“This is incredible. I just got a chill hearing you say that…When I was living in L.A., I met Jon Bon Jovi in a grocery store at 1 in the morning. I said, ‘Do you have any advice?’ And he said…”
-JT Harding

Nearly 8 years to the day that he first played Pensacola, JT Harding returned to Vinyl Music Hall for a special night of music presented by Flora-Bama and the Frank Brown International Songwriters’ Festival.

When I interviewed Harding in 2011, his hit “Party Like a Rockstar” was rocketing up the pop charts. I asked him, “What advice would you give to someone who wants to be where you are?” He gave his answer, but it wasn’t until 8 years later, that he told me the story behind his answer.

A decade after leaving Detroit to make a name in Hollywood that would carry over into Nashville platinum success, Harding’s songs now dominate country charts and radio while his star shines bright as one of the world’s most in-demand songwriters.

His story is worthy of a blockbuster movie or best-selling biography. Harding has survived obstacles bigger than music. His career is a testament to determination and hard work.

“I loved trying to get into the business,” he said. “I worked any job I could get. I worked at Tower Records. I worked at a clothing store in Los Angeles. I can’t image what else I would have done.”

Harding even went on tour as Marilyn Manson’s assistant for a year. His will for songwriting never wavered.

“I just had that thing inside me,” he said. “That ambition; I know I can do this.”

While in L.A., he ran into a Rock N’ Roll Hall of Famer in the most unusual of places.

“I met Jon Bon Jovi in a grocery store at 1 in the morning,” he said.

He asked Bon Jovi the question.

“Do you have any advice?” Harding relived the moment, “And he said, ‘It’s really easy to get if you never take a day off. We were even doing shows or practicing on Christmas Day.’ He said that to me and I made that into my own lifestyle.”

And this is where life gets even wilder. Life went full circle years later.

“A few months ago, I spent an entire day writing a song with the one and only Jon Bon Jovi,” he said. “He was working on his new album. We met again and it was great. He was as cool as Fonzie. He was Jon Bon Jovi. He was really serious, he was really cool and he was not there to mess around. He wanted to write a great song. It was great to be in the room with him.”

Harding has written great songs with superstars throughout his career. And the night he returned to Vinyl Music Hall, he brought along Jon Nite and Lindsey Rhimes to sing a few of their biggest hits. Pensacola hasn’t seen such a collection of songwriting superpower since Nashville legend, songwriting pioneer and Pensacola native the late Larry Butler returned home.

During the show, the trio played their songs and told the stories behind them. It was a non-stop ride of chart-topping, foot stopping hits with songs made popular by Kenny Chesney to Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley, Blake Shelton and more.

Local rising star Alexa Burroughs (Lex and the Luthors) even joined the fun as she sang with Harding for his song “Different For Girls” which became a Grammy-nominated hit duet for Dierks Bentley and Elle King.

Hours after the Vinyl Music Hall crowd sang along to the song, Jon Nite announced on Instagram that Luke Bryan had taken “Knockin’ Boots” to  #1 on the Country charts.

– Michael Hulin-Smith