Forest Glen Whitehead
If ever there was a success story that needed to be told, Forest Glen Whitehead is it. Not only does he have the distinction of being, the youngest major producer in Nashville, he just happens to be producing the youngest super-star on the block … Kelsea Ballerini.
From the time Whitehead set foot on Nashville soil in 2009 (at 19), his incredibly intuitive approach to ‘chasing the dream’, miraculously considering the odds, got him signed to Black River Publishing by Celia Froehlig in just two years in. But make no mistake … it was his chops that ultimately led to cuts with Terry Clark, Brantley Gilbert, Dylan Scott and … 6 songs on Ballerini’s debut studio album THE FIRST TIME.
The album’s first 3 singles “Love Me Like You Mean It” (writers: Ballerini, Whitehead, Josh Kerr and Lance Carpenter), “Dibs” (Ballerini, Kerr, Ryan Griffin and Jason Duke) and “Peter Pan” (Ballerini, Whitehead and Jesse Lee) all soared to # 1 making Kelsea, the first new female artist to send her first three releases to the top of the charts since Wynonna Judd in 1992 and the first female to top both the Billboard Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay charts simultaneously.
With similar influences, the magic emerged when Kelsea and Forest started co-writing and found the unmistakeable wound in her first single, “Love Me Like You Mean It”. Kelsea then got her record deal and after several producers had been considered, she insisted to the label that Forest produce and he got the gig.What’s even more telling about Whitehead was his decision to bring in co-producer Jason Massey (Ole Songwriter), to achieve his vision for Ballerini’s sound, which earned her the 2016 ACM New Female Vocalist of the year Award and 2016 CMA nominations for Female Vocalist of the Year and New Artist of the Year. What’s equally telling was Black River’s willingness, to trust Ballerini n Whitehead’s instincts.
Forest cut his teeth studying drums at 10 yrs but when his grandmother bought him his first guitar at age 12 (which he still has) he learned to play by-ear and quickly began writing songs. Fast forward … His session credits on THE FIRST TIME include; banjo, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, piano, slide guitar and background vocals. Forest also played guitar on Carrie Underwood’s song “Smoke Break” and Brandy Clark’s latest release “Big Day In A Small Town”, both produced by Jay Joyce.
Then came recording …
Forest: I downloaded a free program on an old PC computer that I had when I was in high school. I think the program was called Audacity. It was just a simple program where you could layer tracks. Before that, whenever I had the cassette decks, I would actually have two separate stereos overdubbing, and with a Radio Shack mic, press play on one tape that I already recorded, press record on the other and overdub while the other one’s playing. You got all this noise and hissing and everything else, but it was just so interesting to me. When I got the Audacity program, that’s when I first started learning how to layer different instruments, while doubling parts and putting guitars on the left and right side and learning what sonically made a record sound great.
Rewind … The summer before he graduated from high school, Forest worked at a bait-n-tackle shop in North Shreveport Louisiana, which allowed him to save enough to buy a travel trailer. And what better place to bunk-in than the KOA Campground, right next to Mother Opryland at Opry Mills, while he got his feet wet.
Forest: I tried to have some income doing musical things and I was in a blues band for a little bit and I did demos for other songwriters, but my main job that actually paid the bills was working in a pawn shop. I also worked at McDougal’s Chicken in Hillsboro Village. I did writer’s nights at the Commodore, Douglas Corner, The Blue Bird, The Listening Room, any open mic night I could find and I made a lot of connections that way. There was a big process coming to Nashville and learning song structure, melody, and learning imagery, things that make country music great and country songwriting great. I absorbed that. I studied songwriters. I would find out all the cuts that, Craig Wiseman or Jeffrey Steele and just study them. I was such a fan of songwriters for a long time that I was just obsessed about learning their credits and what set their songs apart.