Jenee Fleenor is one of Nashville’s busiest Fiddler players. When she’s not touring with Blake Shelton (she’s been his fiddle player for the last eight years), she’s usually in the recording studio doing session work for the hosts of other artists. She is also a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist singing on stage with friends and fellow musicians at the Station Inn in Nashville.
“I always have to do something creative,” she says. “But of course, my first love is playing a fiddle.”
It was her love for fiddle that took Springdale, Arkansas to Nashville shortly after high school. She became a session player and dreamed of playing on country records like she heard on the radio.
In the 20 years since then, Fleenor has realized that dream and achieved much more. She toured with artists such as Terri Clark and Martina McBride before becoming a member of Shelton’s band. She has performed on records such as Shelton, Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, John Purdy, Trace Adkins and Joe Nichols.
Her style, approach and mastery of musical instruments have brought both her attention and respect from fellow musicians, artists and others in the music industry. She is described as Fiddle’s Eddie Van Halen because of her ability to add it to almost any type of music and make it shine.
“Brent Mason called me that,” she said with a laugh, referring to Van Halen’s comment. (Mason is a Grammy award-winning guitarist and one of the most recorded guitar players in history.) “Brent is one of my heroes to date. He even knows my name. Puts a floor on me. “
But the proof is in music. Some of Freener’s early sessions were with John Purdy, and she remembers when people first began to notice her work.
“John contributed to my career. I had the first No. 1 with him,” she says. “And when people heard my fiddle play, they were like you wanted to do on John Purdy’s record. It was very flattering.”
Fleenor grew up listening to a country in the 90’s when personal heroes like fiddler Rob Hajacos were creating new and different sounds.
“Rob played on Garth Brooks records, Brooks and Dunn, and many other records,” she explains. “And I remember saying he was just trying to imitate an electric guitar. I love learning crazy rock and roll licks and seeing how they work in fiddles.”
One of her best opportunities to do that was a few years ago when Steven Tyler of Aerosmith toured with him after recording a country album.
“I’m sure people appeared in some of those concerts and were like,’Oh, fiddle!’,” She laughs and continues. “But I learned those Joe Perry lines. (Perry is Aerosmith’s lead guitarist.) That’s why I love session work. One day I got a bluegrass record and the next day I rock’n’roll. I love being thrown into different scenarios. “
She is well known for both creativity and work ethic. For the past two years, she has been named the CMA’s “Musician of the Year” and was nominated again in 2021 for what she learned last week (winners will be announced on November 10th).
It was especially meaningful when she won the award in 2019, as she became the first woman to win the award so far.
“As you know, I never really thought about becoming the first woman. To be honest, being a session musician was always what I wanted. That’s my life. It was my goal, so I chased it. “
Fortunately, her parents and others have always provided unconditional support.
“I’m a little impressed when I think there are women out there who have had a hard time chasing their dreams. On social media, I get messages from women and little girls that they inspired play. I’m this torch. Thank God for being able to carry and break through these ceilings, and hope it encourages some little girls out there for their dreams. “
Freener was just three years old when she first started learning to play the fiddle. She started with the Suzuki method and continued her classical lessons since childhood. But early on, she realized she was influenced by her father’s country music records.
“When I was five years old, I learned to play” Faded Love “by my ears when I heard these old country records have fiddles on them. I remember standing on Sugi’s chest and playing for mom and dad. “
Recognizing that she had the “ears” of music, her parents took her to a lesson with a local fiddler and began participating in a fiddle contest.
“I loved country music,” she says. “And when I listened to the fiddle on country music radio, I realized that Nashville was the place to record those records. So when I was 11, I moved to the town of Nashville to record country music. I wanted to record it. “
She arrived at Music City at the age of 18 and enrolled at Belmont University. About a month later, she got a job as a fiddler with singer-songwriter Larry Cordle. She played with his band over the weekend and was still in school that week, but eventually left to pursue music full-time.
After playing in various bands for four or five years and traveling a lot of time as a musician, she decided to try something new. She began to learn to write songs.
“Working with Larry made me realize the importance of good songs, and when I realized that the city was built on a great song, my wheels started spinning. “
With the help of a friend of Coddle and other songwriters, she learned the technique and soon realized she was talented. Since then, she has been cut by Blake Shelton, Cathy Mattia, Del McCoury and others. And while that was by no means the intended goal, it turned out that songwriting helped her break into session work.
“I kept asking my songwriter friends if they would write with me. And later, some of these songwriters noticed that I played a fiddle, and sometimes they said they were songs. You will decide that you want to fiddle, and such things have been drawn into session work. “
But at that time, her instrument wasn’t as demanding as it is now when it comes to session work. Throughout the history of country music, steel guitar-like fiddles have become less popular and popular in country music. Fleenor is excited to say that he has been resurrected in recent years.
“Ten years ago I was in a session, and they would say,” We want a fiddle, but we really don’t want to hear it. Just want a long note, it I want it to be something that floats in the background. “Now they want a fiddle intro, and I can actually do a solo! I think people are aware of how good the country of the 90’s was. There were many fiddles on those records. “
Not only does she enjoy session work, she also loves live music. She will do much of it in the coming weeks while touring with Blake Shelton.
“Break does a great job. What you see is what you get with the guy, and I love him very much.”
She says Shelton, who is well-known for helping others promote their careers, did it for her.
“In my case, after I won the first CMA award, he thought of this solo section we would do. It gives me a big feature during our show, and of course I Ham it. To see it, you have to come to one of our shows. “
Playing with Shelton also opened the door for her voice.
“I think I’m here voice As long as I’m in the break band. The show has played with many heroes, including Dolly, Alison Krauss, and Rascal Flatts. It was fun to do that and play and record with the contestants. Then just see how the show works behind the scenes. I hope that one day they will make a documentary about how hard they are working. “
Given what she does as a musician, she doesn’t have much time to concentrate on other things, but Freener is also a seasoned singer. She recorded an album early in her career and released two singles a few years ago. One is called “Fiddle and Steel” and the other is called “Good Ol Girls”. She wants to do it more.
“For me, it’s finding time between all my others. I love singing. I think this is just one of the fun tools in my toolbox.”
For now, as always, the fiddle remains her top priority.
“I love it. What are you saying? If you do what you like, you will never work a day in your life. That’s exactly how I feel.”