Jeremiah James (J.J.) Korfe of Clarissa is a country boy at heart, it’s how he grew up and it’s what he still does today on his farm and his family’s farm north of town.
But, that isn’t the only aspect of his upbringing that has remained deep in his heart throughout his lifetime.
Music took a hold of him at the early age of six when he got his first instrument—a violin.
Korfe said that one of his first memories of music was hearing the lyrics of A Boy Named Sue while working in the barn.
He chuckles a bit when he looks back on his beginning years as a “musician” which also included he and his dad, Jerry, developing a weekly ritual.
He took lessons from Helen Holecek in Long Prairie at $2.50 per lesson for six years straight.
“My parents made me practice a lot, but I wish I’d practiced more. I got out of school early and went to Long Prairie. Dad would go to the John Deere dealership while I was at practice or he’d run errands for mom. We’d then go to Gene-O’s for a cheeseburger, fries and a malt for $2.
“It’s a great memory,” he said, “ I took lessons until like 7th grade. I played six years straight and then I got tired of it. The thing with playing violin is that you suck for a very long time. I felt bad for my parents, but they stuck with me and made me practice. I had a hard time reading the music at that time. The rhythm always came to me though.
“In junior high, I saw a drum set in the music teacher’s office and asked if I could play. Also, our Bible camp had just gotten drums that summer and it just came to me. Drums are by far my best instrument.”
This is a skill he uses now when he is in the studio recording and he needs to show the drummers what he wants them to do.
“I’m a good drummer, but these guys are phenomenal. They usually make it ten times better because they’re pros,” he said.
He has great memories of Deb Haraldson, his elementary music teacher.
“She let me sing the Star Spangled Banner anytime I wanted because I knew all of the words. I remember one time I was singing a solo and two girls told me I sounded like a girl! Obviously, I hadn’t gone through puberty, so this would make sense,” he said with a laugh.
All through high school this love of music grew. At Solid Rock Bible Camp he had a buddy who played the guitar.
“I remember watching him and thinking ‘holy smokes, that’s awesome!’ He gave me the basic structure of what to do and he took me to my first concert which featured underground Christian punk bands.”
The group MXPX was one of the bands there.
“I saw the lead singer of MXPX and I thought ‘that looks like fun, I want to do that!’”
It wasn’t long after that when he and friend Jon Cline of Long Prairie put together a band and began playing as All Unchained, which was along the same lines of alternative punk rock. Some of the first songs they played were those of MXPX.
Before he was 18, the band had cut two CDs, All Unchained and All Unchained 2.
“I’m a bit embarrassed now [of his earliest work]. I really thought I was great at that time.”
After graduation, Korfe attended college in Fergus Falls for two years where he was heavily involved in the extracurriculars of choir, men’s choir, drama, band and football. Football was his biggest passion at that time, he said, but music began trumping it at every turn. He recalled his coach smirking a bit when he told him he had decided to pursue music.
He had broken his ankle and football didn’t hold its allure over him any longer.
“I didn’t care anymore, I just wanted to play music,” he said.
Jumping in with both feet Korfe took the plunge by heading to Los Angeles, California four days after he turned 21 with all of the grit and determination it would take to become a successful musician.
His mom, Linda, said that she never thought he’d make music as his career choice besides being on the worship team at church and being involved in the All Unchained band. Although his parents tried to talk him out of it at the time, they realized that he had to take his own path, which for him was L.A.
His arrival there started out a bit bumpy, but eventually became much, much better.
“I was literally sleeping in my car for the first night and then I was couch jumping for about two weeks. I asked at a church if they needed help with their youth department, which is where I met my first roommate.”
He helped Korfe get on his feet by lending him money. They ended up being roommates for about a year.
Korfe said it was hard back then to make connections—There was no Facebook or other social media outlets. So, he began searching for a way into the music industry.
He first began working at a grocery store to earn enough to support himself. A strike that was going on at that time assured him an easy in. One night, they were shorthanded and he jumped in to drive forklift. He was moved to the shipping department and given a $6 an hour raise that night.
While working there, he got his first “in” by chance.
“I met a production assistant from MTV at the store. I told him I’d like any job there. I started peddling my music through this avenue.”
The job at MTV led him down a path to begin going on tours as a musician working with other bands. He also did camera work while there.
“My first job out on set away from the office, was The Hookup, a musician with an athlete reality show, which featured the Vikings’ Randy Moss and rapper Snoop Dogg. I was at Dogg’s house! It was a 20 minute segment of this famous athlete hanging out with a musician.”
While working there, he used his musical abilities in various ways.
“I met a lot of great musicians when I started leading worship [at church] as well. I not only honed my talents with other musicians at that level, I started not just wanting to perform better, but to be better at what I was doing.”
Korfe began to go on tours all over the world using his skills as a musician in any way that was needed. He toured in at least 15 different countries and met many famous people throughout this time in his life. He said that he began to view the “famous” differently after a while. He lived with Jesse Spencer, who had a lead role on the medical drama House and now stars on NBC’s Chicago Fire.
“It got me into the mind set of when I was sitting with celebrities or living with Jesse, that this is their job, they just happen to make a ton of money, they get to do it as work.”
He noted one evening that stands out in his mind.
“I was randomly invited by the Prince of Monaco, when I was in Monte Carlo, for a meal. Robert Duvall was there and it was a small gathering with other actors, too. I was the only musician.
“There are so many fun moments that I’ve had and so many nights that I’d randomly be sitting in the company of influential people and just sit there and enjoy it. But, it’s just people doing what they do and it’s amazing, it really is!”
He has many memorable evenings to look back on since he’s left the L.A. lifestyle.
Although it was his home base for many years, he never liked living in a city like that. While so many things were wonderful, there were so many things that he didn’t like about big city life. He definitely prefers living in rural Clarissa, he said.
A change took place in 2009 when the Swine Flu pandemic hit. Forty-eight countries put a hold on pork and it became a difficult time for his family on their pig farm.
This, coupled with the fact that his label had folded in late 2008, made him feel like he was back to square one.
Although a difficult time for the family farm, it presented as a great opportunity for him to come home. Because of the connections he now had, he began to just winter in L.A. writing for other artists and doing studio work.
Eventually, through technologic advances, he began working from Clarissa as well. He said that sometimes he would even work while he was in his tractor listening to recordings, etc.
He continued to winter in L.A. until the winter of 2012-2013. A shift to country
He explained that because he’s lived the country life, it began to make sense to him to start producing that genre of music.
“The transition to country music has been very easy for me. I’m not changing progressions, just changing out lead guitar parts to a fiddle, rhythm parts to a banjo. I was alternative punk rock before this. What is so weird is that I just changed my lyrics to something that I do. Instead of playing half time on the drums, I’m changing it to be the backbone of it,” he said.
He feels that rock fans and country fans are also starting to meld. He gave the example of the popular country band, Big and Rich, mixing up their music.
Mom Linda said that although his band in L.A. was doing well, she feels that country may be a better niche for him and that Nashville seems a lot more “homey”.
“I personally think he fits the tall, skinny cowboy look,” she said of his switch in the music he plays.
It was in March of 2012, after Korfe had been secretly dating Paige Duke, of Lancaster, South Carolina, after being her “chosen” bachelor on CMT’s reality dating series Sweet Home Alabama, that his music got a boost in popularity and notoriety.
“It helped because I had just started making the transition to release country songs and the show presented itself. I didn’t look at it as a career builder but in hindsight, I should have. It definitely helped because suddenly I had a different fan base from the rock one I already had. It was a nice little boost—it was in the newspaper and before that, a lot of people didn’t know that I did music.”
Eventually, after the hype of being on Sweet Home Alabama wore off and life took on a more everyday tone, Duke and Korfe split up.
“It was a strange thing how it ended, it was unfortunate. We were a different kind of people. I can’t blame her, when I was 25 on tour in Europe, I wouldn’t have wanted to have a girlfriend at that time. It was hard. I had never experienced anything like it [the breakup]. Maybe it was as simple as not the right time and, also, our winters suck. It’s different in the south, which was a huge part of it. The idea of farming there is very different from here.
“The show was a great opportunity for her at that point. How awesome that we got paid to go to parties, etc., but it’s not real life! I’ve had time to reflect on it and take it for what it was—a wonderful experience, but life altering.”
“I loved so much how people liked it and I would never have viewed it as something that would cause excitement and them to be in support of me. It’s a testament of the community I grew up in.
“The most fun part was how much fun my family had with it [the show]—Even than the fun I had on the show.” The days to come
Korfe will continue down the “country” road and is heading south for the winter months.
The song and video he recently produced for Kruegerfarms where Duke used to work in Starbuck, Fearless Girl, had just moved up to the number seven spot on CMT’s “most popular artist” music page when this article was written. (He was previously at number ten.)
“I’m in the number ten spot which is crazy! That’s fantastic…. It let’s me know that there are more people interested than I believe. I’m higher than some of the big names. It’s awesome. I’m getting phone calls coming in and people are starting to take notice of it.”
He said that in order to be on CMT television, you must have a recording contract with a major label, which he noted that it costs $3 million to properly launch a new artist at the national level right out of the gate.
This isn’t the first time he’s hit within the top ten list on CMT.com. His song This Paige is You was in the number six spot at one point.
“This may have come out of excitement of the show. It’s been two years since filming the show. I’m stoked because this shows my fan base for my music is growing.”
If you would like to continue to follow Korfe’s career as he heads to Nashville and forges ahead in the music world, like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jeremiahjameskorfe.
Published on December 22, 2013, by Benning Publishing and Printing Copyright © 2012-2014. All rights reserved. Used by permission. You can contact the Independent News Herald at 218-756-2131 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.