Three years ago, Independence native Jason Pritchett was singing in a chorus at night and mowing lawns during the day in Branson, Mo.
Today, he’s walking arm-in-arm with his “red-hot wife” Desta on the Country Music Association red carpet, reaping the benefits of a hit single, and traveling across the country in his big ol’ tour bus.
Pritchett, a former football/track/music standout at Truman High School – Class of 1999 – will roll into Independence with his band, The Steel Horses, Sept. 3 to headline the Saturday night show at the Santa-Cali-Gon Days Festival on the Independence Square.
To say the former Patriot and high school bull rider, who now calls Branson home, is stoked would be an understatement.
“I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag,” Pritchett said by phone as he was taking Desta out for a seventh anniversary dinner near Springfield, “but … I made a little call to a pyro tech place in Kansas City.
“We’re pulling out all the stops when we play at Santa-Cali-Gon. I’m playing in my own backyard and I want it to be special.”
Pritchett’s single “Good Show” made it No. 16 on the national charts to earn him that stroll down the CMA red carpet.
“To walk down the red carpet, you need a top 20 hit,” explained Pritchett, whose mom and dad, Dee Dee and Merlin, have lived in the same home off Crysler Avenue for the past 34 years. “I got that when ‘Good Show’ hit No. 16.”
While at the CMAs, he sent mom and dad some pretty spectacular photos.
“When Jason was a senior at Truman,” said Merlin, a strapping man who looks like he could have been a three-sport star in high school but opted out of sports to earn some money with an after-school job, “he sang Garth Brooks’ ‘The Dance,’ at the spring concert.
“We’re sitting there, watching the CMAs and Jason sends us a selfie with Garth.”
And for good measure, he added a few more photos with Kenny Chesney and Little Big Town.
“It’s all just unbelievable,” said Merlin, who keeps Jason’s letter jacket in a bedroom closet. “You better eat your Wheaties if you try to lift this jacket.”
He wasn’t kidding. It must have tipped the scales at seven pounds, weighed down with football, track and No. 1 state music medals.
“We’re so proud of everything he has accomplished – but you know what? He’s a great husband to Desta and daddy to his little girls – Paisley and Kynlee – a T-ball coach and a leader in his church down in Branson.
“And there’s this hill near where he lives and it’s tough for cars to make it up the hill when it snows, so some nights Jason goes out and tows cars up the hill. That’s Jason.”
The pride in Merlin’s voice was matched by that of his wife.
“The first time we heard one of Jason’s songs on the radio happened when we were down at his home in Branson,” Dee Dee said. “We were in the kitchen and ‘Good Show’ came on the radio. We were yelling and screaming and the girls were singing along with their daddy – it brings tears to my eyes when I think about it.”
Any tears in the Pritchett family these days are tears of joy, as the hometown kid made good is on a roll.
“Not bad for a wide receiver and hurdler from Truman High School,” joked Pritchett, in his typical easygoing manner. “I was raised in a loving family and my mom and dad supported me in everything I did.”
That support even came during a short, but exciting, bull-riding stint while he was in high school.
“Jason was a cowboy – the hat, the jeans the boots,” Merlin said, grinning, “and pretty soon, all his friends were cowboys, too. He started riding bulls at the old Neon Buzzard Rodeo in Lee’s Summit – I’m sure it’s not around anymore.
“We didn’t know about it at first, but we had to sign a waiver, so he had to tell us about it.”
But a ride on a bull, which was so huge that Pritchett could not straddle its back because it was too large for the chute, ended his rodeo days.
“Needless to say, he didn’t stay on the back of that bull very long,” Merlin said, as Dee Dee nodded in agreement. “Saying goodbye to bull riding was a good decision.”
After a brief stint at Metropolitan Community College’s Blue River campus, Pritchett headed to Branson to try and find any kind of job in the music industry.
Even after he found steady work, he mowed lawns during the day to make a little extra money.
“I’ve always been a hard worker,” Pritchett said. “I love the outdoors, and I’d be all covered with grass and sweating and head off to work my shows in the evening.”
Along the way, he auditioned for the “America’s Got Talent” television show on NBC and finished as one of the top five finalists back in 2007.
He returned to Branson and hooked up with nationally known recording artist Billy Dean, who had a popular show in Branson at the Starlite Theatre.
“That was the difference maker, when I met Billy,” Pritchett said. “At first, I was just part of the chorus in his show, but we really connected.”
And soon, Pritchett was the music director for one of the biggest names on the Branson Strip. They collaborated on “Good Show,” and the other songs on his EP and as they say in Hollywood – and Branson – the rest is history.
“I don’t know, there are times I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming,” Pritchett said. “I’m married to the love of my life, we have two sweet girls, I’m doing what I love, I come from a great family – I pretty much have it all.”
And when he hits the stage Sept. 3 at Santa-Cali-Gon on the main stage, he promises a “Good Show.”
“You bet,” Pritchett said, laughing, “I’m going to give the fans everything they want. I’m a country guy, and there are going to be a lot of country songs – and we’re going to have some fun too. And maybe even blow up a few things up along the way.”