Say what you will about the changes in country music over the past decade, there's no denying that a colorful background is still no hindrance to success in the field. North Carolinian Jimmy Wayne grew up with a mother in and out of prison and a stepfather who nearly shot him to death at the age of 13. After a stint in a detention center, Wayne studied criminal justice and ended up working as a prison guard for four years. No wonder he's a fan both of country ("with a little bit of soul influences," as he describes his own music) and heavy metal bands like Queensryche and Iron Maiden. A gig as a staff songwriter at venerated publishing firm Acuff-Rose led to Wayne's first score: Tracy Byrd's "Put Your Hand in Mine," which he co-wrote with Skip Ewing. Soon, a contract with DreamWorks Records Nashville led to his self-titled debut disc. Wayne's first radio track, "Stay Gone," nestled a curveball of a lyric ("Stay right where you are/I like it this way/It's good for my heart/I haven't felt like this in God knows how long/I know everything's gonna be OK if you just stay gone") in the trappings of a romantic ballad. After so much momentum, the singer's career sputtered momentarily after DreamWorks Nashville folded. Undeterred, Wayne returned with his third effort, Sara Smile, in November 2009.