Jo Dee Messina Recalls the First Time She Heard Cole Swindell’s ‘Heads Carolina’
Jo Dee Messina had no idea that Cole Swindell was planning to cut his own updated twist on her 1996 country classic, "Heads Carolina, Tails California," until Swindell's version was already finished and recorded. In fact, when she finally heard "She Had Me at Heads Carolina," it wasn't Swindell who sent it to her — it was one of the writers on the original song.
"I did not [know that song was in the works]. What happened was, Tim Nichols, the writer of 'Heads Carolina, Tails California,' said, 'Hey, I just wanna give you a heads up,' and he shot me a copy of it over to my phone," Messina told Taste of Country and other outlets backstage at the 2023 CMA Fest on Thursday night (June 8).
If it sounds a little strange that Messina didn't know about the song beforehand, remember that she wasn't actually a writer on "Heads Carolina, Tails California" — Nichols co-wrote the song with Mark D. Sanders, meaning that Swindell's team reached out to those two songwriters in order to get the proper permissions to sample the track for "She Had Me at Heads Carolina."
Messina goes on to say that her biggest initial response was surprise.
"I was like, 'Oh my gosh!' You know, 'This is kinda cool, it kinda sounds like the song.'"
The rest is history: Not only did Swindell take his reimagined "She Had Me at Heads Carolina" to the top of the country charts, but he got in touch with Messina and asked her to be a part of the ride, enlisting her for the song's music video, as well as a remix of "She Had Me at Heads Carolina" featuring her vocals. They performed the song together, including at the 2022 CMA Awards and 2023 ACM Awards.
The momentum of a fresh country hit has been part of a creative resurgence. Messina has said that she's experiencing a songwriting renaissance, a development that she attributes to her powerful relationship with God and faith as well as the uptick in interest in her music, particularly from a younger generation of fans, that she saw after "She Had Me at Heads Carolina" became a hit.
"I think it just opens the door for me to write about, just, realness. Realness," Messina reflects. "...I think it's just really opened a door for me to be able to share my heart.
"We all long to be understood and seen and heard. So for me to be able to write certain things, or when you write certain things, you hear it and you're like, 'Oh, that's me.' You know what I mean?" the singer continues. "I feel like I've just gotten brave enough to — you know, I have nothing left to lose. I love my life, and then, boom, I get a chance to do this again?! It's like, 'Okay, God, this is for you, and let me just be honest with the words that we're writing. You'll hear a lot of that. We have a bunch of new music coming out soon."
Messina gave fans a taste of that forthcoming new chapter at CMA Fest. During her set at Nissan Stadium, the singer brought out Christian artist Ben Fuller as a surprise guest, and the pair performed a new duet called "He Got a Hold of Me."