You wouldn't know it from the rootsy country sound of his debut album, Moot Davis, which invokes the hard-core country of legends such as Hank Williams Sr., Webb Pierce, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard.
"Yeah, it doesn't quite match up," chuckles the 30-year-old Davis by phone in the Los Angeles area. "Being from Trenton, N.J.--that's not really a place that is known for country music. But my family's from West Virginia."
Davis spent a lot of time down in West Virginia with his grandparents, where he was exposed to a wide variety of country and old-time music. So when, after several years as an actor, Davis decided to embark on a career in country, he was primed for it.
When it comes down to it, though, the place in which a person grows up doesn't necessarily add to or subtract from the authenticity of one's music. In fact, the definitions of so-called "real" country are so varied these days, it's tough to tell the righteous from the pretenders.
Moot Davis is one of two country singers with widely differing styles playing during the coming week at the eastside nightclub City Limits.
Davis and his band, The Cool Deal, will appear there Friday, Oct. 28. Two nights later, on Sunday, Oct. 30, Jason Aldean will bring his backing band to the same venue for a gig.
Like Davis, Aldean is hardly a watered-down Top 40 country artist. Also touring to support a debut album, the 28-year-old Georgia native combines redneck country and snarling rock 'n' roll to create an edgy, though catchy, hybrid that sounds like Lynyrd Skynyrd jamming with George Strait.
Aldean's music is well represented by his first single, the hit "Hicktown," written by Big and Rich, which lodges tongue in cheek to extol the pleasures of growing up in a rural locale.
The genius behind this song--as with Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman"--is that it takes what has been sometimes known as a derogatory term and celebrates it in a positive fashion.
Aldean doesn't see the big deal. "I don't see 'hick' as a derogatory term," he says by phone from his home outside Nashville. "But I guess it depends on who's using it. If you're a redneck, and you call somebody else a redneck, it's all in good fun."
Perhaps the best indication that "Hicktown" has been embraced by contemporary culture is not its rowdy music video, but the fact that the Tennessee Titans cheerleading squad has created a dance routine for the song.
"I don't know if that means we've arrived, but I've also heard that some strippers dance to it on stage, so I guess we're on the right track."
Meanwhile, Davis' big break came when Rosie Flores, with whom he was touring, shared his demo tape with Little Dog Records, the independent label owned and operated by producer-guitarist Pete Anderson. "And they called me a few weeks later."
Not only did Anderson, who spent years working alongside Dwight Yoakam, sign Davis and release his debut album, but he also plays in his protégé's backing band.
Davis also has enjoyed some media attention. One of his tunes was featured in a pivotal scene in the movie Crash. It's in the car stereo when two charming criminals (played by Ludacris and Larenz Tate) jack an SUV. And he, too, is preparing to shoot a music video, for the song "Whiskey Town."
Davis began performing country music a little later in life, after spending his years after high school as an actor in regional productions.
"In between rehearsing plays and touring all over the country, I'd make up some songs. So I asked a boss of mine to listen to them, and he encouraged me to continue doing that," Davis says.
"Then I decided to move down to Nashville, and I had a lot of catching up to do, because I had never played music and never sang in public--all that kind of stuff. It took awhile to get where I was actually performing."
In addition to a devotion to honky-tonk legends such as Buck Owens and Johnny Horton, Davis also confides his appreciation for fellow New Jersey natives Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen.
Aldean, on the other hand, has been playing nightclubs for about half his life, since he was 14. He also grew up playing football and baseball, and didn't decide on a music career until he was out of high school.
While performing in Atlanta, Aldean was signed by Michael Knox to a publishing deal, which got his foot in Nashville's door. Knox ended up producing Aldean's album, which was well-stocked with rockin' country anthems such as "Lonesome U.S.A.," "Asphalt Cowboy," "Good to Go" and the aforementioned "Hicktown," several of them by outside writing teams.
And even though Aldean's three original tunes evidence a tender personal side, he acknowledges the influence of rock on his sound.
"I grew up in the South, and Southern rock was a big part of my life. I also listened to everything from Merle Haggard to Guns N' Roses, and I think that's what makes my music sound a little different."
Neither Davis nor Aldean has much use for the debate about what is and isn't real country. Says Aldean, "I think good music is good music. If it's good then it should be heard."