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Cliatt returns home to perform in Camden

Posted: November 26, 2013 3:26 p.m.
Updated: November 27, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Singer/songwriter and Nashville resident Duane Cliatt will perform in a free concert back in his hometown of Camden at the Palmetto Tea and Coffee Shop on Broad Street at 7 p.m. Friday.

Cliatt was born and raised in Camden and is a 1995 Camden High School (CHS) graduate. The road to Nashville has been a winding one, Cliatt said, but he’s been there for three years and the hard work is paying off.

Cliatt dreamed of baseball when he thought about his future while a student in Kershaw County. But he started taking piano lessons around 7 or 8 years old, when it wasn’t cool to play the piano, he said. He used to rush through his assignments so that he could write songs. Cliatt didn’t think too much of his musical talents, because he considered himself a “baseball guy,” he said, even though he remembered his music teacher telling his parents that he had perfect pitch.

The journey into focused songwriting and guitar started while Cliatt was in high school. At around 14 years old, Cliatt picked up a Walmart guitar his family had lying around their home. He found a guitar book and taught himself how to play guitar, Cliatt said. Sometime later, his father, a local contractor, had a client who has in the music business. The client helped Cliatt’s father pick out an Alvarez Acoustic guitar to give to Cliatt as a gift.

“That was a blessing because my fingers were constantly bleeding from the other one,” he said.

From there, Cliatt learned three chords and wrote a song. One song became 100 songs and he eventually became percussion captain of CHS’s band, he said, following in his brother’s footsteps. A “closeted musician,” Cliatt said he and a friend made their debut when they became the musical guests during CHS’s annual Miss Gold and Black Pageants.

“We were shaking so bad, we couldn’t even look at each other,” Cliatt recalled.

The duo was well received, he said, and that’s when Cliatt thought there might be more to singing and performing. Even after that performance, however, he said he didn’t play any shows in Camden; he simply played in his room and in garages with friends.

The day after graduation, Cliatt left Camden in order to start his career as a musician. He played his first gig in a bar, for free, in Chattanooga, Tenn., he said. From there, he built a fan base playing acoustic, solo gigs; he started getting paid for shows and he eventually became the lead singer for a band out of Cleveland, Tenn. At that point, Cliatt went from a bar stool to raging fans, he said, with the band selling out shows. They eventually split up and went their separate ways, Cliatt said, but it was just the beginning for him. From there, he went to open for Michael Bolton, Allman Brothers, Derek Trucks and Marshall Tucker.

“It was one after the other, he said; I was a star rising, but I didn’t have my head straight,” he said.

Cliatt said the wild side of the music business had always been a struggle. Throughout various periods of his life, music took a back seat to drugs and alcohol. After one too many battles, Cliatt decided to take a break from music. His mind had so closely associated the wild life with music itself that he had no choice but to put his love for music aside. After meeting the woman who would become his wife 14 years ago, he was able to “get his train back on track,” he said. He and his wife now have two children.

About three years ago, Cliatt and his family sold their successful trucking company, packed their bags and moved to Nashville.

“I had always planned on going to Nashville, but didn’t because I didn’t think I was good enough,” Cliatt said.

It usually takes someone about eight to 10 years to get a record deal or even some recognition, Cliatt said; calling it the “eight to 10-year plan.” But Cliatt ended up with a production deal in four months and was in front of five or six major labels within six months.

Since then, Cliatt’s built relationships with writers and music companies and has been fortunate enough to work with them to write songs for other country music artists. Although he hasn’t had a No. 1 song yet, Cliatt has had multiple songs recorded by country music artists and “there are some positive things happening on the song writing front,” he said. Cliatt owns a publishing company called Dicey Creek Music, where he independently pitches his music, while also working with music companies, allowing him to keep creative control. Cliatt has about 25 songs in “pitch rotation,” where record executives can pitch the songs to singers and they decide whether they want to record and use it on an upcoming album.

Cliatt even has one song on hold that has been recorded by George Straight, Kenny Chesney and American Idol’s Scotty McCreary.

Cliatt said he’s thankful to have met people and network with some of the top writers in Nashville. His mentor, Twisted Sister’s founding member and lead guitarist, John “Jay Jay” French, traveled to Nashville twice to see Cliatt perform, and they’ve been working together ever since.

“It’s been exciting. I’m writing with some of the biggest writers in town. I wouldn’t have dreamed of this three years ago, but now they call just to say ‘hi,’” he said.

In the meantime, he’s recording his own album. With several record companies involved, Cliatt said he had to keep it confidential. He is however backed by Epiphone, celebrating its 140 anniversary, according to its website. Cliatt will be on tour before, during and after recording the album. The album will be a compilation of fan favorites, he said. For his tour, he’ll go back to his roots and give acoustic, solo performances singing new and old songs, along with some covers.

“I’m excited. I’ll visit (Camden) and life will be beautiful,” Cliatt said.

Cliatt plans to come back to South Carolina during another part of his tour, he said. You can listen to his music and look for upcoming 2014 tour dates at his website www.DuaneCliatt.com.

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