We recently caught up with Fall 2022 graduate and county music industry veteran JD Groover to talk about his VSU journey from freshman to graduate and what happened in the eighteen years in between. He is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Communications at Valdosta State.
JD left VSU in 2009 with three classes left to graduate because he got the opportunity to help open a music venue in Tifton, Georgia called The Gin. He knew the music business was where he wanted to be, so he saw this opportunity as his chance to chase that dream. During his time at The Gin, he helped to bring in a lot of up-and-coming musicians such as Florida Georgia Line, Cole Swindell, Jon Pardi, Sam Hunt, and Luke Combs. These days JD is the Senior Creative Director and Head of A&R for Sea Gayle Music in Nashville, TN. When we talked with him, we learned a lot of interesting facts about him including that he does an amazing Luke Bryan impression, and he makes a killer hot dog.
Why did you first select VSU nearly 20 years ago?
College wasn’t on the table at first for me. The paper mill in my hometown that I had planned on going to work for closed down when I was in the 10th grade, so I had to play some catch-up in the grades department to get into college. Valdosta State was always a fun and beautiful place and they took me in with open arms!
What was your experience like attending classes on campus?
I loved it. I would describe it as a small-time campus with big-time people. I got involved on campus by working at the Rec Center, joining a fraternity, and playing intramural sports. Professors Dr. Robson and Dr. Faux were amazing and challenging.
You left VSU in 2009. What did you do after that?
I helped run a music venue in Tifton, GA called The Gin. Had many people tell me I need to be in Nashville, TN that I could do big things up there. At the end of 2016, I packed up and moved. I knew I wanted to be in publishing and work with songwriters. I didn’t want to ask any of my friends in the business for help because I wanted to do it on my own. So, I would tour with Jon Langston on the weekends and during the week I worked for Daddy’s Dogs, a Nashville staple hot dog cart. Took a load of meetings and it finally paid off. Now I’m Sr. Creative Director of A&R at Brad Paisley’s company Sea Gayle Music. The belief that Cole Swindell, Dustin Eichten, Kerri Edwards, Jon Langston, and Luke Bryan had in me has always meant a lot. I’m very grateful for them.
You are currently in a successful career in a big-time industry. Why was it important to come back and finish your degree?
I was one of the first in my family to go to college. That was a win in itself, but my nephew is now in high school and my niece is close behind. I want to set an example to them of why education is important. I had a lot of luck getting here, but I also put in a lot of hard work. I always felt guilty about not finishing. I just felt really incomplete. It’s been a tough few months balancing publishing, touring, school, and planning my wedding, but it was important to finish and show my family that education is still important.
What do you want others to know who may be intimidated about going back to school?
One of my main concerns was the age thing. I’m 36 and I had not written a paper since 2009. I was scared to death. I even emailed my professors beforehand and let them know. Every single one of them worked with me on that. I think the environment that VSU creates is that of a helping hand. You should feel proud to get back on that journey no matter what stage in life you’re in. When I get to hang that diploma on my wall, it’ll feel better than any of the records that hang next to it.
What will be on your mind as you cross the stage at Commencement?
Sadly, I will be on my last run of the year with Jon Langston and won’t be there. Jon and the crew are proud of me for this though. We’re getting a cap and gown and taking some pictures, but I have really thought a lot about it lately. It brought me back to the old days of hanging out in Palms, attending basketball games, and fraternity formals. Valdosta State was and will always be a big part of my story.
I felt like I owed it to the school to finish and be someone they were proud of to call one of their own. I want to be an example for someone who thinks they don’t have the time to finish. I promise you I didn’t but it was important so I made time. I think about my parents and how they’ve always had my back when it comes to my crazy dreams. How my mom always shakes her head and says, “Ok. Go for it.” I think about my niece and nephew and how I wanted to finish to show them how important education is.
What makes the perfect hot dog?
I say to each their own. Personally, I’m a mustard and cheese guy. You should be creative as you want to be with it. Just no ketchup. I’ve learned that in my travels.
What are the ingredients of a perfect country song?
I could go on and on about this nowadays. I think if you can tell a story and make someone see it in their mind, it doesn’t get much better than that!
Would you be willing to do your impression of Luke Bryan and send us the video? 😊
No, no. He hates it lol.
What advice do you have for your fellow VSU graduates?
Go live your life. It’s not 1950 anymore, it’s ok not to have your life “together” for a while. Go live life. Make some mistakes. Take some chances. You don’t want to be 75 years old saying, “Man I wish I did this. I wish I did that.” Don’t worry about what other people have going on around you. That’s not your story. When you start worrying about that, you lose sight of what you need to do. Put some blinders on and just GO!