When Dennis Pickens strums his guitar, he channels his experiences into a song that connects with someone who will understand and feel glad. Pickens, a 39-year-old Thomson resident, writes and sings country music. He wrote his first song at the age of 19 and has recorded music and performed it live. For Pickens, music wasn’t always something he had in mind to pursue.
With his first song, “Heartbroke,” Pickens said that he was working through his emotions during a difficult moment. Sometimes, he said people don’t want to talk about what they are experiencing but with music, they can express themselves.
“Touching somebody is important,” he said. “I think people need the escape. It makes them feel good.”
Pickens taught himself to play the guitar at 15 at the urging of his brother and had been practicing, starting with music books but then progressing to playing by ear and working out the kinks. Pickens said a friend heard him play while he was visiting and then asked him about it. From there, more friends heard of the music and eventually, Pickens said people began to request him to play at parties.
“I would have never thought in a million years that someone would like my songs,” he said. “These people paid money to see me and my friends play the songs that I wrote. That’s kinda cool.”
Pickens would go on to collaborate with other friends making music, performing in places like Augusta, and getting radio play in Thomson. His first paying gig was in a Mellow Mushroom restaurant in the city. The owner was local and gave Pickens a shot. For his performance, Pickens earned $35. Getting on stage and showing what he could do in that moment go him hooked on pursuing music, he said.
The first song that Pickens recorded was “Was I Wrong For Loving You,’ which he wrote with a friend named Daniel Johnson between 2014-2015. His first Nashville recording happened at the Rukkus Room in 2015, and was done with Jamie Tate. Pickens said that every song he writes has some elements of his life. For example, in one song he recounts his emotions on scrolling through social media and seeing a former girlfriend wearing his shirt while with a new person. Though he said he can’t reach every person during a performance, Pickens said he’s doing well if someone like his music and can feel good from it.
“I want to write the songs so that you can relate to it,” he said.
In making a song, Pickens said he tends to lean towards sad songs, which his friends tease him a bit for doing. However, Pickens said he tends not to write when he’s happy, as he is fully engaging in those moments. When he is in the mood to write a song, Pickens said that he plays an acoustic version at home and typically does his work late at night. Pickens has a YouTube channel where people can see him in his element.
Naturally, Pickens said that he would rather work the background with music and then occasionally come to the forefront. He also doesn’t describe himself as an artist. Right now, he said he doesn’t know for sure where he wants to take his music but getting featured on a major artist’s album would make an impact for him.
“I would feel like I’d accomplished everything I could in music,” he said.
At the moment, Pickens said he’s working out what he wants to do in life. A few months ago, he said he left his job as a car salesman. When he worked at the car lot, he said that his music had to be put on the edges due to the requirements of the job. Now, he has more room to go for a performance. To better align with his current desires, Pickens also said that he’s pursuing real estate sales to support him in his dreams. In that field, he said he has the option to travel. The newfound time has been excellent, Pickens said.
“I never had a time where I just didn’t have to worry about anything,” Pickens said.
Earlier this year, Pickens released “Still Wearing My Shirt,” which was written in collaboration with Johnson. However, it’s been some time since Pickens has gone on stage. Pickens said he’s dealt with anxiety. In his last performance, he said he had a panic attack. His friend, Josh Bagwell, who was going to perform with him then, calmed him by saying he’d help him in the event it worsened, as Bagwell was an EMT. The feelings, he said, come up from a number of places. For example, he said he gets nervous about what criticisms people will throw at him.
“I put a lot of stress on myself,” he said of his general approach to things.
Pickens also said that he thinks of his age. He compared the music business to sports, as he said the industry prefers young people. But, also said that he could bypass this discrimination by focusing on songwriting, as there’s less of a limiter there.
“There's always a spot for you in the music business,” he said.
Though Pickens is in Thomson now, he said that he could eventually move on to other places to expand his career. He has stayed because of how comfortable it has been here and due to the problem of networking in bigger areas, he said. Pickens said that a fear of failure might have also kept him back. But, he said that he’s received support from the community, which he is thankful for, and spoke about looking at one’s own well being.
“Who knows what I’ll do,” he said. “You got to make yourself happy,” he said.