thinking about it,” Gates shares.
Hull adds, “The Grand Ole Opry is the biggest deal to us, with so much history in country and American music history. It’s an honor. It’s a reverent feel to be a part of that.”
Lopez explains further, “You can do a lot of things in the [music] industry and have a lot of benchmarks, like charting, or adds at a station, appearing in countdowns. But when we go back to our hometowns, sharing those things we care about, they don’t mean much to the every day Joe. But what is crazy is the Opry speaks to every body. Everyone who has heard about it has flipped out and understood the magnitude of the invitation.”
Hull laughs, “A bunch of my friends from high school who don’t even like country music have booked flights to come out for [our debut]. They didn’t even come out for my wedding!”
Country Music Made a Man Out of Me
The guys met, and they “just knew.” They had a special sound and similar influences. They started singing together and never looked back. But the road to music success is never easy and requires a lot of hard work.
The three guys met in 2003, and began playing together in 2004. They met at a mutual friend’s house in Nashville where musicians got together and had fun making music for a night. They each brought a different story and background with them, but each story is uniquely “country.”
Tim Gates, a Utah native, returned missionary, and married father of four, worked as a waiter and restaurant manager, as he looked for his break into the music business. He comes from a big family that can often be found cheering for him at Due West shows in Utah. He picked up a guitar in middle school and learned Keith Whitley’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes” for a talent show.
“I had sunglasses on and had my eyes closed, I was so nervous,” he says. “When the crowd started cheering, I opened my eyes and I haven’t looked back since.”
He played occasional weddings, other gigs and worked as a social worker before moving to Nashville. He eventually signed a songwriting contract, and has written songs for various country artists. One song, “Bible and the Belt” was picked up by American Idol alum, Bucky Covington. Due West liked the song so much though that they also have rights to it, and often play the crowdpleaser at shows. (Check out an acoustic version of “Bible and the Belt” on YouTube.)
Brad Hull took a slightly different route to his music career. A recently married native of Arizona, he served his mission in Detroit, and went to college to pursue his musical education. He studied classical guitar as a child, because that’s what the only guitar teacher in town taught. His musical influences stretched far and wide, but it was country music that got him. He moved to Tenneessee to attend Belmont University, and took a job with music publishing company, BMI.
Matt Lopez calls Wyoming home, and shares a few roots in Arizona as well. He’s a convert to the Church, a newlywed with a baby on the way, and 2 little girls from a previous marriage. He came from a musical family with parents who sang and played guitar at parties. It was in his blood from the very beginning. He made the big move to Nashville by way of New York, where he played for commuters in subway stations, hoping for money to get tossed in his guitar case.
Roots in Country Music and LDS Music
But the story of Due West would not be complete without mentioning the fourth and honorary member of the band, Jason Deere. Deere is a Nashville producer, songwriter, and fellow Latter-day Saint. Along with good friend, Dan Truman of the band Diamond Rio, he’s the force behind the projects Nashville Tribute to Joseph Smith, the Nashville Tribute to the Pioneer Trek, and the Nashville Tribute to Missionaries. Deere and Truman included Gates, Hull, and Lopez in their “Nashville Tribute” efforts. Each member of Due West contributed individually and collectively to the Nashville Tribute Band (NTB). They can be heard on each album either singing or playing guitar. For years Due West “opened” for the Nashville Tribute Band, and occasionally it goes the other way around, with NTB “opening” for Due West.
Jason Deere has written songs for the band, as well as helped produce their early efforts. The four men call each other ‘brothers’ and enjoy performing together.
The guys have been affiliated with other LDS themed projects as well. They can be heard individually and collectively on EFY albums, and performing at Time Out for Women conferences around the country. Additionally they have contributed to the musical efforts of other LDS friends.
Hull adds, “When we travel out in Utah I will go into a Deseret Book and look around. It is always a great honor to pick up a friend’s CD and realize they have recorded and published something we helped write. It has been a great honor to be a part of so many LDS musical projects.”
Just Some Good Old Boys Making Some Noise
The camaraderie of the band stands out at their shows. You can see their friendship and bond from the moment they take the stage.
They fall into their usual roles, Lopez more the showman, Hull the jokester, and Gates the performer. Hull and Lopez show tremendous admiration for Gates’ ability to sing with power. They never fail to show respect for his talents. The bandmates say they believe Gates’ voice will go down in history alongside other country music greats for his sound and style.
But it isn’t just Gates alone that makes Due West sound good. The trio has an undeniable strength in harmony. You can’t call Hull and Lopez backup singers. It is the collective harmony of the group that makes them stand out. “We’ve been told that when we sing harmony, it’s something special,” Hull says, “and we’ve learned to believe it.”
“Anything Tim Gates sings,” says Lopez, “is going to have that country feel. But it’s the three of us together that makes the magic. I’ve harmonized with people a lot my whole life, but there was something that happened when our three voices came together. Siblings often have that thing that make that blend happen and with us it was just kind of undeniable. We thought, ‘Well, we have to do this.'”
After years of paying their dues, playing small gigs, big gigs, selling CDs at a table in a church gym, and counting pennies, things are looking up for the band.
In 2012 they released a new single with Black River Entertainment, the home of Craig Morgan and Sarah Darling. Along with legendary producer Garth Fundis and engineer Chuck Ainlay, they released, “Things You Can’t Do in a Car,” (written by Hull).
They have been on the road “at least a part of every single week” in 2012. From shows to radio station appearances, they have kept busy promoting their new single. Their hard work has paid off, and “Things You Can’t Do in a Car” is currently at #45 Media Base chart, and #47 on the Billboard “Hot Country”chart.
“We’ve definitely seen our ups and downs,” says Hull, “the highs and lows of the music business but we’ve stuck together through this thing and we’ve got each other to rely on. That’s really what gets us through.”
Their families and wives have been very supportive. They rely heavily on technology to keep the home fires burning. Gates says, “We use Skype and Face Time, big time, to keep in contact with our wives and kids.”
They don’t bring their families out on the road with them very often. (But they will definitely be there on Friday night at the Opry!) Lopez adds, “We look forward to the day we can make [touring] a family affair, bringing along the kids, bikes, and toys in the buses.”
Erin Ann McBride is a writer, dreamer, and blogger. Check out her newest book, “You Heard It Here First,” a romantic political thriller with conservative values and a good sense of humor!
She is the author of the novella “The Agency,” and co-author of “Beyond Perfection.” She regularly blogs about the stock market for “The Motley Fool.” She enjoys politics, pop culture, all things 80’s, and watching canceled science fiction TV series. She is a native of Washington, D.C., and currently resides in Roanoke, Va.
You can find her daily at The Story of a Nice Mormon Girl and at SwingStateVoter.com